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

Mompós: Week 254

Weathered Colonial architecture and motorcyclist in Mompos: Mompox, Colombia

The first thing people tell you about Mompós (or Mompox), is that it’s beautiful. The second thing they tell you is that it is difficult to reach. Difficult is even the name of a little vereda you pass through on the way to Mompós.

The Magdalena River that created Mompós in the mid-1500s was also the cause of the wealthy town’s downfall. The river that once brought economy to the inland island began silting up in the 1800s and forced large boats to divert their routes. The town was forgotten and later off-limits to tourists because of narco-terrorism.

Weathered Colonial architecture and paint detail in Mompos: Mompox, Colombia

At a Brasilia bus station in Ciénaga, a small town just outside Santa Marta, we talked to the ticket agent about the best way to get to Mompós. After a few phone calls (Oye – I’ve got some foreigners…), the ticket agent passed me a slip of paper with the name Fabien written across it. “Get off the bus at Bosconia and Fabien will drive you to Mompós.”

Good on his word, Fabien rushed us off the bus in Bosconia and began the long drive deep into the country. The dry fields were periodically striped with green grass. The communities were collections of dusty one-room houses with thatched roofs. Fabien took corners like he wasn’t anticipating any other traffic.

When we arrived at the Magdalena River, Fabien repeatedly honked his horn at the ferry. The ferry was large enough for only one normal-sized vehicle, and someone else had beat us to the punch. They slowly putted across the river on a platform made from welded metal plates and powered by a motorized canoe attached to the right.

Colonial architecture and main street in Mompos: Mompox, Colombia

It took about 25 minutes, but we finally crossed the river alongside a motorcycle carrying a family of five.  It was only ten minutes more till we reached the center of town. Mompós only receives a handful of tourists, so it very much felt like a sleepy, parched, riverine outpost forgotten by time.

View of canoes on the Magdelena River in Mompos: Mompox, Colombia

In the morning, we walked along the albarradas – the brick barricades that protect the city from flooding. Men in blue canoes were in the middle of the Magdalena River, singing, calling out to each other, and bobbing in and out of the water.

I asked an older women what they were doing, and she told me they were panning for gold. She pinched her fingers together to demonstrate the size of the tiny flakes. Then she shook my hand and wished me well.

The afternoon heat was intense and sent most people indoors. Barret and I continued on in search of the Museo Cultura de Arte Religioso. It was closed, so instead we headed to the cemetery. The heat radiated off the bright surfaces and we began to wilt in the sun. The languid chapel cats had the right idea; it was time to find somewhere shady.

Stray cats lounging the in cemetery chapel in Mompos: Mompox, Colombia

Detail of a memorial plaque in the town cemetery of Mompos: Mompox, Colombia

Mompós is a UNESCO listed site because of the preservation of the buildings and that fact that most are still used for their original purpose.

Detail of Colonial architecture in Mompos. Entrance door: Mompox, Colombia

In the morning, if the shutters of the residential homes swung open, Barret and I peeked in. Through the decoratively barred windows and the cracked doors (and even the keyholes if one were so inclined) were glimpses of massive entrance rooms and sunny courtyards.

Weathered Colonial architecture in Mompos: Mompox, Colombia

The furniture floated in the middle of the tiled room, like a dinghy lost at sea. Family portraits and religious paintings hung at eye-level and exaggerated the height of the ceiling even more.

Mustard yellow Colonial architecture in Mompos: Mompox, Colombia

Patio of Colonial houses in Mompos: Mompox, Colombia

Colonial architecture in Mompos: Mompox, Colombia

In the evening, people moved their chairs out onto the brick sidewalks. There were lots of mosquitoes, but they seemed to only be bothering me. Bats swooped overhead and attended the evening service at Iglesia de Santa Bárbara.

Iglesia de Santa Barbara in Mompos: Mompox, Colombia

Eventually the time came to leave Mompós. True to its reputation, it was a bit of a challenge. After our taxi ride ended at an unexpected picket line, we gathered all our luggage and walked around the wood, used car tires, and picketers blocking the road. We weren’t the only ones doing this, but we definitely stood out the most.

On the other side we each jumped on the back of a motorcycle and flew the rest of the way to the docks at Bodega. With the two backpacks he was carrying, Barret looked like a turtle wearing safety pads.

Motorcyclist riding near Colonial architecture in Mompos: Mompox, Colombia

Of course no one had helmets, so the early morning breeze felt fantastic blowing through my hair. Even though I was wearing a dress, it never occurred to me to sit side saddle. In my attempt at modesty when getting off the bike, I burnt my calf on the exhaust.

At the dock we were handed life vests with the number 17 on the back before the little fiberglass boat jetted to Magangué. From there we boarded a collectivo door-to-door van service. These, of course, do not leave until they are full. So while we waited, I watched the busy intersection – the street touts and the horse driven carts carrying massive soda step pyramids.

Many hours later we made it to Cartagena. Our trip had been delayed by engine problems and Barret suffered the brunt of this because he was seated in the back without any AC. Along the way, the woman next to him grabbed his knee in a weird fit before passing out on her daughter’s shoulder.

I, on the other hand, sat in the passenger seat. The driver and I exchanged stories, shared snacks, and he reenacted a near collision he once had. I don’t think anyone in the van noticed the point in the story where we drove on the other side of the road.

It wasn’t the smoothest journey we’ve been on, but it was one of the most memorable and Mompós is definitely worth the trouble.

About: Mompós UNESCO inclusion

About: Mompós

Weathered Colonial architecture in Mompos: Mompox, Colombia

Aruba: Week 252

The blue waters of Malmok Beach: Aruba

Aruba is a very arid island. The contrast between tropical Caribbean dreams and the desert landscape couldn’t be any starker than it is on the coast, where cacti grow straight out of white beach sand.

The sheltered SW side of the island is famous for its beaches and snorkeling. Barret and I spent our first morning at Malmok Beach, which is smaller and quieter than the resort beaches further south.

A large iguana lounged against a white wall while turquoise-speckled Aruban Whiptails scurried out from the shadows. One accidentally grazed the top of my hand with its soft underbelly and scratchy nails.

Turquoise-spotted Aruban Whiptail lizard: Aruba

Along the coast pelicans swooped into schools of fish while small boats cast their anchor further out. The tour boat blasting dance music was named Putin Pleasure. I blinked twice and realized the palm tree logo in the font was meant to spell out Palm Pleasure.

View of the Boca Prins Beach: Arikok National Park, Aruba

The NE side of Aruba has pounding waves and a jagged coastline reminiscent of shards of glass. A good portion of this coastline belongs to the Arikok National Park. The relentless sun beats down year round and is the reason only stray goats cross this desert landscape on foot. A rental car is the best way to visit to Arikok.

Desert landscape at Arikok National Park, Aruba

View of the coast at Arikok National Park, Aruba

Mikayla at Arikok National Park, Aruba

Cave art at the Fontein Cave: Arikok National Park, Aruba

The coastline north of the national park is unpopulated and largely difficult to reach without 4WD. The Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins is one of the few buildings that sits along this stark coast and is accessible by a paved road.

View from the Bushiribana Ruins: Aruba

The mill was built in the late 1800s and was in use until being replaced by the Balashi Mill on the other side of the island. Balashi operated until WWI, when the imported mining materials became impossible to secure. After the war, the neglected mill was in such a state of disrepair than no further production was pursued.

Collapsed Natural Bridge: Aruba

Close to the ruins is the former location of Natural Bridge. As its name suggests, it was a strip of land that spanned across a rugged cove. Although nature eventually had its way and the bridge collapsed, tourism still prevails.

A wooden ladder has since been constructed which allows people to access a small, protected pool during low tide. My friends and I happened to be there during high tide and it was one of those moments where I could imagine the following day’s headline: Security measures to be proposed in wake of tourists being dragged out to sea.

Driftwood folk art from Aruba

Leaving the ruins, along the single paved road, was my favorite gift shop on the island. It was actually a wooden shed on private property, but it had a massive collection of driftwood painted to look like colorful fish. It was folk art at its purest and I didn’t see anything like it near the cruise ship docks.

Cacti sunset near the Alto Vista Chapel: Aruba

Cacti sunset near the Alto Vista Chapel: Aruba

The Alto Vista Chapel can also be found on the desolate NE coast. It was built upon the location of the island’s first Roman Catholic Church. While the building itself attracts tourists and Tuesday evening service-goers, the most compelling reasons to visit are the sunsets and the footpaths through the cacti-filled landscape.

Alto-Vista-Chapel-Sunset-Walk

Exterior view of the National Archaeological Museum Aruba - Oranjestad

Downtown Oranjestad, with its colonial architecture, is actually quite small. Aside from a spattering of museums, retail shops dominate the landscape. The National Archaeological Museum, which is free to the public, is located inside the former Ecury Complex.

Anthropomorphic ceramic jar from the National Archaeological Museum Aruba - Oranjestad

Pottery shard from the National Archaeological Museum Aruba - Oranjestad

The buildings, some of which date as far back as the 19th century, remained in the Ecury family until 1997. Today, the complex is a modern museum with a focus on Aruban Amerindian culture and the country’s colonial heritage.

Street art in Oranjestad, Aruba

Colonial building in Oranjestad, Aruba

Papiamento and Dutch are the two official languages, but Aruba is much more linguistically savvy than that. Because the island receives a significant amount of tourism from the US, English is very widely spoken.

Most of the ATMs dispense US dollars and stores usually expected me to pay in USD. I, of course, took all my money out in Florins and every time I went to the store I felt like the kind of tourist that wears a beret in Paris.

Chinese restaurant in Oranjestad, Aruba

Spanish is also understood because of the close proximity of Venezuela and it’s hard not to notice that most of the independent groceries stores reflect Chinese ownership.

Polaroid of a pink bungalow house in Aruba

Outside of Oranjestad’s historical area, the majority of homes are one-story bungalows. They come in an array of colors and would not have been out of place during the 1950s.

After a few days of driving around the island, I thought about the couple at the airport that passed through immigration before us. This was their 28th visit to Aruba and they were excited to be back.

No matter how much I’ve enjoyed a destination, I’ve never felt that strongly about one place. I liked Aruba and I loved the desert sunsets, but the One Happy Island was a little too small and commercial for me. I’d dipped my toes into Aruba and it just left me curious about all the other Caribbean islands. Good thing we’d already planned on jumping over to Curacao.

Polaroid of the road leading to the Alto Vista Chapel in Aruba

About: Alto Vista Chapel

About: Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins

About: Arikok National Park

About: National Archaeological Museum Aruba

Polaroid of a tangled cactus in Arikok National Park: Aruba

Colonial Williamsburg: Week 251

A carriage ride in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

Between 1699-1780, Williamsburg was not only the seat of power in Virginia but also the most influential city in all of the colonies. For strategic reasons, the capitol was moved north to Richmond towards the end of the Revolutionary War and the cultural and political importance of Williamsburg waned. It wasn’t until the 1920s that preservation work began on what was once the most important city in the US.

A man in period costume strolling the streets of Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

Colonial Williamsburg was so much more immersive and larger than I had imagined. It is 301 acres of restored and historically furnished buildings. On top of that, employees in period costume lead tours, tidy gardens, run auctions, and stroll down the streets.

A large two story brick house in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

Within the historic district there are also period-specific shops, restaurants, gardens, and even private residences. There is no cost to stroll through the area, but an expensive day pass is needed for any tours.

A traditional garden in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

The Brick House Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

A garden shed in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

The reconstructed capitol in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

Because it was about three-hour drive to get to Colonial Williamsburg, we arrived in the early afternoon and decided not to buy the day pass. Instead we picked up some hot coffee and enjoyed a long, ambling walk.

A door trimmed with Christmas decorations in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

It was New Year’s Eve and the traditional Christmas decorations were still up. I loved the doors outlined with real boughs of pine and the wreaths decorated with leaves, apples, oranges, pineapples, and cotton.

A window decorated for Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

A window decorated for Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

The only thing missing in this wonderfully preserved town was snow.

A fruit-themed Christmas decoration that is located over a door: Colonial Williamsburg, VirginiaAbout: Colonial Williamsburg

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