Rodrigo is our CEO and a passionate traveler. Curating experiences for IMPULSE has made him fall in love with his own country again and inspired him to turn tourism into a tool for transformation.
Author: Rodrigo Atuesta, CEO IMPULSE TravelI kick-started 2020 with one of the most inspiring experiences I've had in my life. Me and 4 friends went on a 3 day-tour into deep Colombia, to a place called El Caguan in the department of Caquetá. This area was once FARC's guerrilla stronghold and witnessed the most terrible confrontations with the Colombian Army.
Miravalle's landscapeAfter the peace agreement signed between the Colombian Government and FARC in 2016, 10,000 ex-combatants were left in uncertainty. A key strategy to make the agreement sustainable was the creation of rural villages, where the ex-combatants could redefine their life project, being productive with activities not related to war or the drug trade. At El Caguan, they came up with the brilliant idea of using eco-tourism as a tool for change. With the support of cooperation, they started a white-water rafting project and got training from an expert guide from Costa Rica who came down for 6 weeks to their community.
Housing at ETCR
The result, is an amazing adventure experience, visiting this area that has been kept pristine in great part due to a 60-year-old war. The lush nature surrounding the Pato river, the vast amount of colorful birds and the paramount Cajones canyon made such great scenery, that left me astonished.
Pato River's Canyon
However, nature and rafting are only a small part, compared to the stories of the Peace Leaders who are bringing this project forth. Remando por la Paz (or Rafting for Peace) is a project led by Caguan Expeditions, a community-driven operator, composed by FARC ex-combatants and people who have long inhabited the area. Rafting for peace does not only meet the functional purpose of offering sustainable economic alternatives for the ex-combatants to be able to reincorporate into society without causing any harm. In my perspective, there is a higher purpose: to build bridges between two extremes of a profoundly divided society.
For me and my friends, who grew up in the capital city, coming from privileged families with high income, visiting that area and interacting with FARC had been unthinkable for most of our life. We grew up in an atmosphere of fear, where FARC was this face-less terrorist enemy. I remember watching reports of FARC militants being killed in combat and feeling some sense of victory. I never really questioned why they were fighting for, let alone if it was fair or not. For me, FARC was just a threat to my well-being.
Luch at El pescador, natural reserve
This is not only my own story. It is the reality of millions of Colombians who have grown up in fear of each other. This fear caused rejection, rejection violence, and violence suffering. Violence will not be eliminated from the system until the chasm between the two extremes of a society is not reconciled and until there is not a mutual understanding. This is why I consider that tourism with projects like this can achieve peace. They are a great excuse for bringing together different worlds, tearing down a veil of judgment and building the bridges to reconcile a broken society.
This specific project has a powerful symbolic meaning. The two extremes of the society are on the same boat, rowing together in the same direction. The travelers put their lives in the hands of someone who was their biggest threat, while the guides have made a huge effort to prepare themselves to take on this responsibility, providing safety and fun for the travelers. That is hard-core peacebuilding. At Impulse, we are committed to using the power of tourism to drive social transformation. This project embodies all our purpose and this is why we have taken the decision to build a partnership with Rafting for Peace, with the aim of developing the project further, increasing their visibility and bringing many more travelers.