Fishermen cast their nets in the Magdalena River near Colombia's Tatacoa Desert
Fishermen cast their nets in the Magdalena River near Colombia’s Tatacoa Desert. (Photo by Carlos Bernate)

If you have been following the Big Picture during our last 99 issues you might get the impression that our very talented contributing photographers spend a lot of time on water. And they do, from capturing a night ride on the Atrato River to crashing waves on the beaches of Nuquí.

Then, sand baggers on the banks of the majestic Magdalena near Puerto Berrío or fishermen casting nets to reel in the catfish harvest – the subienda – at Honda.

Photographer Carlos Bernate recently ventured to one of the driest regions in Colombia, the Tatacoa Desert, to document how a prolonged drought has impacted the lives of subsistence farmers. Despite its proximity to the Magdalena River, the foothills of the central cordillera, and the department of Huila’s most visited tourist attraction – San Agustín archaeological park – the Tatacoa is Colombia’s second largest arid area, covering 330 square kilometers of what once was a lush tropical forest.

Even though it rains in the Tatacoa during the annual “rainy season,” this year’s drought was magnified by the climatic effects of El Niño. Finding water for livestock in an unforgiving terrain has been a challenge for locals, and the prolonged dryness has resulted in the water level of the Magdalena dropping to record lows.

But some welcome news does loom on this red-clay horizon for the inhabitants of Villa Vieja – the rains will surely return, as La Niña will bring heavy precipitation later in the year. As for the fishermen of the Tatacoa, the drought has meant more time on the water and a blessing for photographers to capture the last light of this lunar landscape.