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24 mar201824

Guatapé - The land of stones and water

El Peñol, Guatape, ColombiaEl Peñol, Guatape, Colombia
I haven't written anything about Medellín because there was not much to write. Very large city with many tall buildings, too many cars, and a lot of air pollution. I found myself living next to one of the bigger roads, so the city noise is a normal thing for residents here. I developed a way to block that noise and focus my brain on sounds of the birds that sit on the trees around the area. 

First two week in the city I spent battling a common cold and next two weeks I had so much work that I didn't have time for anything else. The area I live in, El Poblado, is quite touristy (like San Blas of Cusco), therefore I tried not to judge a whole city based on one district. After few weeks I have longed for a bit of a break outside of the city and the opportunity came when our boss Derk invited us to try and work for three days from his finca in Guatapé.

The name of the town actually comes from Quechua and it means "stones and water" and was founded in 1811. In 2009 there was only a bit over 5500 inhabitants  {"type":"www", "date": "19 March 2018", "url":"", "title":"Guatapé - Wikipedia"}

We took a metro to Caribe station, which is directly connected to Terminal Norte (one of the two major bus stations) and boarded the bus. The journey takes about 2 hours, which is quite tolerable. After all I used to travel 2h 15min one way to work when I moved to Durham while still having a job in Shildon (which was only 22km / 13.5miles). First hour is on motorway and the second one is when you get to the peaks and travel through a lot of corners with great views on both sides.

The moment I stepped out of the bus I knew I liked it. A small town at the Ensamble del Peñol (artificial lake) located about 70km / 43.5miles east from Medellín has reminded me that I have always been and will probably be a small-town kind of guy. The vibe was there, the sun was there, the lake was there, and yes the few trucks on the main road did make a lot of noise but all you have to do is walk for few minutes away from the road and you're in the peaceful oasis.
After amazing breakfast at a vegan restaurant called (TripAdvisorTripAdvisor - TripAdvisor, HappyCowHappyCow - HappyCow), where I had the best vegan crepe in the world of crepes, we took a MotoTaxi to the finca about 4km away from Guatapé. We arrived and I was blown away. No sounds, no cars, only trees, bushes, a stream, and a cat.
We spent there three days working, gardening, playing with the cat, and inhaling the clear air while looking at the beautiful surroundings and listening to the sound of water. Fito has only 7-month so he still is in the biting and scratching phase of his life, which meant my hands were all in scratched, but it's a small price to pay - and Scarlett got me used to scratches many years ago. In th end I survived. 
I felt completely different than when I was in the city. Murowana Goślina, Bishop Auckland, New Brancepeth, Maple Ridge, El Porvenir - the pattern is obvious that the environment I feel in the best is a small town/village but with a fairly close proximity to a big city. Cusco is an exception, probably because despite being a big city I lived away from the centre and it still has a different vibe. 

An opportunity to go back to Guatapé came when my friend from Cusco, Rosita, came to Medellín! She has been travelling in Colombia for many weeks now and finally made it to where I am. It's like a little part of Cusco came back to me and we decided to spend Saturday away from the city. 
So glad you made it to Medellín!
First point of action was Peñon de Guatapé (also called El Peñol de Guatapé or La Piedra de El Peñol), a landmark in this region due to the rock's lonely stance most likely due to better resistance to erosion over the millions of years. In 1940 it was officially declared as National Monument by Colombian government. Just over 700 steps to get to the top but I have to say it's a nice little exercise and the view from the top is amazing.  The indigenious people of that region Tahimi, worshipped that rock and if you look at the surroundings you might get the feeling why. There must be something special about this one.

While at the top (after 220m and 650 steps) you can see a 360° view of the Ensemble de Guatapé, a man-made water reservoir where a dam was built to keep water between May and November to be used in the summer. {"type" : "www", "url" : "", "date" : "19 March 2018", "title": "PEÑOL - GUATAPÉ RESERVOIR"} In 1960s the former town of Penol was completely demolished {"type":"www", "url":"", "date":"19 March 2018", "title":"THINGS TO DO IN MEDELLIN GUATAPE"} and years later almost 6,500 hectares were flooded to create the reservoir.
It must have been quite a project but the effect is marvellous!

Next point on the agenda was to take a moto taxi to Guatapé and have breakfast, again in Namaste. I'm pretty sure it will become my frequently visited spot while in the town. Later we explored the place for couple of hours. The housing is absolutely amazing. Almost every building has some kind of artistic tiles on them, hand-made, colourful, and very impressive! It makes a big difference how you see such town, not just a concrete or red-brick jungle that doesn't even make you feel anything. Colours bring life, they express feelings, images or paintings make us ask questions and even try to guess what is the reason behind them.
One of my favourite streets in Guatapé
Reminded my of my niece Maja :)
Apart from colorful streets Guatapé is not a boring place as one might think. It becomes more touristy and a great weekend place to escape for other Colombians but it still preserves its core essence, not to mention that it also preserves the most important thing of all - clear air :) 

Few hours passed, mostly on watching quiet life of the locals, walking halfway to my boss' finca located few kilometers away from the city, and appreciating the buildings, people, and most importantly untouched nature around us. We had maybe two hours and decided to do something more touristy. We chose pedal boat - just because walking for few hours, ging up La Peñol, wasn't enough exercise for the day, and why not pedal on the lake for another hour to get our quads real workout?

While pedalling I wanted to take a closer look at the boat wreck from the accident that happened in January 2017. Almirante (boat's name) started sinking in the middle of the lake, with 170 passengers on board, none of which wore life vests. You would think it is just an artificial lake, not so deep, but unfortunately 9 people died in this accident and for a long time over 30 people were missing. {"type":"www", "url" : "", "title" : "Colombia boat wreck death toll jumps to nine", "date" : "24 March 2018"}{"type" : "www", "url" : "", "title" : "At least six dead and 31 missing as boat in Colombia carrying 160 tourists sinks in reservoir", "date" : "24 March 2018"}

What kept me thinking is why, over a year since the accident, the wreck was still at the shore? Surely none of the locals would forget what happend but I think such a reminder is unnecessary...
We took a turn right with the boat and I decided to disembark, in order to take a photograph of a bird. It was a very difficult mission as we scared all but one, clearly they weren't used to humans so I need to make it a stealth mission. Rosita managed to contain her laugh to not make too much noise but couldn't stop herself to not take pictures of my stealth mode.. 
Unfortunately I have not managed to identify the species but the mission ended with success! It only cost a lot of mud on my shoes and probably a little bit of stress to the bird but I left swiftly to leave it to its routines.
My mission was successful!
Now I can officially say that I will be living in Guatapé in just two weeks! I can't wait! I will still be travelling to the office in Medellín few days a week but I am willing to spend two hours on a bus one way knowing that I come back to a quiet place, surrounded by green, something I can call home. Obviously my excitement is going through the roof but I always feel like that when something great happens, so much that I can't even believe it. 

Conclusion? The town definitely lands on my list of favourites, memories will definitely stay forever in my head, and a lesson learnt to never take white shoes if you think things might get a little bit muddy!
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