Posted by Maria K. Navas – MA Candidate at CLACS / Latin American and Caribbean Studies at NYU
It’s six o’clock in the morning in Boca Grande, Cartagena, and I awake to a text from a friend, “Kariii, es que se me olvidó decirte anoche que mi suegra va a ser ahora en la mañana un etno tour en Boquilla por si quieres ir. Te recojo en quince minutos?” My friend, whose mother-in-law is one of the top tour guides of Cartagena—recommended to visiting dignitaries—is on a mission to visit La Boquilla, an Afro-descendant community in the outskirts of the city. Despite being a Cartagenera, La Boquilla is a community she has never visited, and never thought she would have needed to. The purpose of her first time visit is to discern whether or not a tour there would be of interest to her future clients. Sonia, who usually conducts her tours solely in the obvious historical sites of Cartagena, has of late, been requested to add “ethnic tours” to her repertoire.
As globalization has permeated all corners of the earth, it is becoming increasingly difficult to vacation in different regions of the world where it feels…well, different, elucidating the sudden demand Sonia has received for less quintessential tours. I have been invited to Sonia’s test trial of this so called “ethnic tour” because she is aware of my interest in Cartagena’s rural Afro-descendant communities—mainly those who have or are applying for their collective land title—as well as because of my obvious inherited membership into the gringo club. In her eyes my opinion has clout on whether or not the “ethnic” tour would be enjoyed by foreigners, permitting Sonia to form a new partnership with La Boquilla’s burgeoning eco-friendly, community-based tourism.
La Boquilla is a fishing community that I frequently passed through when I lived in Cartagena. It is a community that has struggled (for better and for worse) with the construction of a gigantic neighboring resort. It is also a community that was granted its collective land title in 2012—along with Palenque another Afro-descendant community—during the Summit of the Americas, by President Barack Obama and popular Colombian musician Shakira. It is one of the few Afro-descendant communities in the Caribbean side of Colombia to have received its collective title.
As Sonia and I are guided by Rony, director of Ecotours Boquilla, the local tourist organization, we are taken to every spot that comprises his regular tours. We are given access to their beautiful cemetery, police station, newly constructed library, a fisherman’s house (who at that moment so happened to be creating his own fishing net), the house of a local artist, restaurants, and of course a sneak peek to their new fishermen museum. I am thoroughly engaged throughout the tour, more so than the historical one I had in Cartagena’s posh and busy Old City. Ecotours Boquilla has deviated from the typical tourism routes, empowering the community by generating jobs for its denizens, combining community and environmental awareness with canoe tours of the mangroves and the community itself. I tell Sonia she will frequently be visiting La Boquilla.