Birder's Guide

AUG 2013

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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Page 32 of 67

The beautiful Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Photo © Santiago Florez. From soft sandy Caribbean beaches to the majestic snow-packed peaks of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, from soggy Andean 47 and high-elevation páramo grasslands to steamy jungles and sprawling Llanos savannas, Colombia has it all and then some. Even with Colombia's tremendous nature tourism potential, few have dared to visit and experience this jewel of a country—until recently. To many, if not most, people, Colombia conjures images of a brutal civil confict, kidnappings, armed guerrillas, illicit drugs, and the murderous drug cartels which proft from them. The only widely-accepted positives to come out of Colombia, it would seem, are its decadent coffee and beautiful people. Colombia's image has no doubt taken a beating over the years, and its negative portrayal is exacerbated by mass media and pop culture. Look no further than the 2011 movie La Colombiana, featuring an attractive young woman bent on exacting revenge upon the narcotrafcantes responsible for her parents' deaths, to see these stereotypes at work. The movie was boycotted throughout Colombia because it portrayed the country as a nation full of drug traffcking and violence. Another example of this mix of stereotypes is the popular U.S. TV show Modern Family, which features Sofía Vergara as the voluptuous Gloria, a beautiful trophy wife who regularly makes references to growing up in a Colombian drug cartel. Indeed, the world's media have done an impressive job spinning Colombia as a violent, drug-infested, third-world nation where only the foolish dare travel. Car bombs, burned-out cocaine manufacturing jungle camps, mountains of packaged drugs, and pleading kidnapped foreigners have saturated the news. Many would-be travelers assume that these stories re- Denver, Colorado Nate Skinner fect the typical Colombian experience. I reject this notion, and wish to reveal the incredible and the unique that Colombia has to offer—and perhaps sway your opinion about this misrepresented nation. Colombia is an absolute must-visit for any serious birder/naturalist or adventure traveler. I hope to inspire you to take a second, deeper look at this remarkable country. The Colombian Conflict Colombia remains in the throes of a civil confict that has been smoldering for nearly 60 years. In certain parts of the country, deadly scuffes between government forces and "illegally armed forces" do occur. The confict's roots run deep through Colombian history. Revolutionary armed forces opposed to the central government emerged in the early 1960s, and today there is a three-way clash among guerrillas, paramilitaries, and government forces. Ordinary Colombian citizens, who want only peace and stability for their country, have been unwillingly and literally caught in the crossfre. The confict has its peaks and valleys, and in recent years the Colombian government has tightened its grip and driven back "illegally armed forces", such as the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the ELN (National Liberation Army). Current peace talks taking place in Cuba between the Colombian government and the FARC offer a new sense of hope for Colombians that widespread and lasting peace may fnally be realized. Colombia is a large country (almost twice the size of Texas), and the majority of these scuffes are confned to specifc regions near the Pacifc Coast and along the borders with Venezuela and Ecuador. Much of Colombia is open for business and birding, and hundreds of birding trips August 2013 | Birder's Guide to Travel 31

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