The walk from the Colombian town of Palomino to the beach took 15 minutes along a scorching hot dirt road. The anticipation of cooling off in the ocean kept my feet moving in the crippling heat, but the first sight of water temporarily stopped me in my tracks. It was not the miles of palm-fringed, white sand or the ludicrously blue sea that stunned me — the Caribbean is littered with beaches fit for postcards — it was the fact that there was virtually no development in any direction and hardly a soul in sight.
Fishing boats battered by years of storms, saltwater and sun were strewn about the beach like stranded jellyfish. Further down, where the beach breaks and the Caribbean meets the Palomino River at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range in northeastern Colombia, young boys were casting fishing nets to catch the night’s dinner. And white-clad, long-haired Kogi and Arhuaco Indian tribes — visiting from their villages in the Sierra Nevada — were searching for seashells to crush and mix with coca, which would activate the leaves’ stimulating properties.
The strong sea can be unforgiving at this meeting point, but deeper in the jungle the river is tranquil and provides excellent views of the Sierra Nevada, the world’s highest coastal mountain range. There is no sign of life other than birds swooping around the surrounding trees, and on a clear day you can see Colombia’s highest peaks – the snow-capped Pico Cristóbal Colón and Pico Simón Bolívar, each more than 5,700m high.
Inner tubes can be hired in Palomino, and after an hour or two of floating, just before the cool river spits you into the warmer sea, there is a rope on the right side that you can use to do your best Tarzan flip into the water.
Palomino, a town of about 4,000 people — many of whom work as fisherman, farmers or craftsmen — is not much more than one road. There are a couple of guesthouses, a few places to hire a hammock, and there is little to do but relax and bask in the solitude, which is rarely interrupted, except on Sundays when smiling local families come out to enjoy a game of beach fútbol.
Read more: Brad Cohen, BBC