Nine ex-FARC guerrillas in Colombia have a new future ahead of them in adventure tourism, thanks to rraft guide training provided by the International Rafting Federation (IRF) and Costa Rica outfitter Rios Tropicales.
The new raft guides, former combatants of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), completed their training Nov. 9 on the Pato River, where they’ll now operate commercial rafting trips in a former FARC-controlled “red no-go zone” – once a feared and forbidden location.
The venture is the result of a United Nations supported mission at Colombia’s Miravalle Territorial Area for Training and Reincorporation in San Vicente del Caguán, south of Bogota. In accordance with the November 2016 Peace Agreement, the mission helps former FARC members make the transition to civilian life after 54 years of armed conflict with the Colombian government.
“It’s one more step toward peace. Our guides are so proud to not only be training new river rafting guides, but to be taking part in the peace process in Colombia,” says Rafael Gallo, President of Rios Tropicales. “Thousands of armed fighters have put down their weapons and are trying to reintegrate into a society from which they have been estranged. The idea is to promote reconciliation and to help people adapt after such a long conflict through developing new income sources as a means to live.”
Gallo, one of the founding members of IRF, traveled to the Miravalle TATR in August with the UN Mission to assess the viability of developing a commercial rafting operation on the Pato River. The 100 or so residents there are looking to ecotourism, among other initiatives, to stimulate their economy and embark on a new path in civil life.
Impressed by the river’s commercial rafting potential, and the community’s desire for positive change, Gallo sent two Rios Tropicales guides, Roy Obando and Max Solano, to train the new guides, including eight men and one woman, in raft guiding, kayaking, and river safety and rescue skills.
“I was so inspired seeing how a river and rafting could change people’s lives and their future,” he says. “I wanted to continue to help them, knowing we could get them up and running much faster than on their own.”
Solano has been guiding with Rios Tropicales for 13 years and Obando— a ten-year Level 4 IRF instructor and safety head for the 2011 World Whitewater Rafting Championships—for 27 years. They certified the Colombian guides with an IRF site specific guide accreditation for the Pato River. They also donated gifts of lifejackets, helmets and rafting gear from Man of Rubber River Gear and Rios Tropicales.
During their training, Obando and Solano also led the team in an exploratory first descent of the upper Class IV-V section of the Pato. Most of their training, and the site of the commercial rafting trips, was in a 9 km Class III-IV section of the river.
“The progress has been amazing,” says Gallo, who has helped introduce commercial rafting operations in five countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. “This is an ongoing process, because running a rafting company is not something you learn overnight, but we’re headed in the right direction.”
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