Checking-In in Hiva’Oa. The Island of Paul Gauguin

Atuona Bay, Hiva'Oa

Atuona Bay, Hiva’Oa

From Fatu Hiva we sail to the next Marquesian island some 45 nautical miles away- Hiva Oa.

Hiva Oa is one of the largest and most populated islands in the Marquesas, and the Port of Atuona is one of the official ports of entry for yachts and ships. Here we check-in officially in French Polynesia. The checking-in procedure for French Polynesia is different for different people. If you are traveling with a European passport- it’s free to check in at the local Police station and you can stay 6 months (or forever if you are French). You go to the local Gendarmerie with your passport and boat papers and you sign a form- it takes 15 minutes.

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If you are traveling with Canadian, American, South African and other not so lucky passports- you have a few options: to pay a deposit at the bank (which will be returned to you months later when you leave French Polynesia; payable ONLY by credit card) and show that you have funds (around US$5,000 for a family of three) in case something happens to you and you have to be put on a plane and flown out of the country; or you have to show that you have bought a return airplane ticket- even if you are sailing with a yacht; or you have to hire an agent who will become your guarantor. Americans and Canadians can stay for maximum 3 months, while South Africans- 2 weeks only!

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You lose money in all cases. In the first one (security deposit)- you lose mainly from the money exchange fees and bank fees (over US$150, depending on money exchange rates at the time of the transactions). In the second option, if you buy a ticket for a plane- you can cancel and refund it right after you check-in with a cancellation fee (this is the cheapest option- about US$20-25 cancellation fee). If you hire an agent- you have to pay US$300 for his service and you have to have a valid health insurance.

Aranui

Aranui

Ivo and I are born in Bulgaria (Europe) and Maya is born in Canada, but our Bulgarian passports have expired and we couldn’t renew them, because there were no Bulgarian embassies nowhere on our way. We tried in Panama- at the Bulgarian Consulate, but they don’t have passport service there- so no luck. We are traveling with our Canadian passports.

The guy at the Police station in Atuona tells us, that they cannot recognize our European citizenship which we have by birth right, unless we present a valid European passport (not expired). So we need to go to the bank and pay a deposit, buy a plane ticket or hire an agent.

Our ordeal begins. We start going between the bank, the police and the agent; friends are trying to help us with the many issues that come up.

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At one point, about two weeks later (still not checked-in), I ask at the Police station what will happen if we don’t check-in at all and keep sailing from island to island? Will they arrest us, confiscate our boat? Put us in jail? – No, says the police officer, I don’t know what will happen…

Nothing will happen, most probably. Later we met a couple from the United States who have never checked in and have remained for three years in French Polynesia planning to stay for at least two more.

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Finally our only option is to hire and agent. But we don’t have health insurance. So we get DiverDAN for the family- recommended cheapest option. And we pay the agent fee which is killing us… For a second time we regret not having valid Bulgarian passports- the first time was in Colombia.

More than two weeks after our arrival, we are finally legally checked-in and free to keep sailing and exploring the rest of the islands and atolls of the South Pacific.

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We use our time while stuck on Hiva’Oa to walk around the island and chill.

We hitchhike from the port to the village almost every day. Everywhere in French Polynesia hitchhiking is the best, fastest and free way to go from one place to another (if the island is big enough to have roads). Friendly people on all of the bigger islands gave us rides all the time.

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In the village of Atuona, we marvel at some awesome sacred wood and stone  carvings called tikis. Tiki in Maori and Polynesian mythology, is The First Man- half human half god- created by god Tumatauenga.

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Tikis are protective statues considered the “patron of sculptors”, with huge head, symbolizing power and big eyes representing knowledge. Every tiki has its own personality- some are evil, others are benevolent.

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Tiki is a powerful icon of Polynesian culture, symbolizing spiritual strength, and visitors of the islands buy small tiki figurines or pendants as souvenirs- to protect them in their journey.

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The largest ancient tiki ever discovered is on the island of Hiva’Oa in the Bay of Oipona Puamau.

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The Moai- monumental stone statues on Easter Islands- is a variant of the Tiki.

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As we walk around Atuona marveling at the majestic scenery all around us, we hear music- wild rhythms that make you want to start jumping and dancing around the fire. The kids in the local school are practicing for a school celebration and they let us watch. This is our first glimpse of Polynesian dance and music- savage, sexy and full of stories.

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How awesome is that these kids get to learn to play the drums and belly dance in school since age 5!

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A short hike away through the outskirts of the village at the foot of the volcano is the old cemetery.

Old cemetery, Hiva'Oa

Old cemetery, Hiva’Oa

But another cemetery attracts far more visitors.

Paul Gauguin's grave on Hiva'Oa

Paul Gauguin’s grave on Hiva’Oa

On a hill overlooking the bay is the grave of post-impressionist painter Paul Gauguin. Calvary cemetery  has become a major tourist attraction, besides the Gauguin Museum down in the village with reproductions of his paintings. All tourists coming here climb the hill in heat or rain to pay homage to the famous painter who “escaped western influences” and returned to nature to find paradise lost. Yet, the locals are not too sure about Gauguin and his legacy. What were this French man true motives to buy a house and live in Hiva’Oa?

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The Marquesan islands became famous shortly after their discovery by early European explorers as “haven of free love”. The islanders’ unique culture and way of life included a very different attitude towards sexuality. Children and parents shared quarters and it was OK for kids to witness their parents having intercourse. The adults even found it amusing and funny when children simulated sexual acts, and encourage them to do so from very early age. This explains why European ships were met with swarms of young girls, for whom virginity or chastity was not a social construct, climbing aboard to have sex with the sailors. It also explains why a middle-aged painter whose many Marquesan lovers were barely adult girls, died of syphilis in 1903.

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.*Watch our 10-minute YouTube video More Sushi in Hiva’Oa for more stories from the island- meeting a guitar maker, the arrival of Aranui, looking for an ancient petroglyph in the forest and sharing some MORE SUSHI with friends!

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If you regularly read and value our hard work, consider becoming one of our patrons for as little as $1 or $5 dollars a month and help us in our future travels. Thank you!


 

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Back to Nature in Fatu Hiva

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We sailed 3000 nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean.
Our average speed- about 5-6 kts- the speed you have when you go jogging casually in the morning. We honestly thought that upon our arrival in the first of the Polynesian islands, we will have “crossed the ocean”. Not really.

After 23 days of uneventful sailing, a few squalls, too much sushi, and the most spectacular sunsets, we arrive in the middle of the ocean- a tiny speck of land that you can’t even see on the map without a magnifying glass. Fatu Hiva- the first land on the path of sailors doing the Pacific Crossing from Galapagos- a place beyond reality.

Bay of Virgins, Fatu Hiva

Bay of Virgins, Fatu Hiva

We arrive at night and drop anchor between few other sleeping boats in the Bay of Virgins. The moon is full and bright and we can make out silhouettes of tall cliffs all around us. The smell of flowers and green earth. For the first time in almost a month we sleep at anchor, the boat still, land right next to us.

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In the morning we wake up in the shadow of a strange Jurassic world. Maya says it looks like the Khajiit Realm from her favorite game- Skyrim. The Khajiits are cat people who live in a place called Elsewhere and their king has three sons who are the three moons of this magical world. Fatu Hiva is much like Elsewhere of the Khajiits.

Jagged cliffs of frozen magma plunging into the sea; jungle-covered mountains bathed in pink morning mist rising over a thousand meters; soft folds of green valleys carved by rivers and ancient waterfalls.

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We won’t be surprised if a bunch of dinosaurs pop up from the forest. Actually, a velociraptor just swooped over the palm trees and we saw King Kong climbing up the cliffs on the west side of the bay!

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Right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 12 degrees south of the equator, Fatu Hiva is the southernmost island of the Marquesas island group at the north-eastern extremity of French Polynesia, and the most isolated one. It is only 85 square kilometers in territory with two small villages of a few hundred people and there is no airport. The island is accessible only by boat and tourism is virtually non-existent and limited mainly to cruisers, like us.

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We jump in our three-person awesome kayak and paddle to shore. Land feels strangely new and shaky. It’s hard to keep the balance. Our knees are startled. Our joints awake with disbelief. Our legs are utterly surprised at the forgotten act of walking.

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The dry warm air full of exotic smells is overwhelming.

The village near the bay is but a cluster of a few neat houses almost hidden behind drifts of bougainvillea and hibiscus. Lush gardens with papaya, banana and palm trees, large flowers the color of fire. Pigs, goats and chickens looking at the ground in search of goodies, a sleepy dog walking aimlessly under the bright tropical sun.

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The first Polynesian we meet is a woman sitting on a low concrete fence near the road. She looks like a mixture of Latin-American and Asian race, yet distinctly particular for the Marquisan islands. Dark long very thick hair, a large red flower behind the left ear, she smiles “Bonjour, bienvenues a Polynesie Francaise!” and asks us if we have some perfumes or makeup to exchange for fruits from her garden. Her French has a distinctive islanders’ accent. On these remote Pacific islands with small populations and no shops, where all goods arrive by boat a few times a year, people need all sorts of things, so easily obtained in continental countries. Anything basic- from makeup, clothes, household objects, food and spices- is difficult and expensive to get, and cruisers are always welcome to trade whatever they can spare in exchange for local fruits, vegetables and fish. But we didn’t bring anything to trade.

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We keep walking up a steep road looking for a small waterfall in the forest. Right before we left the boat, a fellow cruiser told us how to find the waterfall. You take the main road and walk up until you reach a curve. Keep walking on the path to your left, past the school and the bridge, through the forest. The path will get narrow and steep and difficult at places. You can’t get lost.

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We got lost. We keep walking on the road up the mountain under the burning sun and it feels the wrong way. There is absolutely no one to ask if we are on the right way to the waterfall. Maya is tired, complaining that her legs hurt. My legs hurt too, and the pain is intense- it has been 23 days of sitting on our butts most of the time and zero walking.

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We reach the top of the hill overlooking the village and the Bay of Virgins. Fata Morgana and her friends look like toy-boats in a calm blue lake below us. The view is spectacular. White birds with long tails like bridal veils soaring among majestic cathedral-like volcanic pinnacles gathering clouds in their crowns, dramatically shaped red and grey cliffs, lush green forests and valleys, and beyond- the endless blue of the ocean.

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Here, in 1937, Norwegian explorer and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl and his wife found paradise. Here, they lead for one year and a half “a primitive life in the wilderness, away from the artificial civilization, independent of everything except nature”, as he wrote in his book “Fatu-Hiva: Back to Nature”- an experience for which I envy them.

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To our left, far in the distance on the opposite side of the mountain we spot the waterfall. We have been walking away from it for the past one hour and a half but the view from this hill is worth the detour. And now we have a better idea where it is. We go back down and meet an old guy walking next to an old horse carrying heavy bags full of dried coconuts. He tells us how to find the way.

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An hour later and one more time getting lost this time in some farmlands, we are finally on the right path.

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It has been a wild dream to see this place, to walk among a jungle full of flowers, to reach the waterfall. And now we are here. Bathing in the cool sweet waters of the deep green pool of our dreams.

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There are not so many places left in the world- awe-inspiring places of extreme natural beauty, unspoiled by civilization and mass tourism like the remote island Fatu Hiva and its elusive waterfall.

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*Watch our 10-minute YouTube video Fatu Hiva- Back To Nature for amazing views of the island and the waterfall!

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Support us on Patreon @The Life Nomadik
Watch us on YouTube @Fata Morgana

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Sailing to Cartagena de Indias

Pegasos Monument, Cartagena, Colombia

Pegasos Monument, Cartagena, Colombia

The time came to sail again – 100 nautical miles from Santa Marta to Cartagena, along the Caribbean coast of Colombia, past the dreaded Barranquilla Cape and the Magdalena River delta. We waited again for the best possible weather conditions – light 15-20 knot winds and 1-2 meter waves for 2-3 consecutive days. In this part of the Caribbean Sea low pressure meets high pressure and messes up the entire situation. Wind gets crazy strong, sometimes unpredictable and squally, waves pick up height, it’s nasty. Many say that this spot can actually be the worst sailing experience on your way around the world, so we grab the first opportunity we get in a month to sail in calmer conditions.

The lighthouse, Santa Marta's landmark

The lighthouse, Santa Marta’s landmark

We start early in the morning on May 20th lifting anchor on sails, as we usually do. This time it is easy, because there is no one else in the anchorage in Santa Marta but us, and we have lots of space for maneuvering. First, we hoist the main sail, then Ivo slowly starts pulling up the anchor with the electrical windlass, Maya is ready on the jib, and I am steering. As Ivo is lifting the anchor, the boat is heading forward and I am steering slightly in the direction we want to turn. Anchor out, the boat is at a small angle to the wind, Maya pulls the jib fast. We drift for a few seconds backwards until the angle to wind is bigger, then Fata Morgana picks up speed forward and we are off! But there is no wind in the bay that morning. When lifting anchor on sail, no wind means nothing can go wrong, but it also means, that we have to drift and tack back and forth for 4 hours just to get out of the bay and into open sea, less than 2 NM…

Fata Morgana sailing wing-on-wing

Fata Morgana sailing wing-on-wing

Finally we clear the small island with the lighthouse and the wind picks up from east at around 10 a.m. Fata Morgana is moving with 4-5 knots towards destination. We head straight across the gulf of the Cienaga Grande de Santa Marta for the Barranquilla cape. This should be the worst area we sail through in the entire Caribbean and a friend told us to make sure we pass it in daylight, as there might be large debris dragged down from the river into the sea- big tree trunks, dead cows, entire rooftops. We approach it around 3 p.m. The waters near the delta of the Magdalena River, Colombia’s main river, gradually become the color ochre. The wind picks up reaching 30 knots, and the sea meeting the river waters becomes agitated, with confused quick 3-meter waves and weird currents. We reef the sails and we surf down murky brownish waters foaming at the top. We watch out for debris, but instead we almost run over a small blue fishing boat with a bunch of people in yellow rain suits busy doing something out here in the biggest mess of a sea. I wonder what are they looking for exactly here? But the sea and wind are actually not as bad as we expected thanks to the fact that we waited for calm weather, and we are quickly behind the cape, the worst over. From now on we keep near the shore in shallow waters, the wind behind us, the sails wing-on-wing, Fata Morgana moving slowly.

Fishermen near Barranquilla's Magdalena River delta

Fishermen near Barranquilla’s Magdalena River delta

Then we pass directly over a spot where on the charts a wreck is indicated and we hook something on the fishing line. We hope it’s a fish, but it could be the wreck, as Ivo is unable to bring it in and we end up losing the lure and the entire fishing line… This puts us in a bad mood. Not only we didn’t catch a fish, we just lost about a hundred dollars’ worth of fishing gear…

Another fishing boat on our way to Cartagena

Another fishing boat on our way to Cartagena

It is close to midnight as we approach the lights of a big city. The wind drops and we decide to spend the night at anchor at the entrance of Boca Chica channel, next to the walls of an old fort.

Castillo at Boca Chica entrance

Castillo at Boca Chica entrance

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The next morning, May 21st, we slowly sail in the bay of Cartagena. Large ships circulate in channels indicated with red and green buoys, small fishing boats cross our path, and cayucos with homemade sails glide like ghosts in the shadows of the cold stone walls of a big old fort. In the distance ahead of us, standing tall, still and sparkling white on the edge of the morning seashore, the skyscrapers of a giant young city are greeting us. What an awesome view is Cartagena, what a dramatic moment is sailing in the bay for the first time! Emerging from the barren monotony of the sea- huge buildings- straight vertical and parallel lines reflected in the mirror of the still waters; glass, concrete and iron, looming over the world like the mute and mysterious Easter giants of the Rapa Nui, forever watching the western horizons.

Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia

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It was slow getting to the anchorage on sail in the bay where the wind almost died and we had to tack many times inside the wide shipping channel. At the end, just before we dropped anchor between so many other boats, we saw the pointy roofs and cupolas of churches sticking above the red clay tiled rooftops of old colorful buildings- our first glimpse of the old colonial city of Cartagena de Indias, hidden behind the tall modern skyscrapers of Cartagena’s downtown.

Sailing into the Bay of Cartagena

Sailing into the Bay of Cartagena

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We spend the next couple of days roaming through the plazas and narrow busy streets of the old walled city in the shadows of museums, cathedrals and fortresses, among waterfalls of purple flowers cascading down from balconies of historical buildings housing galleries, boutique hotels and restaurants.

Cartagena Old City

Cartagena Old City

Cartagena de Indias was founded by the Spanish conquistadors in 1533 and thanks to its strategic location, the large bay with its many islets and inlets, became one of South America’s most important port where gold and other precious plunders found in this New World were loaded up on Spanish galleons and transported across the Atlantic Ocean to Spain. Soon pirates attracted by this movement of treasure begun attacking and robbing the city and the ships. In 1586 the infamous Sir Francis Drake from England ransacked and destroyed part of Cartagena. The Spanish crown then invested in the city’s defense and built the largest fortification walls in the Americas- a masterpiece of Spanish military engineering.

The walls of Cartagena

The walls of Cartagena

With independence, Cartagena fell into disrepair. Many rich families left the area and the poor settled in. Many of the centuries-old colonial buildings were abandoned and in ruins until a long-term restoration project begun in the 1950s to transform the city once again into the breathtaking global destination which Cartagena is today- a “city for lovers” and the setting for Gabriel García Márquez’s novel “Love in the Time of Cholera.”

Cartagena old city

Cartagena old city

From the anchorage we walk 10 minutes, past the 17th century Castillo de San Felipe, heavy up on its hill like a dinosaur standing watch over the city, and over a bridge that brings us to the walled city covering an area of only about 1 square mile in the northeast corner of town, filled with plazas, churches, museums and monuments.

Castillo de San Felipe

Castillo de San Felipe

Straight ahead, through narrow streets, across the Centenario Park, past the Pegasos Monument we reach the Clock Tower at La Paz Square surrounded by congested yellow taxis. We walk through the gates and we now stand at Los Coches Square full of tourists and locals selling hats and other things, offering to be our guides or to give us a ride in a carriage.

The Clock Tower

The Clock Tower

Next is the old city’s largest plaza- Plaza de la Aduana surrounded by shops. We turn west and after a few more steps we arrive under the heavy cathedral at Plaza de San Pedro Claver near the Museum of Modern Art with fun little metal sculptures in front depicting scenes of everyday life in Colombia.

Maya at Plaza de la Aduana

Maya at Plaza de la Aduana

Metal sculpture Plaza de San Pedro Claver

Metal sculpture Plaza de San Pedro Claver

We turn right and walk two blocks to Plaza de Bolivar where under the shade of old trees we buy a refreshing slice of pineapple from a street vendor woman dressed in traditional creole dress. The heat is intense and we find shelter inside the Palace of the Inquisition– a museum filled with instruments of torture used by the Holy Inquisition against witches and infidels. Another museum nearby offers displays of pre-Colombian gold objects- The Museum of Gold, and further down the road we reach Plaza de Santo Domingo and the Santo Domingo Church. Here we find Botero’s Fat Woman monument.

Botero's Fat Woman Monument, Cartagena

Botero’s Fat Woman Monument, Cartagena

We buy a couple of lifesaving cold beers for Ivo and me and a lifesaving ice cream for Maya and keep walking until the street ends into the large stone city wall. We climb the steps and walk on top of the wall- the Caribbean Sea on our left, a sea of old Cartagena’s tiled roofs on our right- until we get to Las Bovedas– 23 dungeon transformed into tourist shops.

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We are absolutely amazed. Cartagena de Indias is our favorite of four Caribbean Queens, as I nicknamed the four major colonial capitals in the Caribbean: Havana, Santo Domingo, San Juan and Cartagena. There are places we couldn’t visit in Cartagena, like the Popa Monastery up on a mount overlooking the entire city, as we were pressed for time and had to lift anchor in just a couple of days and leave Colombia, because our exit papers from Santa Marta had Panama listed as our next destination and not Cartagena, which could become a major problem if we decided to stay longer. But even this short visit was enough to stock up provisions for our long stay in the remote paradise of the San Blas islands of Panama, to fill our propane tanks, and to fall in love with the old walled city, promising- we will return some day.

Colors of Cartagena de Indias

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Maya in Cartagena

Maya in Cartagena

Cafe Havana

Cafe Havana

Holy Inquisition graffiti

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Frozen yogurt

Frozen yogurt

Orange juice seller

Orange juice seller

Maya in the tree

Maya in the tree

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Plaza de la Aduana

Plaza de la Aduana

Early morning anchorage in Cartagena

Early morning anchorage in Cartagena

Ivo and Maya with the pineapple woman, Cartagena

Ivo and Maya with the pineapple woman, Cartagena

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Monserrate, El Dorado and the Museum of Gold in Bogota

Monserrate

The second day of our visit in Bogota started with a very steep hiking up Mount Monserrate, 3152 m, one of Bogota’s symbols.

Monserrate, Bogota

Monserrate, Bogota

In the early years of the 17th century the mountain becomes a favorite place for pilgrimage for devout Catholics and in 1650 begins the building of a temple, which still receives hundreds of pilgrims and visitors each day.

Мая срещна лама по пътя към Монсерате

Maya met a llama on the way to Monserrate

Besides the 3-kiometer pedestrian path, there is a cable car to the top, for those who cannot make the journey by foot, as walking up Monserrate is a very physically-challenging tradition. There are sportsmen running up, pilgrims crawling on their knees and visitors like us walking slowly and resting every now and then. It’s a popular thing to do for locals and tourists any day of the week. To visit Bogota and not climb Monserrate is like visiting Paris and not going up the Eifel Tower.

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After two hours of sweating and heart-pounding climb we finally got to the top of Monserrate. We promised ourselves we would never do it again. The altitude change is 500 meters and even though there is a paved path with steps (and we love hiking up mountains) this was one of the most tiring and difficult “walks” ever. But it was rewarding too. From the top the capital in our feet looked like an endless lake of tiled roofs spilled among the slopes of the surrounding mountains.

Изглед към Богота от връх Монсерате

View of Bogota from Monserrate

Besides the church, there is a nice restaurant among gardens with mountain flowers and old trees, with a terrace and stunning view of the city, where we had traditional hot chocolate.

Мая пие горещ шоколад на връх Монсерате

Maya is having hot chocolate on top of Monserrate

The walk down was as painful for our muscles and joints, but faster and without as many rest-stops, so we were back in Bogota, back in the city traffic and crowds by noon. And even though our legs hurt, after a short lunch break in a small restaurant where we enjoyed a traditional Ajiaco soup, we found some more energy and visited another stunning site.

Мая хапва супа Ахиако (гъста пилешка супа с 4 вида картофи и специфични подправки)

Maya is having Ajiaco soup (thick chicken soup with four types of potatoes, cilantro and other herbs and spices)

 

El Dorado

Once upon a time, deep in the mountains of an unknown faraway land, in a temple built in the middle of a big city, there lived the son of a powerful ruler. He possessed the sight of the bat and the wisdom of the eagle. In his veins the strength of the jaguar was flowing.

The day of his transformation approached. Secluded in the dark belly of a sacred cave for many days, days that appeared like an endless night without the light of the sun, without salt in his food and without a woman at his side, the prince was getting ready for the transformation.

In the day of the ceremony, the shamans of the big city gathered near the sacred lake without bottom- the portal to the Lower World ruled by the goddess of the waters. They made fires of wood and tree sap whose blood-red smoke consumed the sky and sun. They placed on a big raft made of trees and decorated with feathers of all colors and jewels, the most intricate objects made of gold. They painted the naked body of the cave-prince with gold dust, from head to toes.

They placed the golden prince on the raft and in his feet they put the objects made of gold and emeralds- offerings for the underwater lake-goddess of the Lower World. The four most distinguished shamans were also on the raft standing in its four corners, wearing heavy crowns, earrings, bracelets and necklaces of pure gold. When the raft reached the center of the lake, silence fell. The golden prince began throwing one by one the rich offerings in the lake- the portal to the underworld, and the shamans did the same.

When the raft came back to shore the prince entered the waters of the lake and washed the gold off his body. He was greeted by all with songs, music and dancing. He was the new ruler of the people. He was El Dorado.

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The tale of the golden prince and the lake full of precious gold offerings gave birth to the legend of El Dorado- a city of gold full of unimaginable riches hidden deep in the jungles of the unexplored  New World, a city so many conquistadors searched for in vain in the 16th and 17th centuries. And even though the City of Gold was never found and remained just a legend, the sacred lake where the Muisca people from the high Andine plateau near today’s Bogota performed the ritual of the initiation of their new ruler does exist. The high mountain lake Guatavita at 3100 meters is round and resembles a crater with 1.5 km in diameter and about 25-30 meters deep. Today it is a major tourist attraction not far from the capital of Colombia.

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After a few failed attempts in the past to drain the lake and find the gold on its bottom, the lake has been declared National Patrimony and today it is forbidden to swim, dive or excavate it.

Museum of Gold

But instead of climbing another mountain, tired from our hike to Monserrate, we decided to look for gold in another place, where we knew we would find hips of it – the Museum of Gold.

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The museum has displays on 3 floors and its collection of 55 thousand gold and other pre-Colombian objects is the biggest in the world. It is the most famous museum in Colombia and one of the most impressive museums in all of Latin America. The entrance fee is 3000 pesos (less than $1.5) for adults and free for children.

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We were absolutely amazed by the scale of the museum, by its rich gold collection separated by time periods and regions of the findings, by the intricate work of the gold objects, some so miniature they were placed under magnifying glass, by the style, complexity and beauty of the ancient art.

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We watched a film about ancient metals and how they influenced different cultures around the world, we learned about the life and culture of the pre-Hispanic peoples of Colombia from miniature models depicting scenes of their daily lives: agriculture, burial rituals, crafts, building of houses etc. Maya loved these small scale models as they resemble little toys and dolls.

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Миниатюрни модели на мумии, които бивали погребвани изправени

Miniature models of mummies buried standing up underground

But what impressed us the most were the figurines of mixed animals and people: the jaguar-frog, the eagle-man, the bird-woman, the vampire-man, the snake-shaman, as well as the golden treys used in rituals involving hallucinogenic plant-powders made from coca leaves and from Yopo collected from the Anadenanthera tree, which the shamans inhaled using a small spoon or a hollow bird bone from treys depicting animals and conjured up images of the transformations that were experienced.
“When the shaman was under the effects of plants that gave him power, he connected the various worlds. He journeyed through the middle, upper and lower worlds, linking all their beings.”

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Bird-woman

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Jaguar-frog

Тавичка и тръбичка за наркотици

A tray for inhaling coca

On the third floor we entered the Offering room. Darkness fell upon us and we heard the sounds of water and faraway songs of shamans. When the faint flickering light came back we saw hundreds of golden objects floating in a glass round lake in the middle of the room and all around us. The singing got louder. We found ourselves in a whirlpool of gold, a glittering distant unreality…

Церемониалната зала

The Offering room

We spent the entire afternoon in the Museum of Gold, captivated by the beauty of the craft of the ancient civilizations inhabiting these lands before Columbus. We learned Fascinating details about their culture and history, their life and rituals.

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The Hostel

Extremely exhausted we returned to our little hostel, where a private room was vacant for us. Instead of sleeping in the dorm with 6 beds we got a room to ourselves with one double bed and one bunk-bed, with a TV set and hot-water shower! Plus, the nice little lady at the reception agreed to rent it to us for $30 per night.

But this room too didn’t have any windows. Why, we asked with curiosity. “Ah, The story of this building is long. It was built in the 17th century and was the house of a general. Then it became a convent, then a school, and finally, before the present owner bought it and made it to a hostel and before the digital era, it was a photo studio with dark rooms, where they used to develop films. That’s why- no windows.”

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We took a hot shower and fell under the blankets. We slept like dead not knowing if it was dark or light outside, in our room without windows, in the small hostel in the center of the city. We still had one more day in Bogota ahead of us, another day filled with discoveries and adventures before we would go back to our boat in the heat of Santa Marta.

Обратно в хостела

* Read Visit to Bogota Part One and find out about La Candelaria, Botero Museum and the Bogota Cathedral.

 

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