FLORENCIA, Colombia – The U.S. national anthem breaks the night-time silence as a ferry full of tourists plies the calm waters of the Orteguaza River in southern Colombia, a region controlled until a few years ago by FARC rebels.
In a nod to the U.S. tourists on board, Ruben Dario Polo, the captain of the Marco Polo, plays “The Star-Spangled Banner” over the ferry’s speakers, followed by the Colombian anthem.
The ferry, which only rarely operates at night, sets out from Puerto Arango, 15 kilometers (10 miles) from Florencia, capital of Caqueta province, for decades a bastion of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
But skipper Polo, who launched the quixotic tourism venture in guerrilla territory a few years ago, hopes that peace between the government and the FARC will create new opportunities to acquaint the world with the natural beauty of southern Colombia.
“This project has been growing,” he told EFE. “In the last year, with the truce between FARC and the government, an increasing number of people have come to visit Caqueta, and we receive an average of 250 to 300 people each month.”
On Sundays and holidays, he casts off at 10 am and sails the Marco Polo downriver to the Larandia military garrison. Passengers observe the flora and fauna and have lunch on an island before returning to Puerto Arango as the sun sets.
To reach Puerto Arango, the visitor must travel on the road where then-presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt was kidnapped by the FARC in February 2002.
With peace on the horizon, Caqueta, whose economy is based on cattle and farming, hopes to leave behind its violent past and become a destination for tourism.