Tuesday, May 21, 2013

To the Salt Mines

Yesterday was a full day. After another modest breakfast (seriously, i love this hostel, but the breakfasts are monastic in their simplicity), i walked to the closest Transmilenio line.

Transmilenio Station
TheTransmilenio is Bogota's answer to the subway. Apparently after about 20 years of doing plans and studies on constructing a subway to link the various barrios of the sprawling city, they decided to scarp that idea and instead built the Transmilenio: a network of busses that run on dedicated lanes as set times and stop at dedicated stops. Like a subway, you buy a ticket and enter through a turnstyle to enter the platforms. Like a subway, there are maps with routes listed. It is a really good system and is cheap (about 90c), but the difficult part is i found the routes on the maps very difficult to decipher. It must have taken me 20 minutes just to figure out which one to take. Anyway, they operate on the every man for himself philosophy, which i like; at the stops people push on and off with self-interested force. I much prefer this system to the preposterous, Canadian, queues of people saying, After you. No, after you every time they board a bus.

I road the bus to the Poral del Norte station and then hopped on the firt minibus with a sign that read ZIPA on it, as i was headed to Zipaquira - a town about an hour and a half away where underground in a salt mine is carved the world's largest cathedral. That is something i had to see.

I was the last person on the bus when the driver pulled over next to a a bung of guys burning garbage next to an old shack with two horses and carts standing watch and told me to get off. I was not convinced that this was the quaint Zipaquira i had read about. There is something exhillarating about findign oneself somewhere, not knowing quite where or where to go, and not havign a map or being able to speak the language. So i started walking. Slowly the streets improved and i eventually found myself at a large square presided over by a lovely, and quite old looking church. I saw a sign: Zipaquira. I was in the right place. I walked around there for a bit and had a cigar before setting off again to find the salt mine. It is a small town and this is its biggest attraction so it did not take long.

Zipaquira cathedral
Me, heading into the salt mine, Zipaquira
The salt mine was a working salt mine and in the 1930s the miners carves a small church at the bottom, but it became unsafe. In the 1990s, they decided to build a larger, newer cathedral underground, and it is enormous. There is a walkway with carvings along the way to marks Jesus's walk with the cross, then there are various small chapels, and finally a huge cathedral with grand, high ceilings and an enormous cross. And it is all carved from salt. It is true. I licked the wall to check. Amazing.  I took a tour in Spanish, but i met some nice Colombians from Florida so they translated the important bits.

After the cathedral tour i took the mining tour, which was pretty great and terrifying. We were outfitted with hard hats with lights and led into one of the many tunnels. The tour guide gave a bunch of instructions in spanish (i had lost my Floridian friends, so i do not know what he said) and then he asked my name. I, being a fast walker, was at the front of the group. We were told to turn off our head lamps, put of harns on the shoulder of the person in front of us and i was to keep my left hand along the wall, as i was the leader and we walked into the pitch black darkness along rocky floors. Those who know me know i am afraid of the dark, so leading a group of people into a black mine was not easy - especially as the path twisted and the ceilings grew lower. I did not think i could do it at one point, but i did. For another part of thr journey, i was replaced as leader by a german guy and i was behind him. Again we were in the darkness, but this time as we walked, the ceiling grew lower and lower until we were crawling. It was fairly terrifying. I've seen enough mine-based horror films to know what happens underground (I'm looking at you My Bloody Valentine and  The Descent). We also got to take pick axes and chip off large chunks of salt from the walls.

It was all very interesting and frightening.

After that i had a bite to eat with the German guy and we caught a bus back to Bogota (this is easy to do as they have signs and you can just flag them down anywhere).

bus to Bogota
Colombian countryside
I returned to the hostal after 5:00, had a rest in the hammock and then went for a cigar and a stoll in the rain. During this walk i was asked to go party with a couple groups of very young guys who only seemed to know the english words for party and beautiful. I politely declined their offers. I ended up at a super charming restaurant, sitting by a roaring fire, drinking vino calliente and eating a vegetarian crepe while listening to live music. It was perfect.

On my way back to the hostel around 10pm, i was stopped by some police on motorcycles who appeared to be concerned that i was out alone. At that point i was one block from the hostel though and i assured them iw ould be alright.

That was a long post. If you are still reading, thank you.
Today, i am off to market.


Betty-Lou said...

I do not think I could have made that excursion into the salt mines. You are very brave and adventurous. However, if the police are concerned with you being out alone after dark, maybe you should be too.

Wandering North said...

thanks, mom. i don't know if they were concerned so much as surprised, but i don't speak spanish so what do i know? people seem generally surprised to see a tall, blonde girl walking alone & smoking a cigar at any time of the day. honestly, everywhere i've been the streets have people in them walking and hanging out and there are police everywhere. it doesn't feel at all unsafe. there are probably areas that would feel unsafe, but i'm not going to those areas. the only thing you should worry about is me falling into one of the many holes in the sidewalk and twisting my ankle.
all is well.

Anonymous said...

You are very brave! ~norma c.

Betty-Lou said...

Dale, I am sure you are right - about your greatest danger being falling because of holes in the sidewalk. I have seen it happen when there weren't any holes!!
(I really have to add this: LOL)