(Catedral de Sal de Zipaquirá
). Not only is the town one of the oldest settlements in the Americas, it was one of the richest in the region due to mining of the natural salt deposits by the indigenous people long before the arrival of the Spanish. The mining continued throughout the colonial period and into Colombia's independence, developing into a large scale mine. In the late 1800s the miners started building worship areas to say prayers of protection to the saints, eventually evolving into a large complex of sanctuaries all built out of halite, better known as rock salt.
We started out with a climb to the main complex, and given the elevation of almost 9000' I found myself a bit winded getting us that few hundred yards of stairs and ramps
. Once we got to the top and bought our tour tickets it was down into the mine. Our tour was in English, thus our group was much smaller than the Spanish speaking ones which gave us much more interaction with our guide. He took us first through the stations of the cross and then through the labyrinth of corridors that eventually lead to the main sanctuary. At one point we were invited to taste the walls, and using my better judgment (as well as my height advantage) I scratched a bit off of an untouched part of the roof of the shaft. I must say it was quality salt, though I think I'll stick to the purified kind. Throughout the caverns there were all kinds of colored lights used to illuminate the salt carvings, crystal deposits and other artifacts, providing it a Space Mountain meets Indiana Jones Adventure sort of feel. At the end of the tour was an computer animated 3D film that needed some serious story notes and a design overhaul (the film production snobbery from my Pixar days started creeping out) as well as a whole corridor devoted to selling souvenirs and overpriced emeralds, a gem that was never mentioned once in the tour!?! The cathedral itself was stunning to see and a testament to human ingenuity, but by the time the tour was over we were ready to vamos.
Being that none of us had eaten since the morning we all were in need of a meal. On the way up to the cathedral we saw several traditional barbecue restaurants with outdoor fire ovens and spits with meat on them
. Even before we got to the mine we knew that's what we all wanted. As we pulled up and hopped out of the car we were brought samples of roasted pork to taste before finally getting to a table. In family style tradition, a large sample platter was ordered for the table, served along side several types of sauces and fresh guacamole. Once this monstrosity arrived it took over almost half of the table and included roasted game chicken, pork, carne asada, chorizo, blood sausage, potatoes, cassava, plantain and chicarron. Needless to say I got my protein intake for the day.
To balance out the meat intake, we headed off the beaten path to a popular dairy region where the country's largest dairy producer has a factory outlet. According to Miguel the place used to be a small roadside shop, but since he has been there it apparently has grown into a Mecca for those seeking a lactose imbalance. This place had the highest quality dairy products found anywhere in Colombia: cheeses, yogurts, milks of all kinds, and ridiculous cream-based deserts. As instructed, I grabbed a hand cart and started loading up on the desserts that we would be having throughout the week. It was a frenzy to grab all the caramel and cream pastries as well as the fruit and cream cups, but worth the hassle once we headed to the picnic grounds of the complex to taste our purchases. Better yet, my bill came to just over $12 for a weeks worth of eclairs, cream puffs and berry cream cups. Now I know why the diabetes rate is so high in this country. By the drive home it became obvious that this day was all about indulgence, as I got enough salt, meat and dairy to last me for the foreseeable future!
Well, you must excuse me now until next time...I have a caramel cream eclair with my name on it. ;-)
As Domingos (Sunday) rolled around everyone was ready for something other than wedding details, so with this in mind it was the Ramirez's desire to show us gringos some of their country's heritage. We all piled in the Land Cruiser and headed an hour north of the city to the small town of Zipaquirá to see the Salt Cathedral