Knowing our Territory is Building Peace: Youth from Montes de María Map the Palenquillo River

Knowing our Territory is Building Peace: Youth from Montes de María Map the Palenquillo River

by Jose Ortega, Leiver Martínez, Berkin Hernández and Neiver Tapia, Ecological Protectors

posted on December 16, 2016.

“I can´t get out of my mind the transformation of the Palenquillo as we entered town, as if it were a totally different river. I wish it were, but the reality is different just like the state of the river. How sad to see the contaminated river beside the town. But people were calm as if nothing had happened, they can’t imagine the harm that they themselves are causing, destroying the Palenquillo, destroying the water, destroying the plants and animals. But the saddest part of all they are destroying themselves.”
-Jose Ortega Niño, November 4, 2016, Fieldnotes

Between October 31, 2016 and November 18, 2016, we, the Youth Peace Provocateurs, walked and mapped the Palenquillo River. With the support of 6 communities through which the Palenquillo crosses – Tesoro, Cauca, Macayepo, Berruguita, Cacique y Aguacate – we were able to document the present state of one of the most important rivers for our daily lives as small farmers.


The water of the Palenquillo is fundamental for agriculture, for animals, for cooking, for our food, for bathing, for recreation and for our enjoyment of our territory – in few words, water is life. The Palenquillo River is habitat for many of the unique species of our territory: the cotton top tamarin, toucans, iguanas, squirrels, howler monkeys, snakes, parrots, etc. Besides that, there are many types of heliconias, medicinal plants, and old trees: the Ceiba, the Caracoli, and the Suan and these are only a few of many. For us, it is our heritage. Because of that, it is necessary to spend time on the river in order to know its present state and to be able to identify how we can continue taking care of it.


Through this experience, we discovered that, due to contamination, extraction of resources, indiscriminate logging and the poor use of water that there are certain parts of the Palenquillo that are, today, at risk. In the 15 days that we walked the river, we found two different views, as if there were two separate rivers.

We began in the Bat Cave with the help of Marcos and his son, Jesús, two people who have a profound knowledge of the source of the Palenquillo. Walking two hours from the highest town, el Tesoro, we arrived to the cave, the source of the Palenquillo. The cave is large. We walked nearly 20 meters inside the immense natural site. The name of the cave reflects the truth: there were many bats flying above the subterranean pools, which are the source of the Palenquillo.


From there, the water runs underground for 300 meters, arriving at the Blue Watering Hole, the treasure of el Tesoro [the treasure]. Without a doubt, the water is very blue. The depth is incalculable to the point that you cannot even see the branches of an enormous Zapote tree, which was swallowed up by the watering hole. It is an enchanted pool. According to the legend, one day, while a woman was brushing her hair with a golden comb, she entered into the pool and was never seen again. The watering hole never dries up. Another mystery is that the water levels rise 3 or 4 times a year without rain. Spirits live inside the pool.


To know the river is to know our history, memory, and enchanted places. In the first week, when we walked the head of the river, we passed clear waterfalls, deep swimming holes and an immense number of plant species. We saw four troops of the cotton-top tamarin monkey – a species that is emblematic of the Mountain, but who, today, is endangered. It gives us pride to know that we still have a pure river, rich in trees, water, and animals.


While we walked, we documented points on the GPS, noting watering holes, animal species, erosion, plants, and the presence of humans. We took samples of water every 2 kilometers and every 500 meters, we documented the depth, current, and clarity of our Palenquillo. We walked mindfully, observing all that was around and within the Palenquillo.




The second week of our trek, we began to see a lot of contamination, starting at the towns and moving downstream. There were very few trees protecting the river. Because of the scarcity of trees, those that still stood, had begun to fall because they were not dense enough to stand against the strong current. We also saw places where the erosion resulted in the rerouting of the river, which was also caused by the loss of trees. We felt very sad to see the ways in which we are destroying the river. People from the communities explained that because of the loss of employment and the lack of access to land for farming, they have begun to extract sand and minerals from the river, even though they do not want to. One believes one is doing something good, but sometimes cannot imagine the consequences that such actions have. Everything is connected: the river, the trees, the soil, the plants and animals, human life. We need each other to survive.



We lived the river through our bodies: we saw it with our eyes, we felt it, we stepped in it, we bathed in its rich pools. We also lived its pain, the contamination, the erosion, the felling of trees. With the documentation that we have completed, we have learned new things. We know our history, our memory, and we have a tool that we can use to do consciousness-raising among ourselves – to insist that we must care for what is ours, that we can no longer think only of today, but of the future where our children will live.



Please support these youth in their efforts to map the streams in their three villages. Your support will empower them to care for their natural environment and lay a foundation for a peaceful and sustainable future.

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