“Colombia is a place where magic seems to happen every moment and I would argue that only a people like the Colombians, with their enduring spirit of place, their indescribable capacity for joy, could have endured the agonies of the last fifty years.”
Author and RCGS Honorary Vice President, Wade Davis says his latest book — Magdelena: A River of Dreams — is a love letter of sorts. Colombia, he says, is "a nation that allowed me to dream, that gave me my wings to fly." His love affair with this troubled nation began as a fourteen year old in the late 60s, when he went on an exchange from suburban Montreal. He has been returning ever since, as a writer, botanist, traveller, scholar of indigenous religions, captivated by the unbelievable range of history, cultures, environments, climates, and people that exist in this diverse South American nation.
In this interview, Davis discusses the five years of travels he took along the Magdelena River, "a corridor of commerce and a fountain of culture, the wellspring of Colombian music, literature, poetry and prayer," as the nation emerged from decades of civil war and drug cartel violence. He reveals a resilient, vibrant Colombia, a country where every ecological zone found on the planet can be reached within a days travel, from caribbean beaches, to snow capped mountains, rain-forests and desserts, a country of literally a thousand musical rhythms, where indigenous cultures continue to thrive, where the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marques is "just journalism," a cataloguing of the magic that exists on a daily basis.
Wade Davis was 20 — a student at Harvard University working toward degrees in anthropology and biology and a PhD in ethnobotany — when he set out on his first research expedition into the Amazon. He would go on to spend three years there, gathering more than 6,000 botanical collections in the South American rainforest and reaches of the Andes, living with 15 different indigenous groups in eight countries to study their traditional uses of medicinal and psychoactive plants.
In the decades since, the Vancouver born, Pointe-Claire, Que.-raised “plant explorer” and ethnographer has carried out fieldwork among several indigenous societies of northern Canada, and has documented folk rituals, the world’s biodiversity crisis and more from Australia and East Africa to Haiti, Mongolia and South Pacific island nations. He has published 17 books and his photographs have appeared in numerous collections and publications.
Davis is Honorary Vice-President of the RCGS (and was awarded its Gold Medal in 2009), an Explorer-in-Residence for the National Geographic Society and Professor of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. His mission, he says, has always been to tell the stories of the world’s indigenous societies, in such a way that he might “change the way the world views and values culture.”