I’ve been hit by the writing muse this week and as a result, this blog has suffered a little, postings-wise. I’ve spent so much of my writing on my work-in-progress that I haven’t felt much like writing for the blog and so I thought I’d share some images this week instead. I haven’t done a travel post in a while so I thought I’d dive into my South American photo album and share a post I’ve been meaning to put up for some time – our day trip to Lake Guatavita in Colombia, source of the legendary tales of El Dorado.
Lake Guatavita is one of the many popular tourist sights in Colombia and it’s only a day trip from the capital of Bogota where I was staying at a friend’s place. While the city of Bogota itself is very much like many modern cities around the world, within a few hours’ drive we had left the dust and traffic behind and found ourselves amid lush green hills and fields for as far as the eye could see. It was incredibly refreshing to be out in the countryside and it felt almost as if we’d been transported to some English pastoral scene – it was hard to believe we were still in South America, which, I have to admit, usually conjures up images instead of Machu Picchu-esque ruins or the Amazonian rainforest.
Upon arrival at the Laguna Guatavita Park (while Guatavita is not a lagoon, per se, the word laguna translate to lake, hence the name Laguna Guatavita in Spanish), we paid our entry fee and waited with a few other visitors until our tour guide appeared and took us to Lake Guatavita via a hiking trail through the park, stopping along the way to show us a few models of native Indian huts and to tell us about the Muisca Indians who once dwelt in the highlands of Colombia. There are quite a few hiking trails around the park and it would make for a great walk and some much needed exercise during our vacation if I hadn’t been limping with my severely sprained ankle then!
We had to hike up an ascending path to get to the lake, which I found a little difficult due to my ankle, but the trip was made easier with eagle eye views of the aforementioned lush and verdant countryside. And when we reached the top, the view of Lake Guativita was easily the crown jewel of the park with its vivid emerald hues.
We sat at the top, snapped pictures and admired the view while our guide told us a little about the lake. It’s thought that the lake was formed by a crater and was once a sacred lake for the Muisca Indians. They would perform a ceremony in which their ruler, the Muisca Cacique, would cover himself with gold dust before washing himself in the lake. After the ceremony, the Indians would make an offering, throwing in jewellery and other decorative pieces of gold into the lagoon as an offering to Chie, the goddess of water.
Stories of this ceremony soon got back to the Spanish conquistadores, giving birth to the legend of El Dorado. The conquistadores, naturally, then made several attempts to drain the lake to try and obtain these gold offerings. Their attempts didn’t yield much besides a few paltry pieces, though, but instead did permanent damage to the lake, causing the water levels to drop considerably. Once, our guide told us, the lake would have come up to where we were standing, and its present situation is a reminder against mankind’s greed and failure to protect his natural environments. Thankfully, today Lake Guativita and its surroundings is now a protected area and all funds made from tourism are plunged pack into the upkeep of the land. We were glad to hear that, though sorry that the lake had lost some of its magnificence due to avarice and thoughtlessness.
After we left Lake Guatavita, we drove to the nearby town of Guatavita, an architectural heritage site which also serves as a tourist attraction and marketplace for local artisans. The town, built in the ’60s as a replica of the old Guativita town which had been submerged by a new reservoir, is a charming, colonial-style place filled with houses and buildings all bearing pristine white walls and burnished amber roofs.
The townspeople, however, are crafty when it comes to tourists and my Colombian friend advised us not to talk in English when we went into the shops but to let her do the talking so the shopkeepers wouldn’t catch on to the fact that we weren’t locals and charge us a much higher price!