THE BATTLE OF CARTAGENA DE INDIAS (1741)

THE 'PUERTA DEL RELOQ' WAS THE PRINCIPAL GATEWAY INTO THE WALLED TOWN.
THE ‘PUERTA DEL RELOQ’ (THE CLOCK-TOWER GATE) WAS THE PRINCIPAL GATEWAY INTO THE WALLED TOWN. CARTAGENA DE INDIAS WAS FOUNDED IN 1533 BY SPANISH COMMANDER PEDRO DE HEREDIA. IT BECAME A MAJOR SEA PORT FOR THE PASSAGE OF GOLD AND SILVER FROM THE HINTERLAND. THE WEALTH IN CARTAGENA SOON ATTRACTED THE ATTENTION OF EUROPEAN PIRATES AND PRIVATEERS.

‘It’s merely a flesh wound!’

There was definitely something of Monty Python’s Black Knight in Admiral Blas de Lezo (1688-1741). In the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, whilst guarding what he perceives to be a strategically placed plank of wood leading over a stream, the Black Knight loses his arms and legs in a sword fight with King Arthur. ‘Come back and fight, you coward,’ the mutilated Black Knight calls after King Arthur, ‘it’s merely a flesh wound.’ Continue reading “THE BATTLE OF CARTAGENA DE INDIAS (1741)”

Advertisements

URBAN LEGEND: DEATH BY COCONUT

SILENT KILLERS IN THE COCONUT GROVE.
BEWARE OF THE SILENT KILLERS LURKING IN THE COCONUT GROVE.

Luckily for Sir Isaac Newton it was only an apple that fell on his head when he cooked up the idea of the Universal Law on Gravitation. Had he been sitting in a coconut grove things might have turned out considerably different, for the coconut has a quiet reputation as the silent killer. Our journey north has finally deposited us on Colombia’s Caribbean coast and if there’s one thing the Caribbean coast is never short of it’s a coconut tree. In fact, for the past few days we’ve been surrounded by plummeting coconuts, their constant thud leaving us with the distinct feeling of being under siege. Continue reading “URBAN LEGEND: DEATH BY COCONUT”

THE SEX MOTEL: A CLASSY BIVOUAC

ABC
THE SWEEPING DRIVE LEADING TO MOTEL CAPRI.

It seems you don’t have to drive far in South America before you come across a sex motel (except in Patagonia, of course…where it’s far too windy for anything). Most of them are pretty obvious to spot: they have names like Cupid Motel, or Venus Motel, or Love Motel and the letters are painted in dripping pink or letter-box red. In Colombia, down in the steaming valleys, there are heaps of them. High walls surround a compound of garages, into which the couple drive their car. From the garage one gains direct access to a bedroom and bathroom en-suite. They are perfect for the illicit liaison, quite possibly the ultimate in drive-thru’ sex. Not all of these sex motels are so easy to identify, especially in the fading light, after a long day on the road, when you’re tired and getting grumpy and you’re fast running out of options. Continue reading “THE SEX MOTEL: A CLASSY BIVOUAC”

IS THIS THE MOST CURIOUS PLACE OF WORSHIP?

ABC
THE SALT CATHEDRAL OF ZIPAQUIRA.

This place blows you away when you walk into it. It’s a cathedral, in a salt mine, 180 metres beneath ground and it’s totally wacky. A cross between a theme park cum place of worship, it required some 250,000 tonnes of salt to be dug from the earth to make way for the 14 chapels, stairways, tunnels, galleries of themed scenes and shops. Whatever will we come up with next?

ABC

ABC

ABC

 

 

VILLA DE LEYVA: HEROES AND ECCENTRICS

ABC
THE PLAZA MAYOR, VILLA DE LEYVA

Founded in 1572, Villa de Leyva is one of those places you roll into, breathe a sigh of relief, hang up the car keys and pull out the hammock. You plan on staying only a couple of nights, and then…”Ooh! Now where did I put those car keys?”…and by the time you’ve found them suddenly a week has flashed by. Continue reading “VILLA DE LEYVA: HEROES AND ECCENTRICS”

THE ROAD TO BOGOTA

DON GONZALO JIMENEZ DE QUESADA
DON GONZALO JIMENEZ DE QUESADA

The conquest of the Muisca

By the 1530s the boat-loads of gold being shipped from Peru by Francisco Pizarro triggered a new wave of conquistadores to invade the northern shores of South America. Fired by the legend of a native king who coated his body in gold dust and tossed handfuls of emeralds into various lakes, armies of men marched south in search of this El Dorado…this Gilded King. One such conquistador was Don Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada, who was chosen by the governor of Santa Marta, Don Pedro de Lugo, to lead a party up the Magdelena River, all the way to its source. Continue reading “THE ROAD TO BOGOTA”

THE COFFEE LANDS

ABC
DAWN AT HACIENDA GUAYABAL.

Jose Velazques arrives just as the sun dips beyond the hills. He introduces his dog, a brown mongrel called Lucas Alberto Velazquez. Jose is shirtless and fizzing with nervous energy. He’s a campesino, he tells us, and he’s been working all day in the fields that slope down to the Rio Piedras. The hand that shakes mine is stained from the coffee beans he’s been picking.

‘You must come to my house,’ he insists, ‘to meet my mother.’

We are camping at the edge of the municipal football field, opposite the entrance to Finca Nohelia. An ageing mule tugs at the grass. Two boys kick a football. A raptor in a tree edging the field screeches its presence. We follow Jose the one hundred metres down the country lane to his mother’s cottage, where he shows us the vegetable patch, the two shrubs placed strategically to ward off evil spirits, some well-kept chickens in a bamboo enclosure, his banana tree, the bench he sits on in the evening to drink a beer, the rows of flowers lovingly tended by his mother and the contents of his tienda, a small shop, because we must be an hour’s walk from the town. His motorbike is parked in the tienda. He wants us to use it whenever we want.

Jose’s kindly-looking mother welcomes us into her home, standing aside whilst her son leads us from room to room, pointing out a photograph of his sisters, who have flown the family home and now live in Medellin. This openness and hospitality of the Colombian people is so typical that you are often left wondering how the country accommodated, and still does to a lesser degree, such violence and cruelty for so long. It does not seem possible.

Jose is looking for a bride, he says, and would be only too pleased if we sent him one from Europe. He laughs and darts on to another subject, though not through any embarrassment concerning his marital status, it’s just the way he is. As it starts to get dark we bid Jose and his mother goodnight.

‘Don’t forget my wife,’ he calls after us. ‘I have good lungs…and good teeth. And I’m a good worker.’

ABC
THE COFFEE GROWN IN COLOMBIA IS RATED AS SOME OF THE FINEST IN THE WORLD. TRADITIONALLY COLOMBIA WAS SECOND IN GLOBAL COFFEE PRODUCTION, AFTER BRAZIL, BUT HAS SLIPPED TO THIRD PLACE DUE TO VIETNAM’S RISING PROMINENCE. THE BEANS GROWN HERE IN COLOMBIA ARE ARABICA. THERE ARE TWO MAIN HARVESTS, MAY AND DECEMBER, THOUGH THE BEANS MATURE THROUGHOUT THE YEAR, SO PICKING IS AN ONGOING PROCESS AND MUST BE DONE BY HAND, AS THE BEANS ON THE SAME PLANT ARE READY AT DIFFERENT TIMES. THE PICKERS ARE PAID ABOUT A QUARTER OF A DOLLAR FOR EACH KILO.
ABC
THE PICKERS RETURN FROM THE FIELDS, BRINGING THEIR DAY’S LABOUR TO THE FOREMAN FOR WEIGHING. THEY PICK ANYWHERE BETWEEN 50 AND 100 KILOS A DAY PER HEAD.
ABC
AFTER WEIGHING THE BEANS THEY ARE THEN TIPPED INTO THIS BIN. HERE THEY PASS THROUGH A HOLE AND ON TO A RIDDLE BELOW, WHERE THE OUTER SKIN IS REMOVED. THEY ARE THEN DRIED IN A SILO OR BY THE SUN.
ABC
THIS IS A TYPICAL FINCA IN THE HILLS SOUTH OF CHINCHINA. THERE ARE OVER 500,000 FINCAS, MOSTLY SMALLHOLDINGS OF FIVE HECTARES OR LESS. THE OPTIMUM CONDITIONS FOR GROWING COFFEE HERE TENDS TO BE AT AN ALTITUDE OF BETWEEN 1200 METRES AND 1800 METRES, THOUGH THEY ARE ALSO GROWN AT ALTITUDES OF UP TO 2300 METRES. THE COFFEE BEAN IS THOUGHT TO HAVE ARRIVED IN COLOMBIA IN THE LATE 17TH CENTURY, BROUGHT BY A JESUIT PRIEST.
ABC
STREETS LEADING OFF FROM THE MAIN PLAZA IN SALAMINA. IT’S NOT ALWAYS EASY TO FIND SOMEWHERE TO PUT YOURSELF FOR THE NIGHT, SO WE ENQUIRED AT THE HOTEL REAL IF THERE WAS A PLACE WE COULD PARK. THE OWNER SENT US TO HIS FINCA. ‘IT’S ONLY 14 KILOMETRES AWAY’, HE SAYS. ‘IT WILL TAKE TWENTY MINUTES. A VERY SHORT JOURNEY.’ OF COURSE, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A SHORT JOURNEY WHERE COLOMBIA’S RURAL ROADS ARE CONCERNED.
ABC
AFTER ONE HOUR’S DRIVING, AND HAVING DESCENDED INTO THE VALLEY AND DRIVEN UP THE NEXT MOUNTAIN, WE ARRIVE HERE, ABOVE 2 THOUSAND METRES, BUT WITH THE PROMISED VIEW OF SALAMINA IN THE BACKGROUND. ‘YOU CAN CAMP RIGHT HERE,’ HE SAYS. AND SO WE DO.
ABC
THE FOLLOWING MORNING WE RETURN TO SALAMINA FOR BREAKFAST AT EL POLO, WHERE THE SPECIALITY IS HUEVOS AL VAPOR (STEAMED EGGS). TWO EGGS AND A KNOB OF BUTTER GO INTO THE COFFEE CUP, WHICH IS THEN INTRODUCED TO THE STEAMER ON THE COFFEE MACHINE. IT TAKES 30 SECONDS TO ACHIEVE A CREAMY SCRAMBLED EGGS. TO ACQUIRE THE FACE TAKES A GOOD DEAL  LONGER!!
ABC
FINCA NOHELIA IS AN 80 HECTARE ESTATE NEAR JERICO. ALONGSIDE THEIR COFFEE PLANTS THEY GROW MANGO, PAPAYA, AVOCADO, ORANGES, LEMONS AND SUGAR CANE. MANY OF THE LARGER FINCAS ACCOMMODATE TOURISTS AS AN ADDITIONAL INCOME.
ABC
THE OWNER OF FINCA NOHELIA AT WORK PICKING COFFEE BEANS.
ABC
A PATCHWORK OF FIELDS AT THE NORTHERN END OF THE ZONA CAFETERA.

TRY: http://www.casarealsalamina.com; http://www.haciendaguayabal.com; http://www.ecotourismolanohelia.com

THE MODERN MULE

ABC
INTRODUCED TO COLOMBIA IN THE 1950S THE WILLY’S JEEP HAS BECOME AN ICONIC MACHINE. IN A LAND OF VERTIGINOUS HILLS, WHERE A WALK IN THE COUNTRY LEAVES YOU WEEPING FOR MERCY, THE WILLY’S IS A MUST HAVE TOOL FOR ANY FARMER WORTH HIS SALT. COFFEE FARMERS REGULARLY LOAD A TONNE OF BEANS IN THE BACK AND HEAD UP A TRACK THAT WOULD CAUSE A SHERMAN TANK TO SHED ITS TRACKS. AS A RURAL TAXI IT KNOWS NO EQUAL.
ABC
AS COLOMBIA’S WEALTH GROWS THERE ARE NOT SUFFICIENT WILLY’S TO GO ROUND. THE NEW KID ON THE BLOCK IS THE JEEP WRANGLER.
ABC
THE TAXI RANK IN SALENTO’S PLAZA.
ABC
WILL THE SIGNPOST BE ALL THAT’S LEFT OF THE MULE?

TRY: http://www.topgear.com/uk/photos/TG-at-the-Willy’s-jeep-festival-colombia-2014-02-04 OR http://www.willyscolombia.com

LOST CIVILISATIONS

ABC
SAN AGUSTIN: A SHAMAN AND TWO GUARDS STAND WATCH OVER A TOMB.

It takes a bit of commitment to reach Tierradentro, one of Colombia’s most important archaeological sites, though it’s definitely worth it. The legend on our map calls the track we’re on a “Secondary Road (partially surfaced)” and the heavy rains, and the trucks hauling agricultural produce, have left it pockmarked, greasy and in need of the occasional bridge. Today is a Sunday and the bulk of the traffic constitutes motorcycles making their way from the market in El Plato, which is handy, as it is principally a single-track road weaving through a rural splendour. Continue reading “LOST CIVILISATIONS”

IS THIS COLOMBIA’S MOST DANGEROUS ROAD?

ABC
EL TRAMPOLIN DEL DIABLO – THE DEVIL’S TRAMPOLINE.

What does it mean when your friends recommend you drive the most dangerous road in Colombia? Find some new friends? Yes, quite possibly. The Devil’s Trampoline, also known as “adios mi vida” (goodbye my life) is supposedly a ‘must do journey…if a little hairy’. No kidding there!! You could be forgiven for thinking that the Devil’s Trampoline is a wacky fairground ride…except it’s not, it’s a busy road traversed daily by lorries, buses, pick-ups, cars and motorbikes. Continue reading “IS THIS COLOMBIA’S MOST DANGEROUS ROAD?”