Let’s Travel to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

We know you like to travel as much as we do. This is why we want to invite you on a journey, through our eyes, to the magical Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, using only your imagination and heart. We invite you to Nabusimake.

After flying from Medellín to Santa Marta and travelling by road close to 6 hours in the direction of Valledupar, we take the exit to Pueblo Bello, the village closest to Nabusimake, our final destination.

Pueblo Bello is a place where many cultures from the Sierra converge. Bonachi[1] farmers, or campesinos, are its main inhabitants, but here we can start finding the culture of our older brothers: the Arhuaco people, walking silently through the streets of the village.

We spend the night in Pueblo Bello and wake up early to travel to what we call Our Home in the Sacred Mountains.

If we travel by motorbike, we need approximately 1 and a half hours of muddy, steep roads, quite an adventure on two wheels, Along the way there are always things to see: majestic trees and, perhaps, an indigenous family walking along the “highway” going about their daily routine… It is always a privilege to pass by them.

When the landscape finally opens up and you see the Sierra, you can feel its vibration, and at that precise moment you forget everything else, nothing else matters. To be there is to experience freedom firsthand, the fullest connection with the heart of the world… You know that you don’t have far to go.

Do you know why the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is called “The Heart of the World”?

It’s given this name because the Sierra is the only place on the planet with snow-topped mountains so close to the sea. The Sierra has almost all the ecosystems that exist in a relatively reduced space. This why the conditions of the Sierra represent, on a small scale, the entire functions of the planet. What happens to the Sierra also happens to the planet.

In the distance we can see the Villafañe family home, the home of Oliverio and Aty Seynekun. We have arrived. We are welcomed with a warm smile by little Aty Seinebia. There is no better feeling than to be received by them. They are peaceful, genuine, sincere souls. They received us into their family right from the start.

This afternoon, after we arrive, we decide to walk a while amongst the family’s crops and gather some things from the harvest for our food during our time in Nabusimake. Food in the Sierra comes mostly from organic gardens and plantations each family has on their land. They plant maize, yucca, potatoes, beans, grains and some vegetables, among many other things. Coffee is also a fundamental crop for the indigenous people that inhabit the Sierra and is one of their main sources of income.

That afternoon we gathered totumos. Totumos are a type of pear-shaped gourd with which the indigenous people manufacture utensils, mostly for carrying water, and with which they make the Poporo: a sacred object, worn only by the men, where they carry lime dust, made of burnt and crushed seashells, which they use to mambear[2] together with the ayu (coca leaves).

At the end of the afternoon we come home to prepare the maize we have picked on our walk. Everyone in the family takes part: husking and threshing the corn, milling it and making the rolls we will eat every day during our stay.

Night falls halfway through our task, but that does not mean we stop. There is no electrical grid in Nabusimake but the kitchen work continues, accompanied by lamps and candlelight, as well as a dim lightbulb charged by sunlight.

The lack of an electrical grid does not mean that there is no technology in Nabusimake. Almost the entire community is connected to their cell phones, which they charge using solar panels.

After all, we cannot pretend that certain things will not change in the indigenous communities. They are living communities just as we are, and they “evolve” over time. Only one telecommunications company has a signal in Nabusimake (luckily, it’s not ours. For us the Sierra is a place to disconnect. Or, perhaps, to connect deeply?)

The following day, we are going to visit Pueblito. Little Aty Sei is our guide, and also our weaving teacher. At 6 years old, Aty already knows how to spin and weave. She doesn’t speak Spanish, but she tries to teach me with signs and laughter (and, oh, how she has laughed at my strange clumsiness as I try to follow her pace while weaving).

It must be noted that, in the indigenous communities that inhabit the Sierra, the craft of wool-weaving, especially the craft of weaving bags, is an ancestral trade of the women. They hand down the wisdom behind the technique from generation to generation, and they learn at a very early age. In this way, as the years go by and with practice, they acquire the necessary expertise and knowledge of their cultural traditions to honor and preserve them over time.

After 40 minutes walking, or a little more, we reach Pueblito, in the heart of Nabusimake, a village built in Arhuaca architecture and enclosed in a low stone wall. You cannot always enter the village, and to do so you must ask for permission, and do so respectfully. (It must be noted that access to all of Nabusimake is restricted and controlled by the Arhuaco authorities. Not all Bonachi are allowed, and access is not always permitted.)

And, since we are talking about Nabusimake, which translates literally as “The land where the sun is born”, let me tell you a little bit about this place. Nabusimake is the spiritual capital of the Arhuaco people, one of 4 indigenous communities that inhabit the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, in the department of El Cesar, Colombia. Nabusimake is a place where you feel different. It has a special energy. Its mountains and landscapes astound you with every step. Nabusimake is also bathed in rivers and streams that flow directly from the snowy peaks. Their water is crystal clear. (We love dipping in the icy river)

This place is magical, especially because of the way it is cared for by the indigenous communities, as they firmly believe that humans, plants, animals, rocks, water, stars… that the entire universe is connected and that we all depend on each other. Every being has a mission within the balance of the universe, and our mother is the Earth; we must care for her as the most sacred being. Everything we take from the Earth must be with her permission and we must always give back something. Mother Earth is not an inexhaustible source, everything we take, we must return.

It is because of the Arhuaco worldview that Nabusimake is the place it is today. If our vision of the world was like theirs, Planet Earth probably would not be in the state it is today.

Oliverio Villafañe

Aty Seynekun 

This time our journey ends here, but before we go, I would like to invite you to think about what you would like to ask the Earth for and what you will give it in exchange.

My final invitation is to be grateful together and to connect more deeply with our surroundings, to live like our older brothers do, aligned with Mother Earth and with all the beings that inhabit it. In the end, we are all one.

[1] Bonachi is the name for us, those that are not indigenous people.

[2] Mambear: is the name for us, those that are not indigenous people.

Photographer: Sebastian Villegas.

Photo from left to right: Teiku, Aty Seynebia, Verónica Franco, Aty Seynekun. 

Our Arhuaca family. 

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