by Jan Brelih
PUBLISHED JULY 21, 2022 | CHOCÓ, COLOMBIA
Colombian Pacific, known as the Chocó region is one of the world’s few remaining areas with no road infrastructure and still vastly intact rainforest expanses. It is separated from the rest of Colombia by impenetrable mountains with steep, muddy slopes covered by dense vegetation. Here, you also find the highest rainfall on the entire planet which has certainly proven to be true on my visit. The Pacific coast is generally only accessible by plane or boat. Utria national park is a 54,300 ha (210 sq mi) big area located on the northwest part of the wild Pacific coast.
I ended up spending two months in this tropical paradise. During this time, I immersed myself into the local culture, learned about the unknown areas, and discovered many unique ecosystems. Finding a way overland into Utria was initially pretty challenging. Except for brief day tours with a boat, there is no official information about any real access here. I was on my own, using my bicycle, finding a way that I could take leading me into the jungle towards and into Utria national park. Here you can read about my 3-day expedition into the jungles of Choco while also listening to some nature sounds that I recorded there.
I started from the nearby village called El Valle. It is one of the few towns located in this region. With my bicycle, I crossed the village wooden bridge over the Rio Valle and back onto a sandy beach that will ultimately lead me to the start of Utria national park. I was seeking a place to stay that was as close to the national park as possible. Using maps, I found a place called “Mama Orbe Family Eco Farm” near the beach. I spent several days there before and after my journey to the jungle. After a day of relaxation and organization, I left some of my belongings behind and set out on a multi-day adventure into the Utria.
Rec 01/ Utria on a hill above the Pacific
Now was the day to really do what I came here to do. I continued with my bicycle (at low tide) for another 4 kilometers before reaching the park’s edge. There was a border made by a river coming from the depths of the jungle into the Pacific ocean. These two met just on the beach. From here on the sandy beach has given a way to a rocky, inaccessible coastline. I hid my bicycle in a nearby forest, unpacked all the equipment from it and convert it into a backpack. Then, I needed to cross a river in order to reach the start of this remote jungle of Utria.
I have officially entered the Parque Nacional Natural Utría! It was now time to take the first step into the dense jungle vegetation that covered a hill above the Pacific Ocean. I was excited, but I was also concerned with remaining safe and making my way in. What followed was a three-hour battle uphill over completely soaked steep muddy ground and dense flora covered by vines and thorny palms. Colombian Pacific jungles hos a diverse range of palm tree species. Simply put, this was the most difficult terrain and conditions I’d ever encountered on my expeditions so far.
I could easily stop by now and set up my camp. The knowing to have with me a complete and comfortable shelter and all the tactical equipment has given me a good sense of security and confidence. The only real reason why I continued was the sound recording aspect. I wanted to avoid the strong background white noise of the ocean on my jungle recordings so the goal was to reach the top of a hill where the other slope-side would act as a shelter from the ocean sounds. Also, the idea of having a base on a top of a hill instead of a steep slope down was way better.
Oophanga Solanensis frogs were keeping me company. Few of them were found on the top of a 200m high hill above the Pacific ocean.
After hours of battling my way uphill through the thick vegetation, rocky water creeks and fallen trees the slope has eventually flattened out. I’ve finally made it to the top of a hill completely wet and exhausted. By this point, around 8 pm it was completely dark and raining. Now I’ve set up my camp for the night. When everything was in place, I had a cozy and safe shelter, which was great. It was actually New Year’s Eve which I spent all by myself here above the Pacific ocean in this faraway place, surrounded only by wildlife.
My shelter for News year’s eve. I have hung up all the equipment including the backpack to keep it off the wet ground and away from any sort of insects. The ants were surprisingly almost nonexistent here.
I woke up to the growling sound of the Howler monkey. Quickly, I stand up from my hammock and rushed to set up my microphones on a tree trunk in the distance. I successfully recorded the monkey which sound you can hear for kilometers away over the jungle. I was now at the top of a hill, from which I planned to descend to the other side where the mangrove lagoon was located. Looking at the map, it appeared to be fairly simple. I should only go downhill for about 2 kilometers which gave me a sense of relief that the most difficult part was over. There was even a thought that I might be able to keep dry today. After about 30 minutes of walking in this direction, I quickly realized that it would be another day of pushing myself to and beyond my limits.
Rec 02/ Howler Monkey in the morning
One of many steep and narrow ravines covered by the lush jungle. Overcoming this terrain with a heavy backpack was not only disorientating but also very physically intense and dangerous.
The hill rapidly became really steep, muddy, and confusing. Even with a compass and a terrain map, it was difficult to maintain orientation and direction here. There had been numerous ravines with running water hidden on this slope, which was on the side of mangroves.It was one after the other, and just as I was able to overcome one, the next one emerged. The mangroves I wanted to reach seemed so close and yet so away. Considering continuing over this terrain was too difficult and risky for me to do it alone, I decided it was wiser to postpone them to the next trip in the following weeks of my time in El Valle, El Almejal beach. This was my first solo expedition here, and I still had enough time to explore surrondings. After hours of going up and down the muddy slopes, I finally arrived at the start of a more gentle area, which was my target point. I’ve decided to set up camp and spend the night at this spot. It rained nonstop all night. I’ve never experienced such a strong rainfall.
Rec 03/ Morning creek after rain
I woke up in the morning, made my breakfast with cereals, water and panela sugar then enjoy being in this jungle paradise surrounding me. The intense rain, after the whole evening and night, has finally come to an end. There was a profound moment being naked in this pure water creek when I could imagine myself just staying here for the rest of my life. On the other side, I had an uneasy one about what kind of challenges will I be put into today. Judging by the last two days, this one will not be any easier. Regardless, I have kept a calm mindset and focused on getting back to civilization. Everything seemed to close but in this type of environment, you could get lost for days in one square kilometer.
After packing all the equipment and making sure to leave no trace behind, I started my way through the dense jungle. There were numerous water creeks running in various directions. Now, I’ve strictly followed the compass direction, which was West, where the ocean was. After overcoming a small hill, there was a pretty good size creek flowing in the right direction.I didn’t bet on it because the factors here change so rapidly. I was now walking along the creek, which, surprisingly, continued in the direction of the ocean. After about a half-hour, I knew it was going to take me all the way out of the jungle. The only things that may disrupt these were waterfalls and slippery cascades.
Following the creek going on the water was actually pretty easy and enjoyable than getting through the jungle.
According to the offline maps, I was out of the rough and steep terrain, so there was a high possibility this river would’ve been relatively flat. The alternative was not promising since the banks were very steep, muddy, and covered in vegetation. I was relieved to find this option, as I was ready for another day of strenuous jungle trekking. Now not only do I have an easy direction and drinking water, but I also have the option of refreshing myself by jumping into the numerous pools surrounded by the rainforest. I still needed to be careful on the slippery rocks and find my way over some trees but overall it was fine. Life was pretty good.
The narrow waterway had given way to an ever more flat terrain. Eventually, it joined the larger river, which was still moving in my direction. Eventually, I could again hear the distant powerful waves of the ocean. I was following the bigger river on the edge of its bank because it was quite deep and I didn’t have any raft this time. The jungle has become more of a swamp in this area, with some massive trees and mangrove-like ecosystems. Although I expected difficult and muddy ground, it was actually fairly walkable. After about 3 hours, the hidden lagoon where the river joins the Pacific ocean appeared. Returning to where I started. As much as I enjoyed the forest and the wilderness, I was pleased and relieved to return safely.