Tubing Down the Palomino River
This guest post is written by Harmony Difo, a Dreamer volunteer and Lonely Planet journalist. It is one article of a three piece series detailing first-person perspectives on activities in our region. We hope you enjoy!
Palomino. I have been traveling in Colombia for weeks and I hear about this small town time and time again over dinner conversations, drinks, on hikes and so much more. I wake up early the next morning, ready to see, ready to hear, ready to smell, ready to touch and taste -- ready to explore. I walk to the front desk to see what excursions are on offer in town and on the first suggestion I say an enthusiastic, “YES!”, a tour down the town’s namesake river -- The Palomino. The tour leaves at 10am. I grab a quick breakfast and meet the other four Dreamers who will be joining me on my tour. I am advised to bring nothing that I do not want to get soaked in the river.
Our tour guide, Jose, lets me know that a small plastic pouch for my phone and other valuables would also be available for purchase for about 10 pesos on the way. But, I did not want to risk my phone getting wet so I leave everything in my dorm locker. I want to see the river with my own eyes -- camera-free. Thankfully another person on the tour decides to bring his phone and offers to take photos so I will still be able to save some memories. Minutes later we are whisked away to a small shop less than 100 steps away from the front door of the hostel. Jose casually points to a young man sitting on a motorbike and tells me to hop on the back. Minutes later the four of us, all on the back of motor taxis with our inner tubes on our shoulders are speeding through Palomino, clouds of dust billowing behind us, clear blue skies ahead. When we arrive at the path to the river, Jose tells us that it is a 30 minute hike through the forest to arrive at the entrance. His estimate is accurate. The climb to the top of the mountain is steep and descent down to the river is even steeper. Because we will be in the river, all of us have only worn our flip flops so there is a quite a bit of slipping and sliding on the way down to the river, but we all make it with smiles on our faces.
Once we arrive, Jose ties our inner tubes together two-by-two and we enter the river. The water is a pleasant temperature -- cool, but not too cold -- and it is extremely clean, spotless enough to be able to see directly down to the bottom. The float is miraculous. It is a slow, meandering trip, with small rapids and a spectacular array of flora and fauna on the way. Jose points out various exotic birds and iguanas along the way and both banks of the river are dense thickets of electric green forest. Clusters of sky-high palm trees and low-hanging banana trees surround us on all sides. As we float down the river, I am able to recline all the way back in my inner tube so my entire body faces the sky. It is my definition of a perfect sky, cobalt blue with only a few faint clouds whispering by. Jose, following close behind us on his own inner tube, suddenly whispers, “Look!” We look to the left and a mere 10 feet away is a tall elegant heron with gorgeous blue-gray feathers looking directly at us with beautiful, curious eyes. We stare at each other for a few minutes until he spreads the length of his broad wings, picks up his long, thin legs and takes flight, landing in the tree across the river where he continues to observe us from a safer distance.
The float takes about two hours in its entirety and every moment is delightful from start to finish. The views are lush and visually stimulating and Jose guides us the entire way, ensuring that we don’t float too fast or too slow. When the river is too shallow or slow he attaches his tube to ours and pulls us along until we are riding smoothly again. Finally, in a fantastic display of Mother Nature’s gifts the river runs into an enormous sandbar and then crashes into the Caribbean Sea where it meets its end. As the river opens up into the sea, Jose guides our party onto the beach where we take the short 15 minute walk down the Caribbean shore and back to The Dreamer where we return out inner tubes to Jose’s in front of the hostel. He gives each of us a firm, friendly handshake and beams a genuine smile at us. My three tubing-mates and I beam with joy, rosy from the sun and full of the joy that only a sincere interaction with the natural world can bring.
When I return to my dorm room, I sit down in awe of the experience, in awe of the Palomino River and its beauty. As I lay my head down on my pillow, I anticipate what activities this quiet little town would have in store for me the next morning. The Palomino experience, one not quite like any other, had only just begun.
Five Things to Bring On This Tour:
A plastic pouch for valuables (available for purchase)
Drinks (beers and water)
Sandals or shoes you can get wet
Three Must-See & Must-Photograph Moments:
The white heron (la garza)
The blue heron
The location where the Palomino River meets the Caribbean Sea