At 5 am, the Colombian province of Casanare is finding its voice. Brahman cattle snort, horses graze and flick their tails, an enthusiastic woodpecker plies its trade in a mango tree. Two Carra Carra 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 (rather glamorous) French/Colombian couple with impressive hospitality credentials, it 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, we decide, is surprisingly therapeutic.
“These are the bravest people I know”, says Daniel, our guide, 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 rose at dawn and set out on foot through brush and scrub, bird call thickening the air. Don Alvaro, producing his machete, forged a path through the jungle, stopping at regular intervals to inspect trees and hollows. After two hours, our efforts were rewarded. There, in the clearing, basking in splendid torpor, lay an anaconda. Daniel, a trained vet, and snake enthusiast inspects the beast to ascertain sex (female), age (three) and heath (impeccable) before returning her to the jungle. Such experiences are enriched, I think, by the thought that most right-minded individuals would go to exceptional measures to avoid such an encounter.
That evening, with the sun sliding into the Orinoco river, we are treated to a fireside recital from four local musicians, who perform heart-rendering llanero ballads, known as Joropo.