Three days In the land of "El Dorado"
We have all heard the saying: Home is where the heart is! My home and heart belong to Colombia the beautiful and magical country where I was born and where I always find reasons to come back.
My last trip to Bogotá was for pleasure, to enjoy a three day weekend with my 9 year old daughter Victoria exploring our countryside next to her grandparents.
I wanted to share with her the beautiful Sabana de Bogotá where the famous Lake of Guatavita lies on the Andes mountains and take her to the Gold Museum so she could understand the magic and stories of our land.
At her school she is learning about Native American cultures and when I started telling her about our Muisca indians and legends like "El Dorado" she convinced me to show her around the places where such an amazing chapter in our history took place.
We have been living in New York for sixteen years. It has been an incredible experience for me working as a fashion and beauty editor for twelve years at People en Español magazine and now as a independent beauty and fashion expert with a TV weekly segment at Telemundo's morning show and my lifestyle blog where I offer my simple and yet effective #tipsdekika so women can look their best daily.
READY TO GO!
I try to go back to Colombia at least twice during the year for work and interviews but also to visit my family and friends and therefore I jumped at the opportunity to show my daughter her roots and culture. We had a blast and I hope that as I tell you about our short adventure you find great reasons to come and explore Colombia!
My country is a land of traditions and breathtaking landscapes. A land of people who despite hardship for many years have not lost the power and desire to dream, dance, study and work towards a bright and peaceful future. And all this is happening as we speak!
García Marquez defined Colombia as the place of magical realism and I believe everyone who comes to visit us in our diverse and colorful cities and countryside discovers that this magic is present in every sunset, in any green pasture, in our majestic trees, in the smell of our perfumed exotic fruits: maracuyá, lulo, granadilla...or any flower picked from a luscious garden. Talk about our contagious cumbia and salsa music that keeps you company as you explore and live the land!
García Marquez defined Colombia as the place of magical realism and I believe everyone who comes to visit us in our diverse and colorful cities and countryside discovers that this magic is present in every sunset, in any green pasture, in our majestic trees, in the smell of our perfumed exotic fruits: maracuyá, lulo, granadilla... or any flower picked from a luscious garden. Talk about our contagious cumbia and salsa music that keeps you company as you explore and live the land!
So our trip with Victoria began in New York city on a bright and clear Fall afternoon. We arrived well in advance to catch our flight and check our luggage. I usually choose Delta to take me Home and every time I board a Delta jet to take me to Bogota my heart beats faster and a bright smile illuminates my face. There are some direct flights from JFK airport to our new terminal of El Dorado in Bogota and others with one stop via Atlanta. If you take the direct flight it only takes five hours to get to there!We had a pleasant trip and thanks to my frequent flyer miles we both had an upgrade to business class. Victoria loved ordering a delicious dinner from the menu and watched her favorite movies. I read and relaxed and sipped a couple of glasses of white wine.
We arrived on schedule around 9pm and went to my parents home to rest and prepare for the next few days exploring the city and landscapes.
THE MUSEUM AND THE LEGEND
The first official stop to introduce Victoria to the land of "El Dorado" was the Gold Museum or Museo del Oro located in the old center of town. The colonial neighborhood of La Candelaria has a delightful architecture and many local arts and crafts stores that show our colorful designs, textiles and even the covered emeralds dug form the heart of the mines locates I. The region of Boyaca. There are also amazing bakeries to sample fresh almojábanas a delicious bread made with corn flour and white cheese, a perfect cup of coffee or fruit juice before venturing into the Museo del Oro.
The museum has a collection of 55,000 pieces. 6,000 pieces are on display in their new expanded and luminous building. I was happy to see this new construction and find all along bilingual descriptions of almost all the exhibits.
On the first floor is the museum's main entrance, the shop for incredible books, replicas of the jewelry, mochilas, postcards and a quaint restaurant.
On the second floor the exposition begins, the Main Room is called People and Gold in pre-Hispanic Colombia. Through its glass cases it displays the goldsmith work of the different cultures which inhabited Colombia before the Spanish people arrived early on in the 16th century.
Victoria was amazed! Her eyes wide open display after display and more so when we got to see the famous barge where the chief of the Muisca tribe stood covered in gold before jumping into the waters of the lake to perform his ritual and offerings to the gods of nature. In this representation he is seen standing at the centre of a raft, surrounded by the principal chieftains, all of them adorned with their attires of gold and feathers.
The salons are divided into different halls for every culture: Calima, Zenu, Quimbaya, Muisca, Tierradentro, San Augustín, Tolima, Tayrona and Uraba to name a few.
There are few words to describe this rich and yet simple display of culture and civilization. The skill and ability of capturing animal shapes and turning them into ornaments and everyday crafts made thousands of years ago is breathtaking.
But the best surprise for Victoria was getting to the third floor where you walk into a room that evokes the scenery of the lake of Guatavita and the process of the ceremony with an a overwhelming display of gold pieces. Lights go about and slowly start coming back with tribal music to an incredible display of nature, sounds and hold everywhere!
"Is that where we are going tomorrow Mami?" Asked Victoria with a bright smile. When I said we were going to the real like but we had to climb a high mountain she was even more excited. "Yes!! I can't wait to see the Laguna!"
I highly recommend a visit to the Gold Museum for all tourists and also locals and citizens. It is a trip that reconnects the spirit to our ancestors, our land and the wonders of nature.
THE LAKE OF GREEN WATERS
So the following morning we set off early and took the main highway or autopista norte to drive 56 kilometers outside of Bogota to the beautiful Sabana. The drive itself is so lovely. So many shades of green in hills mountains and trees to enjoy as you go along!
Guatavita is a small green lake set in a crater in the Andes. It is like a huge mirror into the skies and no one really knows how it was formed. It could have been a meteorite. But the ceremony that creates the legend of El Dorado did take place here and did give birth to a myth so potent that for four centuries it drove gold-crazed explorers in to every corner of the South American continent.
Once you get to the entrance local guides, actual descendants of the Chibcha and Muisca tribes, take you up to the after an hour walk up the hill sorrounded by native plants and flowers that only bloom at 9,000 feet above the sea level.
As we walked up to the viewing pint our guide Helena started telling us the story of the lake and the origin of it name. It was a tale of a boy from the tribe who in order to be chosen as chief must pass some tests and go through a ceremony to please the gods. He is covered in honey and gold dust, sails into the lake on a raft with many attendants, then washes off in the gold lake and throws in some gold jewelry aswell. Being gold dusted made him golden, El Dorado or the ´Golden One´ and once out of the shining green waters the gold was left for the deities.
So we discovered with Victoria that the name of El Dorado was meant for a person and not a place!
And of course Victoria had to ask:
" So what happened to the treasure?. Was there ever any treasure?"
Many attempts over the centuries failed to get anything out of the deep waters. These were even drained in the early 20th century and yet few things were found. It is all a mystery that only makes the legend more intricate.
Helena our guide was telling us that the Muiscas had no gold mines. The little gold they had for use came from barter. So they could not throw that much gold into the lake and what went in surely was found by pioneer treasure hunters centuries back....or so they say!
We love mysteries left unsolved because we can each come up with a different solution. And for Victoria's imagination, coming down the mountain after another energizing walk, there could be a million possibilities.
LA BUENA MESA! FOOD TREATS!
Walking makes anyone hungry and so we were preparing our palates for a delicious and typical plate of Ajiaco in a typical restaurant in Sesquilé called "El Carajo". It is a 20 minute drive away form the lake and has a lovely picnic area with a park and horses for kids to have fun.
Ajiaco is a popular dish of the Sabana typically made with chicken, three varieties of potatoes, corn, avocado and a special herb known as guasca.
You normally drink it with a curuba sorbet or a glass of red wine. And for dessert? Dulce de leche or arequipe as we call out sweet caramel spread and glazed figs.
Victoria rode a cute horse and told the story to her grand parents who laughed and admired her for her imagination and love for a land that she carries in her heart and mind even though she lives far away!
It is bittersweet to travel back home for such a short while but it s always priceless to find family, friends and a culture eager to meet you and surprise you at every turn.
I learnt in these three days many things I never thought about before and rediscovering them with my daughter made them even more special.
We flew back to New York early in the morning of that following Monday, filled with memories and more stories to tell.
I have to write another post about Victoria's account to her fourth grade class mates! But that will be another time. For now I can only say come and see for yourselves with open eyes and mind... It will change your life forever!
Explore the beauty of Colombia's mountains, rivers and wild life. It also lives inside every Colombian. Our strength, perseverance, determination and spontaneous disposition to smile and thrive despite anything can only come from the hearth of a land filled with magic that does not know any other way into a bright future than to keep looking forward.
Home is really where the heart is and in my case it beats with poetry and passion every time I say: Colombia.