We climbed a really big rock a few weeks ago. We like big rocks! We enjoyed our experience in Spain, checking out a big rock down in the south, owned by those northerly neighbors who don’t seem to get the hint to take a hike. And here again in Colombia we had to go see a big rock. There were many options for how to get there but I prefer the one that involves being picked up and driven by somebody who knows what they are doing. So one day when I was taking a taxi, the driver and I talked about all the things to do around here. He mentioned Guatapé, and how he arranges tours, and his 15 year old daughter comes along to translate into English. What did you just say? You have a 15-year old daughter? I, too, have a 15-year old daughter! We must do this. We are now friends, Señor Taxi Driver! So a few weeks later my new buddy Ramiro picked us up, we added into the mix some new Worldschooler friends we had met a few days ago and we headed out of the city.
One of the things I like about Ramiro is that he thought we might enjoy a few stops on our way to the rock. First we stopped at a dam, which was gorgeous. This area is really popular on weekends and holidays for people from Medellin to come and have a picnic and play on the water created by the dam. Thanks for the frequent rains and mountains, Medellin has no water problems (sorry, Cape Town, wish we could share).
Next we went to some really cool waterfall area. Would have been a great place to stop for a lunch and let the kids run around, but we had a destination in mind so we snapped a few photos and continued on our journey.
After a stop for a brief snack which was warm oven-baked bread with melty cheese inside (read: yummy), we continued through what seemed like endless mountains until we finally got to Guatapé. There’s a bit of a history about this rock. There is a rather interesting rivalry between the two towns of El Peñol and Guatapé over the ownership of the rock (called La Piedra). The owner would claim rights to the hundreds of Colombians and foreign tourists that enjoy the walk up (and bring their money) every weekend. The town of Guatapé went so far as trying to paint their name on the side of the rock, and discontinued part way, so you will see the confusing letters painted in white once you spot the rock from the highway. Who knew a rock would be so important? Britain, that’s who. Currently all the income earned off the rock is sitting in a bank account waiting for the ownership to be worked out through the legal system. #stubborn
From this picture you might wonder how one would climb to the top, but from the other side you can clearly see the steps that were built into the large crack in the rock. When the stairs were first built, they were wooden. Ramiro tells us that when he came to this rock as a boy, he would climb the wooden stairs with many creaks! After awhile they converted the wooden stairs to concrete, and added a back staircase that allowed for one way traffic up and one way traffic back down.
Haley was having PTSD flashbacks about her 2000-step climb up to a temple in Thailand so she, Susana (tour guide’s daughter), Sandra and Sandra’s Worldschooling Teen #1 Mia, went to explore the town while Worldschooler Teen #2 Antonio, Zoe, Dan and I climbed the rock. Zoe was really happy to swap out Haley for Antonio and asked if we could make the arrangement permanent. Haley: “Same”.
We started climbing the rock and it was hard to keep going because; 1) we are already at 7000 ft above sea level and; 2) the views were so pretty we just wanted to stop and take pictures every few feet. But we climbed… and climbed… and climbed.
Once at the top we took some pictures, explored the small area that was crammed with vendors and people, and then noticed the line to get back down. It snaked all the way around the perimeter of the top! We had inadvertently chosen a “puente” weekend – a Friday before a 3-day weekend. Oops! Here in Colombia the “holidays” don’t include Thanksgiving of any kind but they do include Dia de los Reyes – King’s Day, which is when most kids get their presents. This is an important day! And evidently people felt like going to Guatapé would be a nice way to spend it. Us: “Same”
But we managed to make our way back down the rock after standing in line for 30 minutes just to get onto the stairs. We could see the people on the way up with looks on their faces like “should we do this?”. We encouraged them to keep climbing. Antonio and Zoe were trying to get as many high 5’s as possible from very confused Colombians on the up stairs. Colombians don’t typically high-5, they cheek kiss.
The Town of Guatapé
Next we went to the small town nearby of the same name. This town is known as the town of 1000 colors and we can see why! All the buildings were painted different colors and they all had these awesome art squares on the outside of the buildings called “zocolo“. Our experience in Mexico tell us that zocolo is their word for the main square or plaza or central park, but here it referred to the art squares on all the buildings.
We wandered around town, ducked into a few stores, got a bite to eat and watched some live performances in the park. Throughout the day we had managed to escape the on-again off-again rain but at this moment it started to be on-again so we headed for the van, knowing we had a few hours of a drive still before we were home.
Although the road involved a somewhat motion-sickness-inducing van ride, the conversation with our friends was interesting enough to distract us from such woes and we thoroughly enjoyed the ride home. We’d like to thank our guide, Ramiro, and our new friends for an awesome day. Oh, and thanks to the rock and whoever owns it. #maybeBritain