It is mid-March, and Easter is upon us. Technically, spring is just around the corner, although to some it already feels like summer. Others, however, still feel the mercilessness of winter. (San Fernando Valley temps in LA this week are in the low 90’s, yet the Midwest was hit by near-record-setting blizzards just last week.)
What does this mean? It means that many in Latin America and Catholic Europe are preparing for Semana Santa (Holy Week). Antigua, Guatemala and San Salvador, El Salvador are just two (very different) cities in Central America renowned for their Semana Santa festivities, which typically include elaborate processions through the streets (and over alfombras – carpets – of moist sawdust and flowers), from church to church in re-enactment of the crucifixion, burial, and, yes, resurrection of Christ. In my own city, the sprawling barrio of Iztapalapa is the venue for an annual Passion Play, although it is said to be one of Mexico City’s most dangerous neighborhoods and I haven’t yet built up the courage to venture there with my DSLR and take photos. Across the ocean, the faithful of Seville, Spain and other cities in Andalucía perform similar processions; I was there in 2011 but alas, the parades were rained out and that leg of the trip was generally unmemorable. Further abroad still, the Cardinals of Vatican City even elected a new pope to ring in the resurrection!
What does this mean for me? I, like many other Latinos (I guess I’m Latin by proxy, mas-o-menos), will be traveling. You may recall, Loyal Reader, that I mentioned in my Looking Forward and Back – Part Two blog that I wished to take advantage of my time here to explore destinations relatively close to Mexico. Well, I’m not sure if this counts as “close,” seeing as it is a four-hour flight…but then again, flying there from the U.S. is at least six hours by plane, so I’m saving a few hours on airplanes and am counting it anyway. Where’s that, you ask?
I am going to Colombia!
South America’s second-most-populous country after Brazil (and the continent’s most populated Spanish-speaking country), Colombia is said to be one of the best-kept secrets of the Americas. For years, Colombia was basically off limits to all but the heartiest of adventurers, courtesy of its bandits, guerillas, and the pro-cocaine, anti-government FARC. Things have changed for the better these past few years, however, as the country’s economy improved and its government initiated a “peace treaty” of sorts with FARC, as recently as 2012. These developments, coupled with rave reviews from the few backpackers and Colombians I’ve met on my own travels, and I’ve decided: it’s time.
The plan is as follows: A few days in Bogotá, a few days in Cartagena, a couple days in Santa Marta, and a five-day hike to Ciudad Perdida, a pre-Hispanic citadel “lost” to time and jungle overgrowth. Bogotá, the capital, is a high-altitude city of museums and nightlife. I imagine a smaller Mexico City or a larger Cuzco, Peru. Cartagena is a historic Caribbean port city with a walled Old Town that is said to be something really special. Think San Juan, Puerto Rico. A few hours from Cartagena by bus, Santa Marta is a more laid-back small town-turned-big city. It was here that South American liberator Simón Bolívar died, in 1830. Although I’m sure there are several attractions in Santa Marta related to Bolívar’s life and times, methinks I might be craving some beach time by this point in the trip. My last stop, Ciudad Perdida, is believed to be the heart of the Tairona people, and is said to be several hundred years older than more-famous Machu Picchu.
Pamela is joining me for two-thirds of the trip, but I’ll be doing the big hike on my own. At least I’ll have ten gazillion mosquitoes to share the muddy trail with. We leave next Wednesday!
You will probably hear from me at least one more time before Pamela and I set off. In the meantime, I thought I’d post a few links about Colombia. I generally try not to post pics on GringoPotpourri that I didn’t take myself, but if you’re curious about the country you might find some pics on those pages. ¡Platicamos al rato!
An overview of what Colombia has on offer for tourists and backpackers:
A bit of history, including recent information on the FARC’s peace treaty with the government:
A well-written snapshot of what each day on the Ciudad Perdida trek can entail: