THE SANTA MARTA EXPEDITION
PRESS RELEASE: JOURNEY INTO THE HEART OF THE WORLD 70min(theatrical) 52 min.(international tv), 47minute (North American) Beta SP/digicam/16mm, color
There is a new awakening in the world. Throughout the globe, great concerns have arisen as to the rights of indigenous mountain peoples and their will for autonomy and self government. Here is a tale of our expedition’s encounters with some of the world’s most secluded tribes. On some occasions we were the only foreigners ever allowed to stay, film and document our tale with our indigenous hosts.
Situated in the north east corner of Colombia, South America, near the Venezuelan border, lies one of the world’s most remote and spectacular mountain ranges - The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Here, the twin peaks of Cristobal Colon (named after Columbus) and Simon Bolivar (the famous South American Liberator) tower 5775 meters (almost 19,000ft). These summits harbor abundant snowfields and glaciers. Yet, the tropics of the Caribbean are less than forty kilometers away. We had the pleasure of visiting the area during the drier or better weather.
The drastic change in climate with elevation makes these Coastal Mountains posses some of the world’s most diversified flora and fauna.. Inhabiting the Sierras northern coastal rain forest, lives a tribe of white robed natives, the little known and mysterious, Kogi Indians. The South side’s more arid flank is the domain of the Arhuaco tribe.
National Geographic featured the area in it’s ‘Secret Corners of The World’ book as well as an article in the August 1970 issue. The lure to the region went as far back as then, when the idea for this location first originated with filmmaker Peter Chrzanowski.
Our team from Extreme Explorations came to the mountains initially with an arcane idea to be the first to climb and ski their sacred slopes. The team arrived in Colombia on December 15th with many apprehensions about even being in the country. The US State department for example had a stern travel warning on their website. It said bluntly: DO NOT TRAVEL TO COLOMBIA, especially for Americans, and these were three of our team members. The country had been going through a civil war with the guerillas and kidnappings of foreigners was said to be a common occurrence.
The originally conceived "action documentary" soon embraced an ethnographic style, highlighting the anthropological, historical and geographical interests in the region. An underlying ethical question was also at stake here. Should eco-tourism even be introduced to these well balanced, totally self sufficient people? Or, are they really content living their life without the burdens of the occasional curious visitor? On the other hand, eco-tourism might provide the natives with some well earned income for trekking food, mule rentals and the sale of a bit of art as souvenirs. Is it not a better alternative than the repossession of their lands by mining companies or Coca plantations as was done in the past?
Our team had stepped into an enchanting new world, "When the jungle parted and I first saw the hidden valley it really was another planet", as one team member commented. In traditional Extreme Explorations style, our mission began with a quest to climb and ski from the south or the Arhuaco dominated side of The Sierra Nevada. Here, we soon learned that both the Arhuacos and the Kogi natives hold the same universal belief. To them, Sierra Nevada is the heart of the world or "Corazon D’El Mundo". In their reality, they see the glaciers retreating. Therefore, the earth first must heal and the Sierra slopes must not be walked on, especially by foreigners, or soon, there will be no water left in the Cordillera. Since it is the heart of the world, there will, in turn, be no water available on the entire earth. Then the earth will die. It is certainly a grim future and a serious message to us as global warming is definitely taking its toll on many of the earth’s glaciated regions.
Discover the expeditions ongoing quest, following obstacles from unattainable beaurocratic permit hassles to spiritual encounters with Arhuaco chiefs or " gatekeepers " of the Sierra as they share their philosophy on an ever changing world for the year 2000.or the coming of the new Millenium.
The Odyssey takes us first by a 4x4 access road, which seems barely navigable by any modern vehicle. In the Arhuaco center of Nabusimake, the team contracts a native mule driver, and his six animals, who after several days of cautiously taking back trails, manages to guide the group to the Sierras’ upper reaches or 3600 meters elevations. Nabusimake, also known as San Sebastian, holds its own place in world history when the crafty Arhuacos decided not to fall prey to the rapidly encroaching world of Catholic faith. The local Jesuit Mission was burnt to the ground and the missionaries sent scrambling as an Arhuaco revolt struggled and succeeded to preserve their own cultural identity.
In the meantime, word seeped out of our, or the "Gringos" arrival , and all was not well with the Arhuaco community about our intended plans. The skiing soon becomes a great conversation piece as the concept of modern, frolicking on snow, technology amused the hardy Arhuacos. Soon the crew was well rehearsed in describing their mission and even showing POWDER magazine photos to Arhuacos en route. In a charming and amusing way, the natives were rather puzzled but certainly tickled by the group’s intentions. The expedition soon adopted its own "spiritual" ideology that "skiing is really sacred to us, coming from the ice and snowy lands of far off Canada". After all, we come to play, not to exploit like the eternally gold seeking Spaniards, or the miners and/or drug lords whom have a history of exploiting the native lands. Instead, perhaps, we might bring good luck, and snow to the region! Nevertheless, although saddened by their inability to ski, we decided to respect the indigenous people’s wishes and not to tread on their sacred snows. It was such an honor to be welcomed and live in their villages and just learn from people living totally within their means. The glaciers, indeed, have been retreating and diminishing in their size. Is it just a cycle or was there indeed an important message here to be learned from the Elder Brothers ?
After respecting the Arhuacos’ wishes, our story continues. Our team descends, then heads northward to discover the Kogis’ stand on the expedition’s original athletic desires. Now, they seek to approach the mountains from the more difficult, jungle covered Santa Marta side. This is the enchanting land of what is now the Tayrona National Park. The Kogis’ spiritual leaders - Mamas, desire that in any publications, we actually change all village names to preserve the secret location. Back at sea level, they re-assemble resources and head upwards ready to navigate lost trails covering the massive park ahead of them. It is their second grueling journey, a six day epic trek, or rather a slog, through dense tropical jungle of the Sierra’s foothills. This time, they travel with a black muleteer, a descendant of Colombia’s slave days, his three sons and a Kogi wife. Village by village they must pass tests.
Rendered upon them by the highly telepathic Kogi Mamas. Sometimes, this ordeal takes a few days. Finally, as the jungle parts at another 3600 meter pass (this time on the south side), they are awestruck by the view of a totally hidden to foreigners valley. They had passed the tests but must now face an impasse of sorts. The final village or gateway to the snows rejects their mission.
Just a short week ago, this second and final attempt all started in Santa Marta with a rather magical encounter with a volunteer park ranger named Willian, who was also yearning to travel into the Sierra as their paths met in a traveler’s hotel in Santa Marta. This journey was definitely influenced by a recent, BBC documentary released in 1994 entitled "From The Heart of The World: An Elder Brother’s Warning". The Kogi Indians, as the documentary explains, have been watching us (the little brother) from the jungle for the last several hundred years.
This is the ONLY pre-Colombian civilization (older than the Incas) to survive the Spanish Conquest by hiding in the impenetrable jungles of the Santa Marta rainforest. Now, the Kogis have decided to come back and reclaim their overgrown cities. The government of Colombia obliged and set up a park for them, The Arhuacos, and two other tribes, in order to protect the heritage.
The natives warn us that "mankind is killing the mother" or Earth. They see the effects of global warming in their yellowing grasses in the high alpine. Their gold, seen, as the blood of Mother Earth, is also long gone, pilfered long ago, by the Spanish Conquistadors.
The entire film also compares Kogis’ concerns on a global level, touching indigenous groups like Maoris of New Zealand and the Nisga in British Colombia. The film will discuss the question for the need of indigenous self-government and self-right to dictate and choose what kinds of visitors are welcome to the Sierra.
One of the film’s leading characters is climber/skier, Troy Jungen. Troy is a Beaver native himself whose band just received it’s own treaty. The Beaver Tribe is an eastern neighbor of the Nisga, whose people have at one time been driven by economic interests from their land. Troy is part Beaver and part Swiss, hence his love for the mountains.
Our expedition hopes to promote the beauty and diversity of the area as a whole. It will also attempt to change Colombia’s largely tarnished tourism image as we find a vibrant wonderful country full of some of the friendliest people in all of Latin America.
And thus, our team of outdoor enthusiasts managed to bond with both the Kogi and Arhuaco tribes. Our mission here was not one of a self-serving crusade following definite athletic trends or even specific Mountaineering feats. Instead we come to share experiences with the true native peoples of the Sierra, our own love for the earth and it’s fragile mountain environments. We hope that we brought a lighter, perhaps a more positive message from the younger brother to the Arhuacos as well as the Kogi. It is a message that all is not lost. We do not come to exploit but rather to learn from them and enjoy their mountain surroundings with a sensitive heart and self powered technology.
In the end we hope to encourage only the right type, if any, of eco-sensitive visitors into this precious and sensitive region of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. In general, what we hope to expose, are the similarities between the modern day camaraderie and Indigenous communities. Ours is a techno ridden society, a subculture of a leisure time technology, and seemingly novel prospect to the hard working Kogi and Arhuaco civilizations.
Most recently our own western intellectual needs seek a spiritual answer. As traditional organized religion is rapidly losing it’s initial following, there has been a great renaissance as to our entire belief system and the raison d’etre for our existence on this earth.
Many scholars and visionaries feel that we are on a consumer treadmill to doom. Instead, with our journey to the Sierra, we hope to shed new light on the meaning of pleasure and promote a worldwide bond of compassion. To us this nirvana may be achieved through extreme sport, seen to some as a ritual of sorts. The Kogi and The Arhuacos may have the hidden key for which we all seek the answers by, as do the Nisga and other fragile cultures which must be given the chance to determine their own destiny. Watch for the release of "THE SANTA MARTA EXPEDITION or JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THE WORLD" and come to your own conclusion The entire expedition has been promoted through live and delayed reports on our web site utilizing the newest in satellite live video/audio technology.
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