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El Valle, Chocó

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These pictures were taken at the occasion of a trip to Chocó, a department in north-western Colombia, in November 2011. About 83 % of Chocó's population is Afrocolombian and 13% is native American, mostly Embera indians. The department has a diverse geography, unique ecosystems and unexploited natural resources. However, its population has one of the lowest standards of living in Colombia, and cases of starvation among children have been reported. Due to its small population (450,000), inhospitable topography, and distance from Bogotá, Chocó has received little attention from the Colombian government, and there are many problems of infrastructure. For instance, despite being one of the world's rainiest places, with close to 10 meters of annual precipitation, Chocó's capital Quibdó was left without water in 2007. Roads, where they exist, are in avery poor state. Chocó is the only one of Colombia's 32 departments to have coasts on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, and to share a border with Panamá. This and the fact that it borders the Gulf of Urabá makes it one's of Colombia's most strategic regions for drug trafficking activities, especially exports of cocaine. A large contingent of the Colombian Navy and Army is present in Chocó. Up until the mid-1990s, Chocó was relatively peaceful, but activities of guerilla and paramilitary groups have changed that. Drug production (coca is grown in northern Chocó) and trafficking activities are a major factor for the presence of armed groups in the region since the late 1990s, and much of the fighting is about control over drug corridors. An estimated 50,000 Chocoanos, as the inhabitants of the department are called, have become internal refugees in Colombia as a result of the violence between 2008 and 2011 (and many more before that). Nowadays, although the fighting is not as intense as in the past, armed groups remain active and drug trafficking continues.

I went to the region of Bahía Solano and stayed in the village of El Valle (see map), which was very peaceful at the time of the trip. In spite of the poverty of its inhabitants and the general dereliction of infrastructure and housing, this is a tourist area. Tourists mostly come to watch whales, birds and other wildlife in the Utría national park, to surf and enjoy the beautiful beaches and laidback lifestyle of the region. The region's peacefulness seems to be due in some measure to the presence of a Colombian Navy base in Bahía Solano (Batallón de Asalto Fluvial de Infantería de Marina No. 3).

As there are no roads from the rest of Colombia, the only practical way to get to Bahía Solano is by plane from Medellín, then by car or tuk-tuk to El Valle. Adventurers can try to catch fast boats (planeadoras) from Buenaventura, but this is a long (6 or 7 hours), complicated, uncomfortable and not entirely safe trip (boat may capsize; bad encounters a possibility). There is a five-star lodge in El Valle called El Almejal, but of course it is expensive. I stayed at the Posada Villa Maga, which offered basic but safe, clean and comfortable wood huts equipped with mosquito nets at a very affordable price. Villa Maga is charming in more than one ways, not least the warm welcome of owners Carmen Lucía and Pepe (Tel.: 320 777 4767 - magapacifico@yahoo.com.mx).

chocó


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Desarrollo_Armado
1. Desarrollo Armado
Airport_Terminal
2. Airport Terminal, Bahía Solano
EL_Valle_PC
3. El Valle Postcard
Policia
4. Policía
Bad_Road
5. Bad Road
Mi_Yussi
6. Mi Yussi
Calle_El_Valle
7. Calle
Boardwalk_El_Valle
8. Boardwalk
Casa_El_Valle
9. Blue House
Calle_El_Valle
10. Black & White Street
Street_Life_El_Valle
11. Street Life
Donde_Betty
12. Donde Betty
Ahumando_Viuda
13. Ahumando Viuda
Reciclaje
14. Reciclaje
Donde_Rosalia
15. Donde Rosalía
Biblioteca_Chocoana
16. Biblioteca Chocoana
Villa_Maga_Back
17. Villa Maga
Villa_Maga_Cocina
18. Villa Maga Cocina
Mosquitero
19. Mosquitero
Casa_Colores_El_Valle
20. Bailadero
Escena_Familiar_El_Valle
21. Escena Familiar
Casa_de_Mago
22. Casa de Mago
Dos_Senores
23. Dos Señores
Fotografiando_Nene
24. Poseur
Lady_&_Pig
25. Beauty and the Beast
Iglesia_El_Valle
26. Iglesia de El Valle
Valle_Hotel
27. Beach Hotel
Chiva
28. Chiva
Driver
29. Driver
Julian
30. Julián
Paula
31. Paula
Strange_Hat
32. Strange Hat
Pacho
33. Pacho
Gallinazos
34. Gallinazos
Garbage_Truck
35. Garbage Truck
Isabela
36. Isabela
Los_Faeneros
37. Los Faeneros
Moda
38. Moda
Piragua
39. Piragua
Puente_El_Valle_2
40. Puente sobre Río Valle
Puente_El_Valle
41. Puente con Chico
Yellow_Man_El_Valle
42. Yellow Man
Rio_Valle
43. Río Valle
Mud_Slide
44. Derrumbe (mud slide)
Puente_Roto
45. Puente Roto
Red_Bird
46. Red-Haired
Labios_de_Negra
47. Labios de Negra
River_Houses
48. River Houses
Secando_Ropa_El_Valle
49. Secando Ropa
Sky_Men
50. Sky People

** All pictures taken with a Canon EOS 60D camera, except 19 taken with an iPhone 3GS

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