Boyacá – Close to Bogotá, filled with history, and landscape to die for

 

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My “casa de campo”, a rental cottage in Oicata

Pastoral rolling hills dotted by small ‘casas de campo’, or farmhouses – their bricks the same color as the dirt roads and mountain side gashes from which these materials were obtained – provide the backdrop where cows and sheep graze under impossibly azure skies.

Regiments of clouds – fluffy, gossamer, cottony, cream white with varying degrees of grey and silver edges — line up obediently, like marchers in a band, to perpetuate their silent parade, moving across the sky in step with the music of the universe. Lining up in rows after rows, upon rows and rows, they herald the sunlight that gives their gossamer presence life, never hesitating in thier silent march to question or forget their purpose.

Dirt roads the color of sand slash through fields of green, scrub brush, crops and pasture, dotted by tiny yellow, purple and orange wild flowers. Blankets of dust, like mini-mushroom clouds, violently volatize and are quickly dispersed by the brisk winds that pummel these fields, when canvas-covered “caminos” (trucks) or a “moto” (moped) happen o to fly by.

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A “caballero”, country gentleman. near Iguaque

With skin as brown as the bark of an old tree, natives of the Muisca tribes that once dominated the area  and the Spaniards who conquered them, walk along the dusty roads. They are clad in a dark fedoras and weed-colored “ruanas”, thick, wool, rectangular ponchos with an opening for the head, that have been lovingly woven from the wool of their sheep. A dark skirt or black trousers complete this unusual local “uniform”, worn mostly by the elders.

 

A proclivity for “cerveza” (beer) is enjoyed by both the obsidian-haired women, who sport long braids beneath their felt hats, and the older men, who wear grey-stubble sprouts on their toothless visages, but they all are grinning in the bright mountain sunshine.

Subtle transformation of colors, moods, changes in temperature and season, the earth’s temperament, shifting breezes, and variations in the natural order, are as constant and as natural as the earth’s rotation. These elements create Boyacá’s unique beauty.

Three elements are essential in describing the aura of Boyacá:

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Casa Amezquita

The sky and landscape are constantly changing. Dawn’s awakens on some days as gentle as a drowsy kitten, and on others, precociously, like a hungry toddler who greets the morning with loud yells. There is no doubt that the chill and atmospheric changes of the nighttime hours has prepared the landscape for the events scheduled for this particular day.

As the morning progresses, the earth and sky converse, and sunlight dusts the fields. Clouds grow and billow, skies darken and rain begins to fall. As individual as an idol versus a God, the moods of these entities are as capricious as the tempests of the sea.

The sky: the atmosphere as the sun climbs her celestial escalator causing the day to bloom, as nature mixes in her cauldron humidity, temperature, sunlight, dust and wind to determine the weather for this particular day, peaks and declines across the hours of the day. One never bores watching the colorful transition – from silky fog that blankets the lowlands at day break, to the increasing brilliant colors of the day as the sun marches west, to the diving submission of the sun, sinking below the mountain ridges and coughing up mountains of blue-grey clouds that grow and shift into a million different forms as the sun cools the land. When all the color and shapes have pulled their chilly atmospheric blanket across the mountains, the light show begins, with bursts of orange and white lightening. Against the backdrop of the black, foreboding cordillera oriental, the intensity and variations of these electrical charges continue late into the night, leaving little time for interruptions or breaks from the show.

The Boyacá landscape is eternal, providing more than a lifetime of images and vistas that could rarely be imitated on canvas.

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Art Overdose

Madrid is an art lover’s paradise.

From el Museo Nacional Arqueológico to the Prado, once can see millenniums of portraiture, sculpture, architecture and prehistoric cave drawings.

In a few short days I scoured no less than five of the world’s greatest collections of art and artifacts. In addition to Museo Nacional Arqueólogo, I visited the following (with a brief description of the highlights of each):

Museo Thyssen-BornemiszaHome of one of the world’s most distinguished private art collections, this museum’s permanent collection spans a period from the late 13th century to the 1980s. Old masters, Renaissance and Baroque art, the Dutch school and Modern Paintings, including Cubism and Surrealism, covers seven centuries of the history of painting.

The Prado: The name, the reputation, the history speaks for itself. Unfortunately photos were prohibited, so I can only tease you with the names of the incredible works I was able to see. Velázquez -Las Meninas and The Spinners,    Titian – Bacchanal of the Adrian’s, Charles V,       Raphael  – The Cardinal and Madonna of the Fish, Caravaggio – David Victorious over Goliath,  Rubens –  The Three Graces and Adoration  of the Magi,     Heronymous Bosch  –  The Garden of Earthly Delights and Table of the Seven Deadly Sins,   Goya  – The Third of May and Saturn devouring his Child,   Dürer –  Portrait and Adam and Eve,   El Greco – The Holy Trinity and Knight with his hand on his Chest,   Fra Angelico – The Annunciation,   Antonella da Messina – The Dead Christ Supported by an Angel,  Rembrandt, Van Dyck.

Museo Nacional Arqueólogico The collection includes, among others, Prehistoric, Egyptian, Celtic, Iberian, Greek and Roman antiquities and medieval (Visigothic, Islamic Spanish and Christian) objects.

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The Lady of Elche was discovered at L’Alcúdia, an archaeological site near Elche, Spain. It is known as an Iberian artifact from the 4th century BC, with Hellenistic influences. According to The Encyclopedia of Religion, the Lady of Elche is believed to have a direct association with Tanit, the goddess of Carthage, who was worshiped by the Phonecian-Iberians.

Real Academia  de Bellas Artes: This academy, founded in 1752 during the reign of Fernando VI, was a place of study for painters, sculptors and architects. The Academia is one of the best art galleries in Spain, displaying collections that span 5 centuries and giving an overview of the history of art from the Renaissance to the twenty-first century. In addition to paintings and sculpture, the museum exhibits drawings, photographs, furniture, objects of silver and gold, porcelain and other decorative arts. The Goya rooms hold the second largest collection of the master’s work in the world.  El Greco, Rubens, Sorrolla and Picasso are also on display.

Museo Reina Sofía is Spain’s national museum of 20th-century art, and one of the art museums comprising the Golden Triangle of Art (located along the Paseo del Prado and also comprising the Museo del Prado and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza).

The museum is mainly dedicated to Spanish art. Highlights of the museum include excellent collections of Spain’s two greatest 20th-century masters, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí. Certainly, the most famous masterpiece in the museum is Picasso’s painting Guernica. The Reina Sofía collection has works by artists such as Eduardo Chillida, Pablo Gargallo, Julio González, Luis Gordillo, Juan Gris, José Gutiérrez Solana, Joan Miró, Lucio Muñoz, Jorge Oteiza, Pablo Serrano, and Antoni Tàpies.

Kickin’ back in Cadíz

After two incredible weeks of exploring the countryside and cities of Castille La Mancha, and a bit of Andalusia, Santha (my Kiwi friend who lives in London) needed to depart from Jerez airport, so we spent the last two nights in Puerto de Santa Maria, a seaside town just across the bay from Cadíz.

The perfect escape from the hustle and Santa Semana insanity in Seville and Córdoba, this southcoast historic seaside town again demonstrated the hospitality of the Spanish people, their incredible gastronomic heritage, and their intelligent conservation efforts.

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Santha gives a “Shaka” on the ferry to Cadiz

Excellent and well-marked bike and walking paths followed the beach walkway and provided opportunities to enjoy wooded areas and parks to escape the sunny afternoon.

Highlights included taking the ferry to Cadíz, a city that boasts the longest, continual human inhabitance in the Western world, where Phonecians, Carthahinigans, Romans, Greeks, Muslims and Jews traded and set sail to all parts of the world. We caught a smaller version of the Santa Semana procession, and spent a glorious day at a wide white sand beach where windsurfers and catamarans played in the windswept, diamond-studded sea.

Colombus set sail on his second New World voyage from Puerto Santa Maria, Hannibal was born in Cadíz, and Julius Cesar gave one of his first public addresses from these local streets.

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While eating dinner at a nice Seafood restaurant in Cádiz, a man walks into the restaurant with this monster. Fishermen friends, help me out with the type of fish it is?

Madrid!

When exploring a new city for the first time, I make sure to go around the block once or twice, then slowly branch out from there….making note of the parallel and perpendicular streets and landmarks. It saves time later and keeps me from getting lost.

Madrid is glorious! Modern, sophisticated and spotlessly clean, this Spanish capital is     beautiful, with spectacular buildings from historic architectural periods, including Baroque, Gothic and Neo-classical; an abundance of large, safe public parks and tree-lined avenues; heaps of trendy shopping spots with prices ranging from rock bottom department stores (Primark) to expensive designer boutiques, specializing in everything from shoes, handbags and stockings to styles hot off the runways.

Madrid has a gentle, quiet and well planned system of public transport with the Metro underground rail being the star attraction. (I say “gentle” in comparison to NYC’s screeching, graffiti-riddled subway trains, and well planned in the sense that it is easy to understand, even for someone who is new to the city and doesn’t speak the language).

The people are friendly and helpful, the city is crammed with world class art museums and a plethora of massive cathedrals, the tap water is delicious and safe to drink, and, as far as I can tell, crime is not an issue.

While Madrid’s street plan is archaic and confusing, the grand plazas, roundabouts, spectacular fountains and statues create an aura of spaciousness, even on crowded streets near packed tourist attractions. Outdoor cafes abound; the coffee is excellent; and prices are reasonable, and don’t vary much between residential and business or tourist areas.

Of course Madrid is a Mecca for tourists, students and international business people. With several lavish Royal palaces, including Palacio Real (former home of  King Phillipe V, the grandson of French King Louis XIV), the Palacio de Liria, the Santa Cruz Palacio, and Palacio de Cibeles Centro Centro, one can get a glimpse of what being in the top 2% of wealth was like during centuries past.

Madrid is also home to the Prado (Museo Nacional de Prado), the Real Academia de Belles Artes, the Museo Nacional Centro de Reina Sophia, the Thyssen-Bornemizma Museum, a naval museum, the Sorolla Museum, and the Museo Arquelogico. Where else can you see Carravagio, Rembrandt, Reuben’s, Goya, Picasso, Monet, Van Gogh, Dali, Velazquez, Raphael, Titian and Heironymous Bosch in the same day?

Home to the notorious Spanish Inquisition of Queen Isabella and King Fernando in the Middle Ages, Madrid’s cathedrals and monestaries are some of the most spectacular in Christendom. The Basilica de San Francisco el Grande, the Catedral de las Almudena, the Royal Chapel of St. Anthony de La Florida, and the Monestario de las Descalzas Reales boast items such as holy relics, like pieces of the True Cross, some of the bones of St. Sebastian, the burial place of Goya, the site on which St. Francis of Assissi built a chapel in 1217, and marble sculptures, and artwork by Titian, Reubens, Breughel the Elder, Goya and Pacheco (Velazquez’s teacher and father-in-law). There is even an Egyptian temple, called the Templo de Debod, that dates back to the 2nd Century B.C., that was dismantled and rebuilt in Madrid.

This world class city has something for everyone and every taste, so be sure to include it on your Bucket List!

 

 

Journey to Iberia: The Flight

“I am walking away from anything that gives me bad vibes. There is no need to explain or make sense of it. It’s my life and I’m doing what makes me happy.” — Anonymous 

March 28, 2017 — At last I’m on the road again, after a year-long hiatus, rife with medical dogma, like iron chains, that kept me lashed to Kauai and Honolulu. Toward the end of this dilemma I made a life-changing decision to forego the radical surgery and concentrate on naturopathy, homeopathy, positivity and resonant light/energy therapy, thereby freeing me to get on with my life — SOONER than later.

The journey began before I left Kauai, by finding the perfect pet-sitter to spoil my beautiful hen and three pampered pussy cats. With dear Dawn in charge of my hacienda and menagerie, I embarked on a two-month journey to Spain to explore alternative cancer treatments and to see all of the wonders that I’d never seen before in Europe or other parts of the world.

In addition to enhancing my appreciation and cultural knowledge of my birth country — Colombia — I also wanted to explore the ancient history of the Iberian Peninsula, where prehistoric remains of Phonecian seafarers and ancient necropolises are as common as shark’s teeth are in Hawaii.

My journey was preceded by watching many informative You Tube videos about what to see and do in Spain, as well as my arm chair discovery of the region’s ancient invaders, including Muslims from North Africa, Greeks, Romans, and the Germanic Visogoths, as well as numerous ancient settlements by Celtic tribes.

I embarked on my adventure by boarding several airplanes to Madrid. Who so ever can sleep on a plane is either drugged out of their mind or lying…. Being of the first category, I dozed on the Kauai to Phoenix and Phoenix to Philadelphia legs of the trip, contorted into a semi-fetal position, unable to read, and too crowded to comfortably plug into a headset to watch the movie on aisle-ceiling tvs.

But on the Philadelphia to Madrid leg I was BLESSED with an empty seat next to me, a tv on the back of the seat in front of me, and TWO meals, The first of which — dinner — was particularly enticing because it was served with free Spanish wine! I watched the suspenseful movie, Deepwater Horizon, about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. After getting this rare, royal treatment from an airline (American), I stretched out to half my height on my seat and the empty one, and was embraced in the arms of Morpheus, Greek god of sleep! I know I slept because I had dreams, and I was pleasantly awakened to the aromas of breakfast and coffee as we made our descent into Madrid.

Being a ver high-tech, organized member of the European Union, Spanish baggage claim and customs were a breeze, and I was quickly able to catch a taxi to my Air BnB lodging at 52 Calle de García del Paredes in the university area of Madrid, only  1 block from the Museo Sorolla and a short hike to the historic Old section.

Since My flight arrived at 8 am on March 30, after having spent two full nights, and an entire day in transit, much more sleeping was necessary. I finally woke up refreshed early on Friday morning, March 31, ready to explore the first in a string of famous, historic cities, Madrid.

To be continued in the next entry “Madrid — Modern and Majestic”

Jurassic Park Colombian style!

Although I live on the island where the movies Jurassic Park, the Lost World and Jurassic World were filmed, I never imagined that I would be able to see and touch the ancient creatures that once terrorized geologic history.

Until I visited Gondova.

Gondova is a huge theme park located near Villa de Leyva. Here, life size replicas of dinosaurs and other extinct creatures frolic on the dry hillsides and swim in the volcanic pools of turquoise water — their true, ancient, natural habitat. Gondova is the best representation of ancient geological history outside of a natural history museum.

crestThe word Gondova, as it turns out, means “the great valley of the dinosaurs”, and the park is aptly located in the Monquirá Valley, a high altitude valley of semi-desert terrain that once met the sea.

In ancient times Villa de Leyva rested on the banks of the ocean, prior to the great upheaval and creation of the Andes Mountains. ancientseaRich in fossils from the Cretaceous period (145 to 65 million years ago), and the third and last episode of the Mesozoic Era, the area is a paleontologist’s dream. As the sea receded it left behind the bones and fossils of thousands of ancient species.

Bernardo Salamanca, a Bogotá businessman and expert in animation and special effects, saw an opportunity to combine Hollywood special effects with actual excavations of the area. A theme park  that would bring education, the environment and natural history to life.

When the monumental discovery of the largest salt-water crocodile in the world — the Kronosauras — in 1977,  was found three miles west of Villa de Leyva, Salamanca ushered his theme park  into reality, and opened Gondava.

With no cars in the parking lot, we were instructed to wait for our guide. We sat on a stone wall that surrounded a pozo azul (or pool) of emerald green and turquoise water. In the pond were prehistoric creatures that broke the surface of the crystalline waters.

Trilobites, GerrothoraxIchthyosaurus (dolphins that breathed like whales) and Ammonoidea basked on the shoreline and swam in the waters. Our guide, a young local woman, provided a running commentary of the incredible creatures that we passed on our round trip trek up and down the hillside.

On the excursion more ancient creatures roamed and foraged in the desert landscape, guarding their off-spring and hiding under bushes for shade. Suddenly there was a grand roar from further up the hillside. Was it a Brontosaurus or T Rex? So life like were the models (and the sound effects) of these prehistoric monsters, that a child with his family visiting from Bogotá, ran to his mother and clung to her legs.

A mother Pterodactyl hovered over her hatchlings, wings outstretched from the branches of a tree. A Pentaceratops, with its head at attention and its great scaly crown and huge horns poised to attack, appeared to charge out of the bushes. Further down the hill a giant sauropod – a huge, long necked, herbivore – was still under construction. At the time a ladder allowed visitors to enter the sauropod’s belly and view the ribcage, lungs and the creature’s hypothesized two hearts — needed to supply enough blood to the brain and organs.

Colombia never ceases to amaze me, and here was living proof: having seen the towering skeletons and dinosaur bones at the Smithsonian, watching block buster films about the Jurassics, and now witnessing an entire reconstruction of these magnificent monsters close enough to touch, I felt a heightened sense of appreciation of ancient geologic history and the diversity of life cycles on our planet. Walking through Gondava– a real Jurassic Park — where Colombian paleontologists had just recently excavated creatures such as the Padillasauras and Kronosauras, was like walking into the past while looking forward to its lessons for the future.

Hollywood, try and top that!