Palomino’s a beautiful place. A dusty one road town with a perfect beach of golden sands that sprawls out before a backdrop of palm trees.
There’s an abundance of natural beauty. There’s also an abundance of small town weirdness.
When we read about Palomino, it sounded like the idyllic location to relax after a four-day trek through the jungle. With the prospect of aching muscles and blisters for days, we booked ourselves into a little cabaña we couldn’t really afford and rewarded ourselves with some hardcore chilling.
The area of the coast around Palomino is a mecca for surfers. Playful yet powerful waves crash down on the shore, glinting in the sunlight. Swimmers and sunbathers spend sleepy days relaxing by the water, needing to exert themselves only as far as the nearest wooden cabin for food and drinks.
Our schedule was no different.
Delicious food from the beachfront vegetarian restaurant and evening cocktails with our feet in the sand filled our days. But the longer we spent there, the more we noticed a different side to the town.
Palomino sits at the bottom of the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the Caribbean coast. For centuries the Sierra Nevada has been home to indigenous communities. The Kogi, considered to be descendants of the Tayrona, believe themselves to be part of the nature surrounding them and live harmoniously with it.
A sacred tradition of theirs is to give a boy a Popora when he becomes a man. This popora is made from a hollowed out gourd and used to crush coca leaves with seashells. The men of the community then chew the mixture as they go about their daily work, each carrying his popora with him wherever he goes.
Seemingly due to Palomino’s location, the use of poporas has spilled out of the indigenous communities and into a small pocket of gringos and locals.
People selling handmade jewellery, cakes and other simple crafts occasionally wander the beach. Certain things seem to tie a number of them together- red eyes, brown teeth and a vacant uneasy stare.
After seeing poporas used in their traditional context while trekking to Ciudad Perdida, it was odd to see them appropriated by people outside of the communities.
Daytime by the coast is surely a paradise. But walk further a long the dirt track, to the other side of the only road that connects this town with the rest of the world, and the atmosphere changes, especially at night.
Indigenous men in traditional dress argue drunkenly in the yard of a dilapidated house while locals on the other side of the path do the same, interspersed with calls of “Guapa”, Mamacita”, and “Hermosa” at passing females. Of which there are very few.
It took some time for me to adapt to the constant objectification of women that happens on a daily basis in Colombia. The shouting, whistling and hissing can take its toll if you don’t reframe it in your mind as an ill-communicated compliment. In this regard, Palomino is no exception.
The difference is that when a group of late night locals enthusiastically express their appreciation of your female form, you become acutely aware of the fact there is no one else around and nowhere else to go. Sleepy places like Palomino have the potential to become pretty creepy pretty quickly.
As the path wandered further from the road to the edges of unlit fincas and overgrown gardens, searching for our cabin through the pitch black became a challenge, especially by the meagre light of a borrowed low-beam travel torch. If only we were more organised.
Palomino’s strange, but a great place to visit for a few days. Short enough so paradise doesn’t have time to crumble before you like the paint on the houses. Long enough to relax, swim, recuperate and leave.
Eat the food, drink the drinks, then get the hell out of there before you become another gringo who came for paradise, found a popora and never left.