They came because the fishing was good, but the trip to the market, and home, was long in their wooden dugout canoes. One thing led to another…what began as one stilted cabin here or there in which to stay overnight grew into larger buildings to store belongings allowing for longer stays. At some point about 100 years ago it just made sense to the fishermen to build more structures and bring their families. What once was open swamp with good fishing eventually became a good place to call home.
Nueva Venecia and Buenavista (both appropriately named, these translate to “New Venice” and “good view,” respectively) are two small communities in the Cienaga Grande de Santa Marta, about an hour’s boat ride from Pueblo Viejo. Most of the towns’ structures are on stilts. There is no electricity except what is provided by gas generators. Most of these are small portable varieties in homes, with the exception of Nueva Venecia. It is the largest of three communities in the area, and has a generator that supplies limited electricity to much of the town. While each town is self-contained, residents commute to Nueva Venecia for high school and community events. Small plots of land in each town were built up over time by piling up sediment and shell, primarily to serve as well-used soccer fields or gathering spaces.
Napoleon’s family moved to Buenavista over 50 years ago. He says that life in Buenavista is good and peaceful. People move there because they want to live there, and everyone knows everyone else. While they do have representation for regional political activities, there is no police force because there is little crime. It is not cheap to live in these communities. Everything must be transported in, including supplies for daily life and building materials. It is much less expensive to have a home in Ciénaga or Pueblo Viejo, but the quality of life that calls in these towns out-competes any monetary gain from living the larger towns.
Living in these towns is not without its challenges. Nearby, the Magdalena River, Colombia’s largest, flows into the Caribbean Sea at Barranquilla. Every few years, the river floods and greatly impacts the residents of these fishing villages. The rise though is slow, as is the retreat. This gives people enough time to raise their belongings, and even their floorboards, in their homes, to prevent water from coming into the home. Quality education is also an issue. While many children do make it to the university level, government corruption has misrepresented attendance and made it difficult for qualified teachers to be placed in the remote schools.
Fishermen spend their days on water or at home mending gear. They make trips to the market in Tasajeras, to sell their catch and gather supplies, every 4-5 days. Many have outboard motors, but some rely on plastic sails to propel them across the waters. For the people who live in these villages, inconveniences caused by their remoteness is a small price to pay for a quieter, simpler life.