At 5 am, the Colombian province of Casanare is finding its voice. Brahman cattle snort, horses graze and flick their tails, an enthusiastic woodpecker goes to work on a mango tree. Two Caracara dance and pick bones. Their screeches beam across the open grasslands.
The scale of these plains dwarfs Argentina’s pampas or Brazil’s Pantanal. At around 185,000 square miles – shared between Venezuela (65%) and Colombia (35%) – Los Llanos occupy a territory roughly the size of Spain.
Corocora Camp sits at the heart of a 20,000-hectare private reserve, a three-hour drive from Yopal airport. The luxury tented property accommodates up to 8 guests between a shared clubhouse, and four comfortable en-suite bedrooms.
Masterminded by a charming French/Colombian couple with impressive hospitality credentials, Corocora Camp is the first project of its kind in Colombia. No plastic bottles are allowed on site. Fresh water is drawn from a filtered well. The camp is powered exclusively by solar. Organic waste is composted and used by Chef Yoli for the extensive herb and vegetable garden – and for her beloved orchids.
Days start early. Bolstered by strong coffee and pastries, guests are invited to join in rustling cattle, assisting with conservation efforts, tracking wildlife or fishing for piranha.
Los Llanos are generously colonised by capybara, giant anteaters, puma, jaguar, deer, armadillo and some 350 species of bird. The lodge staff typically arrange 2-3 expeditions each day, on foot or horseback, or by 4×4.
Like any self-respecting llanero, Don Alvaro and his compatriots ride barefoot and take turns in singing to their cattle. The rest of us cast aside our inhibitions and yoddle, whoop, whistle and holler. Cattle rounding, it turns out, is surprisingly therapeutic.
“These are the bravest people I know”, says Daniel, our guide at Corocora Camp, as we plunge on horseback into a course dotted with caiman. “The only thing that will stop a llanero crossing a river is an electric eel. Nobody wants a 600v jolt”.
Another morning, we rise at dawn and set out on foot through brush and scrub, bird call thickening the air. Don Alvaro, producing his machete, forges a path through the jungle, stopping at regular intervals to inspect trees and hollows. After two hours, our efforts are rewarded. There, in the clearing, basking in splendid torpor, lies our anaconda. Daniel, a trained vet, inspects the beast to ascertain sex (female), age (three) and health (impeccable), before releasing her back into the jungle.
That evening, with the sun sliding into the Orinoco river, we are treated to a recital from four local musicians. They perform heart-rendering ballads, known as Joropo, before taking each of us by the hand for a class in llanero waltz.