Santa Fe de Antioquia

Santa-Fe-de-Antioquia-Back-view-of-the-Cathedral

During a three-day weekend, the nothern bus terminal in Medellín is packed with tourists. When I saw the crowds lining up for tickets, I almost turned around and headed back to the metro. The only reason I didn’t was that I had no alternate plan for the day.

Thankfully most people were trying to get to Guatapé, which is in the opposite direction, so I only waited 45 minutes for my bus departure. The hour-long drive to Santa Fe de Antioquia is lined with fincas and water parks. Whenever I start to see these, I realize that the weather is going to be hotter than anticipated.

Puente-de-Occidente

Although Santa Fe de Antioquia was founded in 1541, the most iconic construction only dates back to 1895. Puente Occidente is a wooden suspension bridge which spans the río Cauca. It has a very delicate design with two walkways framing a small one-way road that is alternately shared by traffic.

The bridge used to be a very important transportation link but nowadays it’s a tourist attraction best enjoyed with a beer. At least that’s what my driver recommended.

Santa-Fe-de-Antioquia-Plaza

Because of the three-day weekend, the main plaza was filled with people, food, and souvenirs. I ate lunch on a shady balcony overlooking the tent-filled plaza before heading to the Museo Juan del Corral. It had a little bit of everything relating to colonial life.

Museo-Juan-de-Corral-Courtyard

The most famous item there is the table where the Independence Act was signed in 1813. My favorite pieces were the wrought iron portraits of the heroes of independence.

Santa-Fe-de-Antioquia-Side-View-of-Cathedral

Down the road is the Museo de Arte Religioso and across from that is an artisanal ice cream shop. Both are worth a visit. The two-level museum is located inside a very pretty building and the upstairs has a nice view of the cathedral.

Museo-de-Arte-Religiosa-Courtyard

Museo-de-Arte-Religioso-Tapestry

Santa Fe de Antioquia is a pretty place to visit if you are around Medellín. The best way to enjoy it would be to stay on a nearby finca for a few days to soak up the sun, cool off in a pool, and then head to the plaza in the evening for food and music. Maybe it’s a conspiracy, but I’m pretty sure the livliest bars are always the ones closest to the cathedral.

Santa-Fe-de-Antioquia-Plaza-with-Horse

About Santa Fe de Antioquia: $14,000 pesos from Medellín on Transportes Gómez Hernández

About Puente Occidente: 4km outside the pueblo and is best accessed by a mototaxi. The set rate is $15,000 pesos for a return trip and 30 minutes at the bridge.

About Museo Juan del Corral: Calle 11 No. 9-77, free entrance

About Museo de Arte Religioso: Calle 11 No. 8-12, $3,000 peso entrance

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The Colonial Pueblos of Barichara & Guane

The colonial cobblestone streets of Guane, Colombia

It was a little bit of a miracle that we even made it to Barichara.

Shortly after landing in Colombia, my sister made the grim realization that all the roads are curvy and that she’s really prone to motion sickness.

After suffering an excruciating 11-hour ride from Bogotá to Bucaramanga, in which I had to ask twice for barf bags, she made me swear we’d fly to Manizales instead of taking the bus. It was a half-hearted promise I made because I knew if we flew we’d miss out on Barichara.

The colonial cobblestone streets of Barichara, Colombia

Barichara is a beautiful pueblo founded in 1702 in the department of Santander. If I weren’t studying for a Spanish exam, and my profe wasn’t regañandome, I’d spend more time trying to describe just how the afternoon sun illuminated the warm tones of the cobblestone streets.

The colonial cobblestone streets of Barichara, Colombia

There was a main cathedral and several more austere, yet beautifully constructed churches. The cemetery was filled with both flowering trees and brightly decorated graves.

A small cobblestone plaza in colonial Barichara, Colombia

This part of the country is famous for a delicacy called hormigas culonas, big-butted ants. I bought a small batch for 8,000 pesos to share at school. They had a very earthy aftertaste that made one of the viglantes cry. Not out of happiness though. The mangoes we passed on our morning walk looked a lot more appetizing.

The colonial cathedral of Guane from a distance: Guane, Colombia

One of the most interesting things you can do in Barichara, in my honest opinion, is an early morning walk to Guane. It’s an older pueblo 9km away. The cobblestone roads are a bit more uneven (see the first photo) and the atmosphere is even more tranquil.

Grazing cattle on the walk from Barichara to Guane, Colombia

The walk from Barichara is a peaceful two-hour downhill stroll. We passed trees draped in moss and grazing cattle.

Near the end of the route was a small finca selling sodas. The energy had just gone out, but the drinks were still cool. The patio was filled with knick knacks for sale, most of it originating from the department of Santander instead of locally in Guane.

Entrance to the catherdral in the colonial pueblo of Guane, Colombia

We ate breakfast in the courtyard of a colonial building while the house cat rubbed its calico head against our legs. Afterwards we visited the cathedral – taking note of the call to sisterhood, and then visited the local museum filled with artifacts from the indigenous Guane culture.

Poster in the Guane catherdral for a call to sisterhood: Guane, Colombia

The afternoon was beginning to heat up, so we split the cost of a mini chiva back to Barichara with a foreign couple. The road hugged the curves of the hills and the little boy in front almost tumbled out the door, but Nan was fine. She was popping motion-sickness pills like candy. I’m glad they were working cause we still had a long trip back to Manizales.

A small cobbletone plaza in the colonial pueblo of Barichara, Colombia

About: Barichara

How to get to Guane: There is a 2 hour walk or periodic buses. Inquire in the main plaza about the scheduled times. Once in Guane, you can hire a car to head back to Barichara. It’s flat-rate, so it’s cheaper if split between more people.

Semana Santa & Coffee Fincas in Salamina: Week 263

View from the cemetery in Salamina, Colombia

My second trip to Salamina was actually the very last trip for The Lustrum Project. I can’t believe how quickly the last five years have passed!

Ever since my first visit I’d wanted to return. So when a friend came to town, it was the perfect opportunity to show her a part of Colombia that wasn’t exactly frozen in time but also wasn’t in a hurry to change.

The old lady who sits outside the cemetery with a cat on the end of a string was still there. It was an odd day to relax though, given the wailing of a funeral party on the other side of the wall.

At the back of an artisanal shop was the wool blanket I didn’t buy the first time round. Its plastic sheath was quite dusty.

Wall of records inside the town museum in Salamina, Colombia

Near the cathedral was a museum that displayed the history of the town and old-objects-in-general. While the information wasn’t entirely precise and the items weren’t exactly relevant, the stories were the best.

Photo of an old Catholic priest in the town museum in Salamina, Colombia

On one wall was a portrait of an unsmiling priest. He had maintained a muladar, a separate cemetery for sinners, until his brother was involved in unsavory business. Shortly after that revelation everyone could suddenly be buried in the same location.

A few frames over were collages of ‘typical Salamina people’. The photos were yellowed and each person had their nickname pasted on the photo. Siete Culos had the town’s biggest butt and the most demure stance. It was impossible to tell if he lived up to his reputation.

Photo of the local drunk in the town museum in Salamina, Colombia

The town drunk, Media Vida, had disappeared during turbulent times. Eddy, the caretaker, suggested he was most likely the victim of armed conflict.

Around 6pm Eddy’s wife called. When he answered the phone he said, “Mi Reina, there are a lot of people today!” Eddy had opened the museum especially for us and I had noticed before we left that we were the only two people to sign the guest book in the last three days.

Inner courtyard at Casa Carola B&B in Salamina, Colombia

I usually pick the cheapest hotel or hostel I can find, but my friend and I decided to upgrade for our girls weekend. Casa Carola was definitely worth it. The beautiful old building had been in owner’s family for generations and he had lovingly turned it into a chic bed and breakfast.

Inner courtyard at Casa Carola B&B in Salamina, Colombia

The gardens were lush and Salamina has the perfect weather for sipping tropical juices in the courtyard. A wall of traditional woodwork marked the entrance between the courtyard and the dining room.

Inner courtyard at Casa Carola B&B in Salamina, Colombia

The living room on the other side of the building was papered in a bold print and peppered with cracks. Antique chairs were set in a circle on a plush rug. It was the perfect location to unwind with a bottle of wine or crack open one of the many coffee table books lying around.

Wallpapered living room at Casa Carola B&B in Salamina, Colombia

Semana Santa is a full week of Easter celebrations in Colombia. Most towns hold different processions and we were lucky enough to catch the Procession de las Ramas on Palm Sunday.

Semana Santa Palm Sunday procession in Salamina, Colombia

Semana Santa Palm Sunday procession in Salamina, Colombia

The plaza was filled with school bands and students. The boys anchored small sprigs in the waistband of their pants. All of the Virgins had purple robes and gold shoes.

Semana Santa Palm Sunday procession in Salamina, Colombia

I must be getting older because I noticed that none of the band students had ear protection.

Semana Santa Palm Sunday procession in Salamina, Colombia

After the procession we went on a tour with Don Carlos, my long-lost blue-eyed Colombian relative and owner of Finca La Irlanda. We drove up to his finca, which unraveled over the steep slopes of a mountain, and began the afternoon with a cup of coffee sweetened with panela.

Where coffee beans dry at Finca La Irlanda in Salamina, Colombia

Don Carlos walked us through the process of being Nespresso AAA certified and the life cycle of a coffee plant. While the landscape was beautiful, I couldn’t help but imagine how much work it must have been to cart that ruby-red fruit up the slopes.

Compost pile at Finca La Irlanda in Salamina, Colombia

View of the coffee growing landscape from Finca La Irlanda in Salamina, Colombia

After the tour we were dropped off at a small vereda where a little boy entertained us with a tablet full of Shakira videos. We switched jeeps in La Merced and met a woman who had recently bought a fruit farm. She pointed the gate out to us when she disembarked and invited us to spend the night the next time we passed through.

It feels very clichéd to write about how warm and welcoming people are in Colombia, but it’s something I continually encounter. The country is rapidly modernizing, but there are still many charming places with old-world hospitality. Salamina is just one example, but it’s my personal favorite.

Semana Santa procession on Palm Sunday in Salamina, Colombia

About: Casa Carola B&B and the coffee plantation tour

Belalcazar: Week 262

View of Cristo Rey statue in Belalcazar: Colombia

Cristo Rey was completed during a tumultuous period in Colombia known as ‘La Violencia’. La Violencia began with the assassination of Bogotá’s socialist mayor in 1948 and plagued the next decade with acts of domestic terrorism, murder, and the destruction of property.

Old building on the main street in Belalcazar: Colombia

I couldn’t find any information on how Belalcazar was affected by such a tumultuous period. However, the same friend who first told me about the statue also ominously mentioned the bodies that once floated down the rivers in the valley below.

It was in this environment that Father Antonio José Valencia Murillo designed Cristo Rey – as a symbol of protection for the region and as a symbol of peace.

View of Cristo Rey statue in Belalcazar: Colombia

View of Cristo Rey statue in Belalcazar: Colombia

Belalcazar is not the kind of place that often shows up in Colombian guidebooks. The tiny little town, which is located on the ridge of a mountain, is firmly off the tourist trail. Cristo Rey is its only claim to fame. Including pedestals, Cristo Rey is 7.5m taller than Christ the Redeemer in Rio.

View of the countryside from the Cristo Rey statue in Belalcazar: Colombia

The journey to Belalcazar was an hour and a half ride past fincas and the kind of small water parks that proliferate in the hot Colombian countryside. Two young sisters sat down in front of us and couldn’t stop staring through the cracks in the seat. Finally, in a surprisingly good accent, the oldest daughter said, “Hello. What is your name?”

View of colorful buildings on the main street in Belalcazar: Colombia

View of Cristo Rey statue and colorful buildings in Belalcazar: Colombia

Once we entered the town, we walked up the one main street lined with colorful, old buildings. My friends and I stopped for lunch at a restaurant with a balcony that overlooked the massive valley below. It was a sunny day, but there was also a white haze that smudged the edges of the valley.

Our waitress handed us each a business card with an exceptionally bloody Jesus. At first I thought she wanted to convert us and then I realized it was the promotional material for the upcoming Semana Santa.

Arepa street vendor in Belalcazar: Colombia

The walk up the hill to Cristo Rey was lined with the snack and souvenir vendors. A chapel sat in the base of the statue and across from that was a restaurant. Two narrow staircases lead from the ground to the second level. From there, my friends and I paid 3,000 pesos to ascend 154 steps to the crow’s nest in Jesus’ head.

The interior of Jesus’ head was very small, circular, and echo-y. We climbed three rungs to enter by a hole in the floor. Once we were up, we had to carefully sidestep the hole or risk falling back down.

The walls were painted black and covered with scratched initials. I squatted down to peer out through Jesus’ nostrils and felt a gentle breeze. It was a little ironic that the highest point didn’t have the best view.

How to get to Belalcazar: numerous buses depart from the Pereira Bus Terminal hourly. The 1.5 hour journey costs 5,000 pesos.

View of the countryside from the Cristo Rey statue in Belalcazar: Colombia

Cartagena: Week 255

Cathedral de Santa Catalina de Alejandria: Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena de Indias is a very hot Caribbean destination in Colombia filled with beautiful architecture and great restaurants. It was founded in the 1500s by the Spanish to protect their access and interests in the Americas.

When it was constructed, the fortified island was divided into an inner city for the wealthier class and an outer city for the artisan classes.

The colonial streets of El Centro: Cartagena, Colombia

A couple walking past street art in Getsemani: Cartagena, Colombia

La Matuna and Getsemaní comprise the outer city. They are not as developed as the inner city, but Getsemaní especially has a lot of good restaurants (Cafe Lunático and Oh La La come to mind). The nightlife and open air dining in La Trinidad Square feels authentic and less contrived than some of the more expensive counterparts in the Inner City. The area also has some interesting street art.

Most of the budget hostels are located on Calle de la Media Luna, which is a bit rough around the edges, but the area is undergoing gentrification.

Gold figure from the Museo de Oro Zenu: Cartagena, ColombiaCeramic figure from the Museo de Oro Zenu: Cartagena, Colombia

El Centro and San Diego, inside the inner city, have the lion’s share of historical sights, churches, museums, and government buildings. These areas are more expensive and filled with a lot more vendors, hustlers, and street performers. If rapping for tips makes one person money, soon enough there is a whole group of kids doing it. We were approached on two separate occasions by aspiring rappers and both name dropped Harry Potter when trying to describe Barret.Polaroid of a band performing in Bolivar Park: Cartagena, Colombia

One evening, after several bottles of wine and amazing seafood at El Boliche Cebicheria, we decided to have one last drink in the Santo Domingo Square. Some restaurants were starting to pull their tables in, but there was still a fair amount of people about.

As we relaxing an older guy stopped by with a polaroid around his neck and a metal box with two jump rope-like leads. Grant and the waitress each grabbed a lead while he cranked a handle. Each turn produced a higher and higher voltage until the waitress shrieked and let go.

Because we were shaping up to be the last customers of the night, the electric shock vendor asked 10,000 pesos for the experience. Of course I said no and instead we bargained over the cost of a Polaroid photo. It was a deal after adding a stray dog and the opportunity to shock both of my travel companions.

Polaroid of an electric shock vendor: Cartagena, Colombia

Bocagrande is a peninsula just outside the walled city that is filled with high-rise developments and casinos. The coastline looks like a watercress sandwich with bite marks and on a sunny day the beach is swarming with families, umbrellas, and hawkers. The most aggressive sells in town are on the Bocagrande Beaches.

The options were limitless: wooden ships, lobster magnets, soda, cigarettes, airbrush tattoos, jet ski rides. Then there were the massage ladies. They carried little footstools and plastic pails filled with massage oils. The lower the sun sank the more aggressive they became and wouldn’t take no for an answer.

One woman squirted aloe onto her hand and started rubbing my neck. No thanks. No. No thank you. I said no thank you!

Ten minutes later another woman squatted in front of me and rubbed the top of my feet. The cool lotion actually did feel good mixed with the fine gritty sand, but I felt that if I said yes, I’d be taken for a ride. No thank you! No. Really- no thank you!

Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas: Cartagena, Colombia

The biggest mistake we made was putting too much confidence in the bottled water. At least that’s the best explanation we came up with. Maybe it was bottled city water or maybe it was over-chlorinated. The only thing for certain is that we were feeling good after our big night out until we opened a new gallon of water. In Grant’s words, it was Superbowel Sunday.

There were a few false starts before we finally left the apartment later that afternoon for the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. Its placement just outside the city was strategic as it guarded the bay and the gate entrance to Getsemaní.

Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas: Cartagena, Colombia

It was a steep walk up the fortress in the scorching sun and it was only when we’d made it to the top that we realized we didn’t have a map. Normally I’d head back down, but I was feeling a little weak and dehydrated.

Detail of construction materials at Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas: Cartagena, Colombia

Without any sort of guide, I wasn’t really sure what I was looking at, but there were a lot of dark tunnels to walk through and the texture of the construction material was quite beautiful.

Detail of construction materials at Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas: Cartagena, Colombia

After poking around for two hours, I wasn’t the only one who needed the bathroom. Grant and I looked for the most fortified building we could find and ended up in front of the old hospital. “Even better!”

Unfortunately, the hospital was only a theater with a historical documentary on loop. We walked in on the scene where the Spanish colonists were bayoneting the English; it was the perfect metaphor for my stomach.

About: the food and nightlife in Cartagena

About: Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas

How to get to the Museo del Oro Zenú: Centro, Cra 4, 33-26, Plaza de Bolivar, Cartagena

How to get to El Boliche Cebicheria: San Diego, Calle Cochera del Hobo #38-17, Cartagena

Street art mural near the cathedral: Cartagena, Colombia

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