Carlos Avila Gonzalez and Phillip Robertson, for the Pulitzer Center
El Charco, Colombia
After crossing the vast mangrove swamps to El Charco, we headed deeper into the river system closer to the FARC-controlled areas. The displaced campesinos of Pueblo Nuevo told us that they were afraid to return to their homes because the army was there in force. After several false starts when men with boats refused to take us farther up the river, we found a man willing to make the journey. People associated with the rebels conveyed the message that there were no cameras allowed in their sector. They did not want to communicate with journalists.
The Tapeje is part of a river system which is labyrinthine and spread out over a great distance. Without someone who knows the routes, the points where the sandy bottom is inches from the surface, we would have been lost and aground in minutes. As we spent more time on the river, I began to notice something odd - the near total absence of birds. When the engine fell silent there was hardly any sound at all. In all the great river deltas I have seen, birds and small animals abound, but not the Tapaje.