A Colombian Road Trip Adventure

These series of posts are about Latina travel bloggers connecting with their ‘motherland’, also known as the country that one or both parents are from, where they were born but only spent their childhood there, where close or extended family still live, and/or they have visited throughout their life.

This is a continuation of my last article about Embracing my Sangre Indígena in Colombia. 2010 was an incredible time to be in Colombia because safety and security was at an all time high, and this kind of trip would have never happened prior to that year. This trip served to help me learn about different cities and regions in my mother’s country (aka the ‘motherland’), some brief history of certain Indigenous groups, a look into my own privilege, my inner dialogue, and more. I introduced the nine stops we made during my road trip in Colombia starting in Bogotá with the longest stop being Santa Marta on the coast, and then back:

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The Adventure
Zipaquirá is a salt mine frequented by many who want to visit the extensive caves, carved out ruins, and a historical location that used to be a salt trading center before the arrival of conquistadores. The salt was a hot commodity for the Muiskas because of it’s purpose to preserve food. It is located outside of Bogotá, so it was a perfect location to stop while on the way out to begin our journey.

Bucaramanga was a small city/ large town that we visited about ⅓ of the way to our destination. We stayed with my Uncle’s wife’s cousins (try saying that three times). It was hotter than Bogotá, and humid but not uncomfortable. It was close to the next three nearby spots we visited while we stayed, a central location to these incredible must-sees.

Parque Natural el Gallineral, a beautiful forest area with incredible biodiversity. It was called a “Gallineral” because the unique trees allowed the gallinas (chickens) to lay and walk on the sideways growing trees. One of the oldest trees to exist is located in that park.

I also got to try hormigas culonas, literal translation is “fat ass ants.” They tasted crunchy and salty like peanuts. I can’t believe I actually liked it:

Barichara. After the Gallineral, we stopped by the beautiful pueblo of Barichara. In this town, painted the same kelly green throughout, there were breathtaking views of the mountains. We ate a delicious lunch (just like almost everywhere else we went) and relaxed. I tried delicious sabajón for the first time, which is a Colombian style eggnog spiked with aguardiente.

Parque Nacional del Chicamocha, known as Panachi, was the highlight of the road trip. We stopped there on the way out of Bucaramanga because it is very close by.  Located in the department of Santander, Panachi is an adventure park with breath-taking views of miles beyond miles of the surrounding radius of the “Gran Cañon de Chicamocha”. The meaning of the name Chicamocha is unknown, though it is known to be a Guane indigenous word for the river that flows through the canyon. The national park offers a long list of outdoors activities like kayaking, fishing, camping, or paragliding.  We went zip-lining and walked around the whole park. I drank Chicha which is a corn drink fermented in a clay pot with corn, pineapple, and panela (hard brown sugar). The beverage is also known as piloncillo.

Panoramic view of the Panachi statue

Santa Marta. We finally arrived to the coast after almost 4 days on the road and stopping everywhere we could. The last day of traveling was the longest because we didn’t stop anywhere. Santa Marta was more about relaxing rather than sight seeing there (unfortunately but fortunately). We stayed at an all-inclusive resort Decameron with delicious fresh fruit piled high everywhere food was served, with ever flowing beverages. My cousin Carolina flew in from Bogotá to join us just for our time in Santa Marta. My Uncle Jaime actually left for 2 days to be back in Bogotá for the weekend since he runs his Events & Wedding business Banquetes Pablo VI, so weekends are always the busiest. Do you see how bad ass my Uncle is for doing so much for us?!

My Tia and Abuela were too nervous for us to leave the resort because certain areas were deemed unsafe at the time. I think they did not feel as safe with me the “foreigner” there without a man there with us. They live in fear because of horror stories, especially since a friend of my Tia was kidnapped on the nearby island of San Andrés and murdered. Somehow, my cousin and I snuck out one night to go out into town to a recommended discoteca where we had a blast. We were lucky because her and I shared our own room, and the other two shared their own room. They both conked out to sleep early, so it worked for us. We had a great time, and I danced with some girls from “El Chocó” region, which is a primarily Afro-Colombian population. We came home around 4am unscathed and happy to have made rebelde decisions.

Though all-inclusive resorts aren’t my thing due to how separated I feel from local life, and how expensive they are, the food at Decameron is the best I have ever tasted compared to any hotel or resort I have ever been to in the world. And the shows!? There is a dance show EVERY night, nothing short of spectacular. I actually tried out for their dance group because I somehow convinced myself that it was what I wanted to do. The women were all half my size in body weight, so that wasn’t going to work. I also noticed most of them were mestizas or mulattas. The reality was also that the dancers didn’t have a college education if they finished high school at all. Though I am aware of my privilege as an educated able-bodied US American middle class light-skinned Latina woman, it was even more apparent to me when I “tried out”. I didn’t have a job lined up at the time, but I knew I had many other opportunities available to me that the other dancers did not. Their boss also made sure to make it clear that the job wasn’t as glamorous as it seemed. Inherently, he knew I was too privileged for that job. It forced me to check my privilege, so to speak.

Manizales. It took us 1.5 days of straight driving to get to my Tia Maria Clara’s town of Manizales, a mountainous and foggy quaint town. I have visited my Aunt there 2 previous times since her family moved there from Bogotá in 2000. She is an Opera singer and professor at the Universidad de Caldas en Manizales. Her husband Carlos is a professor at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia – Manizales. They have a beautiful apartment with a grand view of the snow capped mountain Nevado del Ruiz. Driving in, out, and around this town can be eerie because there is always a fog that hides the bottom of the mountains. It’s always a pleasure to visit them since they take us to all of the museums, yummy restaurants, and to see the beautiful buildings sites. I was able to debrief the whole trip with my Tia since the last time I saw her was in Bogotá when she welcomed me back with the new family news.

Honda. One of our last stops during our 6-hour trip back to Bogotá was in Honda, a small vacationing spot. Bogotanos love to vacation 1-2 hours outside of the city where there is tierra caliente, and away from the overcrowded and polluted city life. My great aunt Olga was at her property, so we stopped to see her for lunch. She is also known as a bruja (in another way, but similar to my Tia), and she looked into my eyes as if she was reading my soul. I remember her telling me that I had a deep sadness in my eyes, though I wasn’t sure what she was talking about. I still remember that to this day for reasons beyond me. Maybe I was sad I didn’t live closer to my family? Because I didn’t have a job right out of college? Because I was missing my Boricua boyfriend at the time? Because my family didn’t accept or embrace that we have indigenous roots? Who knows! However, it was a very reflecting time in my life and this I know to be true, so maybe I didn’t notice it until she pointed it out.

Nocaima. All I have to say about this amazing rural area is that I wish to own a small piece of land around there with my own Finca to share with my family. It was relaxing and invigorating at the same time. We stopped by because my uncle was telling me he was trying to convince my Mami to buy land with him and my aunts. It is about an hour outside of Bogotá. Maybe one day I will be able to accumulate enough savings to invest in something like this with my uncle and other family members.

I recommend every Latina who still holds strong connections to their “Motherland” visit and connect as a part of understanding your identity and your inner voice. This road trip served to provide me time to think about the news presented to me, and to connect with everything in sight with a new perspective. Whether only one or both parents were born in Latin America or the Caribbean, or whether each parent was born in two different LATAM countries, or if you were born there and have not returned since you were young; do your family tree, blood, and DNA a favor and connect to the motherland in a deeper way. Some important factors to note:
1) Safety may be a concern (due to media sensationalism or true risks), but listen carefully to your local family members and government officials since they know best and conditions are always changing.
2) Staying with family is always much cheaper than staying at hotels, and you connect with them and the land in a way that you never would be able to as a regular tourist.
3) Study and learn to understand your Indigenous or African roots, especially in terms of bringing up difficult topics of conversation with older family members. Don’t make the same mistakes as they did, and don’t perpetuate a system and society that continues to hurt those groups.
4) Be mindful and aware of your own privilege; whether it be your greater opportunities as a Latina living in a western country (aka your western country passport privilege), if you have lighter or white skin, are more educated, able to accumulate wealth easier, and/or etc.
5) Does your visiting or interacting with locals have negative impacts on them or their environment? It’s important to always ask yourself this question. 

Though I by no means can claim that I am an Indigenous woman, I am proud of my roots. I am proud to be Mestiza, and connecting with this part of me has changed me for the better. Because of this, I will continue to fight against injustices, inequality, and ignorance in the Americas in all ways I am able to.

For more photos of this trip, click on this link.

What was your most favorite road trip you ever took? Did a road trip ever lead to self-discovery or getting more in touch with your inner self? Comment below!

Next up: a look into my next adventure in the Peace Corps Colombia! I have been accepted as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and somehow got my first choice of serving in Colombia. I will be introducing this opportunity as I prepare to embark on this journey on August 1st, 2016.


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