Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Day 21. Saturday. Oct 24.

Day 21. Agenda for today: first stop at Zipaquira (Salt mine town of Colombia) followed by Guatavita (Legend of El Dorado). Our bus driver was an older gentleman, probably in his 60's but was the most aggressive driver we saw thus far.

We reached Zipaquira at about 9:30 AM - 2 hours after we left Bogota. We drove through beautiful landscape as usual. We learned that there are over 3000 people who visit the Salt cathedral for a mass on Sundays so we were glad to be there on a Saturday.. early. We bought the guided tour of the Salt mine and a miners tour while some girls in the group chose to skip the latter due to the claustrophobic nature of the tour.

Salt mines of Zipaquira.
Also called the Salt capital of Colombia. Salt deposits in Zipaquira formed 250 million years ago. It's nothing short of a miracle because this city is located 2600+ meters above sea level and the formation of salt in such a location is highly unusual. The mining of salt began 500 years ago when the native Indians dug the salt and used it as currency. Since Salt was a very essential commodity, it was in great demand. During the colonial period, formal excavation and mining of salt began. In 1954, a Salt Cathedral was built 200 meters underground. This has been called Colombia's first wonder due to it's notable architecture.

This was my first visit to a mine, ever, so I was really excited! There were 15 other people with us and we were assigned a Spanish guide who spoke with a personal speaker so everybody could hear her. I'm sure she was a great guide - but none of us understood a word she spoke  - except when we heard a "Sshhhh". I guess that's a universal word for "Shut up". Since we are a high energy group and were constantly chattering and coming up with theories about what we were looking at, I have the feeling our guide was not very happy. Needless to say that after 15 minutes, we broke from our guided tour and went on our own way.
The salt mine was fascinating and we may have seen over 100 Christian Crosses. The mine is so claustrophobic and I cannot imagine what the miners would have gone through working here day in and day out. We couldn't help but feel sorry for them.

After the guided tour, we did some souvenir shopping, 200 m underground! and watched a 3D movie about the history of the salt mines of Zipaquira.

Some of us then did the miners tour. This was pretty interesting as we were given helmets to wear and asked to follow a guide in pitch darkness. We were then led into an area where we could use a pick-axe and actually mine salt! It was a really cool experience.

After the tour, we met up with the girls and headed to Guatavita in the bus. We stopped by for lunch in a restaurant which looked like a miniature Andres carne de res. The food (French Fries - the only vegetarian dish on the menu) was great!

At this point, it was 2 PM and we were all set to drive to Guatavita. The main attraction of Guatavita is the laguna (lake) of Guatavita which is believed to have the gold of El Dorado. The lake is on a mountain and looked really cool in the pictures.

On our way, we saw signs to the Lake of Guatavita. Unfortunately, our bus driver thought that the sign was not correct (??!??). He drove us to the city of Guatavita where there is another lake - but this lake has nothing to do with the legend of El Dorado. By now it was 3:45 PM and we realized that the gates to the Lake of Guatavita would close at 4 PM. We decided to take a chance and drive back to the actual lake of Guatavita. The road to the Lake was pretty horrible and the driver was doing 40 kmph and slamming into 2 meter deep potholes while driving uphill! It was a miracle that were not covered in each others emesis (let me use a technical word here to make it sound less disgusting).
Anyhow, we reached the gates of the Lake of Guatavita at 4:10 PM .............................. and of course it was closed! :). After trying to convince the security guard to let us in and not succeeding, we took some pictures of the Lake of Guatavita banner outside the gate and headed back to Bogota.

This security guard would not let us in:

Girls not happy:

Taking fake pictures of Lake Guatavita =) . 

The girls were supposed to go to Villa De Levya in another bus and we (boys) were supposed to head back to Bogota with our driver. We asked the driver to take us to the bus station in Guatavita where the girls could catch the bus to Villa De Levya. Our driver drove us around in loops for the next 25 minutes and stopped at a random bus station on the highway. We asked a cop there and realized that this was not the right stop. At this point, our driver told the girls to pretty much cancel their plans to go to Villa De Levya and that he would take us all back to Bogota!!

I am unable to determine if he was having a bad day or us!

After 2 hours of head banging to some great rock music (read: accelerating and braking in traffic), we reached Bogota - just in time for our dinner with Juan. Juan suggested an Indian restaurant which he loved. The food was amazing and I was glad that we went there :) . Juan, Sindy, Mathieu, Gerda, Michal and I went to this restaurant.

Juan asked me to suggest a dish for him and I selected Malai Kofta - which he loved.

Probably the last time we will be seeing Mathieu, as he will not be available during our final week - Week 4. It was great working with you, Mathieu. You are truly an asset to PSF and we wish you the best of luck in expanding the Mercados business in Medellin!

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