Colombia Tourism and South Region

The long weekend in Colombia following our trip to Barranquilla was not uneventful. Gersain thought it would be good for me to get some tourism in while I was hotel stuck. Before our trip to the South Region of Cali and Popayan, there was much to do over the weekend.

The options included going to visit the Colombian National Museum in central Bogota followed by a day at the Las Minas salt mines. Since I thought it better for Gersain to spend some of the weekend with his family, I decided to head to the museum alone on the Saturday.

Colombian National Museum

The Colombian National Museum is quite a treat if you ever get a chance to visit Colombia. The National Museum is the oldest in the country and one of the oldest in the continent, built in 1823. Its fortress architecture is built in stone and brick.

The building includes arches, domes and columns forming a sort of Greek cross over which 104 prison cells are distributed, with solid wall façade. It was known as the Panóptico (inspired by the Panopticon prison) and served as a prison until 1946. In 1948, the building was adapted for National Museum and restored in 1975.

Colombia is vast and rich in history that I was very new to learn. Normally when one hears of Colombia, they get the Hollywood versions. But the reality is, Colombia is much more than cartels and narco trafficking. The truth is, Colombia is a beautiful country with some of the best people I have ever had the chance of meeting. Before the museum, I had only thought of Colombia as a small, poor country with problems.

Colombia actually used to be a large and prosperous region, consisting of Ecuador, Venezuela, and Panama in the Gran Colombia. In 1826 Venezuela seceded and most recently in 1903 Panama was the last to secede from the Confederation. Is Colombia still a dangerous country, of course it is, but there are dangerous places everywhere we live.

La Mina de Zipaquirá

On Monday, June 6, Gersain picked me up early at the hotel. We would drive the 30 some miles north of Bogota to the famous salt mines in Zipaquirá. The drive up was very nice on a clear day. I was amazed at the toll booths in Colombia, mainly as motorcycles did not have to pay. There was a separate lane for the motorcycles…something I had wished Costa Rica had thought of after I started riding again.

We arrived at Zipaquirá shortly before 1000 and began our tour of the mines. Entering the side of the mountain and descending some 200 meters below ground was exhilarating. I was told that this was a very special place, but until I saw with my own eyes, I had only imagined seeing a cave with salt.

This was not the case, the mines were absolutely stunning. Here lies the famous Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá. Colombia, being very Catholic, takes this religion very seriously, as do all Latin American countries. Being Catholic myself, I was simply in awe with the cathedral made of salt and the care in the lighting.

Following the tour of the mine, we had a typical Colombian lunch at the restaurant Restaurante y Asadero Sal y Gallina. This consisted of a barbeque style meat salted, plantain, potatoes and yucca. The meal was delicious.

South Region

Back to work on the 7 of June, we had a change plan of our south region visits. Originally we had planned on flying into Cali and then driving up to Popayan, but it was decided that we would reverse the order. I was set to shorten my trip and return to Costa Rica on June 10 as I was to return to Colombia in a few weeks for another event.

Popayan

Flying into Popayan was uneventful, but the time was truly amazing on the ground. Popayan is the capital of the Cauca department of Southern Colombia. The people here are mainly indigenous and known as the Guambiano of Colombia. The women typically wear a bowler or derby style hat and and cape while the men typically wear a long skirt. The color of choice for the skirt and cape are purple.

World Vision has a fairly large presence in Southern Colombia from what I learned. The ADP of Popayan is significant, but again, a lot of promotion towards the Evangelical movement, of which I was disappointed. The community here has a rich Catholic tradition and they are a proud people, the Guambiano.

I took a moment to stand on the street before entering the WV office and take in the beautiful views of the mountains. As I was scanning and observing the beauty, Gersain came up to me and said “you know, they are watching you also!”. His reference was to the infamous Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). This was the first time during my trip that I actually felt there was a viable threat.

Cali

Our trip to Popayan was very short, we landed in the morning and by midafternoon we were on the road to Cali, some three hours to the north. Not far out of Popayan, Gersain slowed the car down to show me a beautiful villa in a valley. He informed me that the villa was owned by one of the Medallin Cartel who was now in a Miami prison. Again, the Colombian legends were coming alive.

We arrived in Cali in time to check into our hotel and grab some dinner. We would visit the office the following day after resting from the journey. Sadly, we did not have enough time in Cali to enjoy what it had to offer. Cali, known as the Salsa capital of the world probably has an amazing nightlife of dancing and amazing people.

We visited the office and I was introduced to the WV team of Cali. Again, the people were amazing here and quite friendly. I was even given a WV Colombia shirt and hat…I had such a collection going already! The most interesting thing about the Cali office was one of the trees on the front lawn. WV actually had several Coca plants growing. Apparently it is not illegal to grow the plant, only to cultivate them.

The Return

We flew back to Bogota on June 9 after a whirlwind tour of the south region. Having been in Colombia for nearly three weeks, I was looking forward to returning to Costa Rica. I had moved prior to this trip and was looking forward to spending some time in my new apartment in Santa Ana, just outside of San Jose.

But, Colombia was not going to be rid of me too quickly. I was set to return in only a few weeks on June 27 for a three day workshop!

Next Story – Colombia CSR Workshop

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