Lily’s dad, Jorge, woke us in the morning, bringing a plate of fruit up to our room. Thankfully, Lily and I were dressed and lying with distance between us. During the night there had been a torrential downpour, which had quietened to rain. The air smelled fresh.
Downstairs, Javier was cutting open a borojo fruit. It is bizarre. It looks like a hazel nut, but it’s 100x as big and full of a caramel coloured sour paste that’s used in ‘rompe colchones’ (‘the mattress breaker’), an aphrodisiacal drink made by blending various ingredients with a live crab. The borojo fruit is soft, dense, sour, a little sweet, like nothing I’ve tasted, but akin to a fermenting cherry jam.
We ate, then left for Parque Utria. The sea was rough, making our motorboat’s departure into the surf both bumpy and exciting. Out on the ocean, on the ups we could see for miles, and in the troughs the waves towered above us. The shoreline was still the same, but now it was shrouded in mist and clouds, hazy behind the rain.
Along the way, I asked Pablo how he was going to vote. Nuqui is in the department of Chocó, a region that has experienced some of the worst atrocities of guerrila warfare. In 2002, FARC was fighting with a paramilitary group called the AUC (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia), that were trying to expand into the area. Thirteen years later, a FARC negotiator explained what happened during an official apology; “the deviation of a handmade projectile away from the main paramilitary position in the village caused misery and misfortune when landing on the Catholic church where the population who hadn’t been able to flee was hiding.” FARC killed 79 townsfolk.
But, Pablo said that FARC had never really done anything near Nuquí, where there is neither enough money nor cultivable land to be worth the fight. That’s not to say there’s no interest; for six months of the year there are gun boats running drugs up the coast to the USA. When the army blows up the boats, the drug runners sink but the cocaine floats, so local fishermen go out and find the cocaine and sell it back to the drug lords for $3,000,000 COP (about $1,000 USD) a bag.
I got the feeling that Pablo was either not too political, or he wasn’t willing to share his views with a guest. However, he did say that a lot of people he knows are going to vote No. A friend of his was a soldier with three bullets in his back and three dead friends. That guy would find it too difficult to vote Yes. But, Pablo and his parents probably will. They want peace.
Our first stop was a beach with white sands, unimaginatively called “Playa Blanca” (White Beach). Pablo told us there are only three places on the pacific ocean that have white beaches. “It’s rare,” Pablo told me while we curled our toes in the soft shore, “because white beaches are made out of the poo of fish that have been eating coral. Otherwise all beaches would be yellow.” He wandered off while I promised myself I’d Google that the moment I got the chance.
A teenager wandered out to sea holding a spike on a long shaft with a rubber hoop on one end: a makeshift harpoon. You put the hoop over your thumb, then stretch the spike back and release it, like firing a rubber band at a teacher. But, in this case, propelling a metal spike at lobsters.
The sea was too choppy to be able to see much, so he went back in empty handed. Lily and Jorge tried taking Lily’s mum out for a swim. Her rheumatoid arthritis makes it difficult to walk, and the waves ended up simply knocking her down, then bashing her about a bit. It was both funny and sad, and I’m not sure Lila found it as hilarious as her family did.
Our next stop was Parque Utria, the local national reserve. The park’s name comes from a story about a local indigenous girl called Utria, who became a whale, and that’s why the whales come here to reproduce. This is one of 59 protected areas in Colombia, which together make up an astonishing 12% of the country.
The visitor part of the park included a museum with jars full of preserved local wildlife, the giant skeleton of a baby sperm whale and a 200m long wooden pier that takes you through thick, eerie mangroves. These mangroves are essential for the local fauna; they clean the water and fish come here to lay their eggs. The web of roots also stops erosion of the land.
Lily and I slid into the water to snorkel. Below the surface the mangrove trees branched out into spindly roots that fan out, with gaps just large enough for a human body to slip through. It felt mystical, ghostly and claustrophobic, a scary landscape of algae covered limbs. We swam over and under roots, stopping every couple of meters to find a path. By the time we’d drifted just 10 meters away, it was no longer possible to see the pier. It would be easy to get snagged, lost and panicked in the thick of a mangrove. I loved it.
The boat trip home was even worse than the one that had brought us here. Every minute we’d be pitched up on the crest of a wave, only to crack down onto the face of the next one with a spine crunching thump. Our captain tried to steer us along valleys between waves, but that often led to us cutting deep into a wall of water on one side, threatening to flip us. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who pictured us capsizing. Jorge, not one for risk under the best of conditions, was visibly shaken by the time we landed, calling our captain a hero for returning us home safe and sound.
Thanks to the sea’s conditions and how late it was in the season, this was the first time Pablo had gone out this year without finding a whale. There was always tomorrow.
That evening, Lily and I took a romantic walk on the beach. For pre-dinner drinks, our hosts made us coco locos with biche, a strong local moonshine made from grapes. Spurred on by the booze, and tired from the day’s excursions, I ended up getting into an argument with mum about Brexit. She’d suggested that it was a “protest vote” by people who have experienced increasing inequality since the 70s, sick of politicians who don’t listen to them, who want to stick it to the establishment. “I’m going to vote no,” Mum said, pretending to be in the mindset of a leave voter, “so now you HAVE to listen to me.”
I said I didn’t think that’s fair on the people who voted leave. Many of them never wanted to be in Europe in the first place, were told that it was going to make their lives better, and felt lied to when it didn’t stop British industry jobs going overseas. In 2016, wanting to leave Europe was nothing new, and years of fear-mongering and lies by politicians only served to cement what they already knew: European immigrants have taken their jobs, and Britain can’t do anything about it because they are beholden to Brussels.
They voted leave not just because they were unhappy, but because they thought they had legitimate reasons for wanting out – and maybe they did. This wasn’t just racism, this was voting with their heads. As much as I disagree with their reasoning, they weren’t just doing it because “fuck you Westminster”. Arguing that theirs was a protest vote dismissed Leavers as either vindictive, stupid or both.
Perhaps hypocritically, I don’t believe that same logic applies to the Colombian referendum. I don’t believe No voters here have a legitimate or valid historic reason to vote against the peace agreement. The No campaign is politically motivated, with elements of truth wrapped around blatant falsehoods (well, maybe there is a similarity with Brexit). People may hate FARC, but they’d be voting for peace were it not for the No campaign’s frustrating dishonesty.