I navigated through the cactuses, past the donkeys, down the winding gravel road to the beach. Julian was untangling his fishing net, which is referred to locally as chinchorro. His wife Veronica and daughter Valeria were nearby keeping him company.
La Guajira is one of the poorest and driest regions in Colombia, but what it is rich in is seafood. Large scale commercial fishing is forbidden and it seems that this rule is actually obeyed. As a result, the Wayuu who live on the coast are able to feed their families with what they catch, sometimes they even have enough to sell to the couple of hotels in the region.
Julian is one of the men who ekes out his living thanks to the sea. I asked him about the fishing process and our conversation ended up in me setting up a meeting for 5 am the next morning. We'd both go out in Julian's small, wooden botito, I'd buy fresh fish from him and his wife and daughter would cook it.
I went out twice with Julian. The first time he was late. At 5am the sun hadn't yet risen. I went back to sleep in my car until Julian woke me up about an hour later.
The second morning I decided to photograph the fish underwater, while it was in chinchorro. I love getting these kinds of images as I feel they add another dimension and depth to a photo story.
I didn't use my trusty Lumix cameras in this case. I have one of those Olympus Tough cameras, which are waterproof and shoot RAW. They're inferior in quality to the Lumix, but the great part is that they don't need any special case to be waterproof.
I joked with Julian that I brought him good luck. He laughed, but seemed to agree. Both mornings that I joined him he caught about 8 fish, ranging from 2-5 kg. Twice I ate the same type of fish that you see above, about 3 kg. The wife cooked it and I shared some of it with them (wife and daughter). It wasn't the most elaborate preparation, but, when it's fresh, big, tasty and when the bones are easy to pick out – what's there to complain about?
The fishing technique is surprisingly, very simple. The 100 metre chinchorro is lowered into the water, anywhere near rocks, where the fish seek shelter. The net is left over night. In the morning Julian comes with his botito (wooden boat) and pulls it out. Sometimes, if it's not too tangled he'll lower it again right after taking out the fish.
The trickiest part of the whole process was the fact that the boat had many holes and we had to get rid of the water with an improvised scoop every few minutes.
While Julian was fishing, other fishermen came by with lobsters. I gladly bought two from them and one from Julian for a total of about USD $9.
There's nothing quite like returning to shore with a catch. Though this wasn't my own catch, I still felt a sense of accomplishment and a sense of satisfaction that I'd be eating fish.
On our second morning together Julian pulled out the chinchorro to untangle it, while his two nephews helped him with some smaller tasks.
The boys cleaned all the fish that Julian caught. Their reward was one of the smaller fish of the bunch.
One afternoon I took the little boat out myself. When I tried to pull it back ashore I thought for a second that Julian had superhuman strength. The boat, though small was incredibly heavy. Pulling it directly along the sand was an impossible task. I ended up towing it with my car.
The next time Julian brought the boat in from the sea I realised that there was a technique to it.
My favourite meal – lobster! Even boiled it was deliscious.
Julian's younger daughter checking out the catch.
Julian preparing the fish to be cooked as his younger daughter watches. Below is an image of Valeria cooking my fish while she also prepares chicha (a fermented drink made from maize). Chicha is a big thing in these parts of Colombia, but definitely not something I'll be eager to try again.
It's unfortunate that my trip through Colombia is relatively short. I love staying in places like these, getting to know the people and creating photographs with a bit more depth to them.
There's still much to explore in the region and I hope that I'll get a chance to do that when I'll be back in Colombia in December. I'll be sure to bring my own speargun, as I've never seen so much fish anywhere else that's not a sanctuary.