introduction
The Geographies of Social Movements
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. In March 1995 I traveled
for the first time to the Pacific Coast region of Colombia. By then I had
already spent four months in Colombia on a year- abroad study program
while pursuing an undergraduate degree in geography and Hispanic stud-
ies at the University of Glasgow. As part of the program, students were sent
for a year to a Spanish- speaking country in order to become fluent in their
language skills. My choice fell on Colombia. Why? I am not so sure any
more. Colombia is a crazed fútbol nation, of course. Their flamboyant style
with the likes of René el scorpión Higuita, el Pibe Valderrama, and Freddy
Rincón seduced many during the fifa World Cup in 1990, when Colombia
held West Germany to a dramatic 1:1 draw (with Rincón scoring the equal-
izer in the ninety- third minute). This surely was a convincing pull factor.
Or maybe it was the sheer exuberance of a tropical geography that at-
tracted me. Colombia is the only country in South America with coastlines
on both the Atlantic and the Pacific. The massive Andean mountain range,
which runs along the western part of the South American continent, sud-
denly splits as it reaches Colombia. It is as if it couldn’t make up its mind
where to go next. This topographic indecision has resulted in three dis-
tinct mountain ranges: the Western, Central, and Eastern Cordillera. Deep
valleys separate the ranges, notably those of the two great rivers, the Cauca
and the Magdalena. Climatic variation is determined by this extremely
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