Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving
For my final day in Bogotá I decided to hire a driver and head out of town to explore beyond the mountains that ring the city, take a break from the bustle of a city of 8 million people, and escape the pollution to the fresh air of the countryside. We drove past two hydroelectric dams, very large flower growing farms, dairy farms and potato farms. I visited 5 pueblitos (villages) some obviously historically prosperous judging from the architecture and obviously still prosperous judging from the level of maintenance, others were much less prosperous and probably not tourist locations (Gachancipa). The further that I went from Bogota, the less elaborate the displays of Christmas lights in the central plazas until none at all in Gachancipa and the more adults standing around. I saw an array of Renault models ranging from about 40 years ago to brand new models and large old flatbed trucks carting loads. Many of the farms had new looking motorbikes, indicating prosperity. I saw lots of farmers in the towns wearing rubber boots and purposeful looks. Near Guatavita when there was heavy rain I saw several farmers walking along wearing woollen ponchos and no rain protection.
My first stop was in the pueblito of La Calera which was alive with activity preparing for the start of the annual festival that marks the beginning of summer. The roads leading to the plaza were blocked by police, a stage had been erected for entertainers, the garden beds in the plaza were protected by fences to allow space for dancing on the paved areas, and elaborate Christmas lights were being erected around the plaza. It seems that the festival included a show of horses and cows and while I was there a dog show was underway in a field two blocks from the plaza. A bit of a tussle was underway as I walked towards the plaza and many people stood watching the antagonists, including a policeman. The town was bustling with activity with many workers unloading large sacks from trucks.
From there I went to Guasca which is a hill-top pueblito with a large population of indigenous people and is famous for its statues made by the Muisca people and desserts on Sundays. The Muisca statues are all anthropomorphic and carved from stone and arranged in the plaza in front of the impressive cathedral. The plaza has been decorated with large plastic butterflies and abundant Christmas lights and I’m sure that it will look delightful this evening. The town was bustling with activity and many farmers were striding around in rubber boots.
From Guasca I went to the relocated pueblito of Guatavita. When the nearby hydroelectric dam was being constructed, the town of Guatavita was relocated to higher ground. All of the buildings are of the same Spanish style and all of them are white. I had lunch at a restaurant that offered Trucha de Guatavita (trout caught in Guatavita hydroelectric dam). When I travelled through Peru I loved the trucha so it was with pleasant anticipation that I placed the order. I greatly enjoyed the delicious fish covered with crushed garlic and served with hand cut chips. Guatavita also has a large population of indigenous people and is the nearest town to the legendary lake of Guatavita. I went to the trail that leads to the lake but while we were en-route in the car there was a thunderstorm and a huge downpour of rain that turned the drains to gushing torrents and the rain did not abate. I considered walking the 1 ½ hour trail in the rain but that would have meant having soaking wet jeans, socks and shoes for my 28 hour journey home tonight so I made the difficult decision not to walk to the lake in the interest of comfort and health. Also the only guide spoke only Spanish and I would have struggled to understand most of what he said.
The lake was extremely important to the Muisca people and according to legend worshippers made offerings of quartz, emeralds and gold into the lake (the legend of El Dorado) however none have been found. The Spanish Conquistadores went crazy about the legend of precious offerings and took as much as they could and made two unsuccessful attempts to drain the Sacred Lake Guatavita. According to the sign at the trailhead:
Guatavita is the womb that contains the water, mother of the Muisca people. Within it, feminine – the water- and masculine – the mountain – get together. There the tangible world and the spiritual meet. The Sacred place where tribute is rendered – offering – to the mother since time immemorial.
Filled with disappointment and regret that I’d spent precious time in the 3 pueblitos and eating lunch when I should have gone directly to the lake before the thunderstorm, especially when I’d noticed the pattern on previous days of daily thunderstorms after lunch, I comforted myself by exploring two more pueblitos. The first was the lovely town of Sesquile which has a picturesque cathedral on the plaza and a nearby church that had a Mass underway while I was there. The plaza is large and mostly paved with some small garden beds, unlike the other towns I went to today which all had more gardens than Sesquile. The other obvious difference was the lack of Christmas decorations.
My final stop was in the pueblito of Gachancipa which is unlikely to form part of the usual tourist trail. Here the church is small and much less fancy than the nearby famous pueblitos. In Gachancipa it seemed that everyone under the age of 18 was out and about, especially in the extra large plaza which contained a basketball court, a playground, a fountain, paved areas and a row of square arches with no creepers growing on them. Children and teenagers were making good use of the paved areas and basketball court, including one group of 4 girls passing around a volleyball with obvious skill.