A side-trip to Africa?

LOCATION:  Cartagena, Colombia
WEATHER:  Hot.  High 90

Today was a great day.  I had signed us up for a tour of Palenque, a UNESCO-designated African village outside Cartagena.  (Note to travellers…..I have had great luck with Viator Tour Company – always good value, service, and experience.)

The guide met us at our apartment and a van soon picked us up, bright and early at 7:45 for an all-day trip.  The guide is actually from Palenque but lives in Cartagena.  We picked up two other passengers, and headed out, about an 1.5 hour drive.  After we left the city, the scenery was not too interesting.  Just a few houses….

And these interesting highway warnings – to watch for cattle, snakes, iguanas, and ….. anteaters.

Our first stop was the Welcome sign.  They speak a unique language in Palenque – a combo of Spanish, Portuguese, and 2 African languages.  In their language, this village of 4000 people is spelled Palenge.

The residents are fiercely proud of their village, its culture, and their Black heritage/skin.  Education is key here.  Our guide said that 80% of the population goes on to college.  They teach Spanish, Palenque, and English in school.  There are several murals around the village written in their language.  We learned some of the key words.

This mural is a picture of the town’s shaman.  They are worried because she is getting old and there is no one to take her place.

There aren’t too many vehicles, mostly horses.

Music is key to the village.  You can hear drums all through the streets.  The drums were originally used to communicate danger.  Villagers would climb a hill around the town, and signal on the drums if invading Spaniards were coming.  Now, the drums are used for singing and dancing. Our first stop was at our guide’s brother’s house (the high school principal) where they performed for us.

Our guide’s little niece was very interested in my hat and sat right next to me.  Really cute children.

They served us a drink made with passion fruit juice and their village’s moonshine.  It was served in a carved out plant.  Really tasty!

Our next stop was at a villager’s house where he demonstrated African instruments.  He and his fellow musicians have travelled the world performing their indigenous music.

At every stop, the people were so gracious and thanked us for coming.  They are fiercely proud of their village.  Our guide told us that he is actually a lawyer in Cartagena, but does these tours so that people can learn and appreciate his culture.  It was pretty neat that we four tourists were the only ones in town.  Here is Erik, our guide, standing by the Palenque flag…

Another stop was at the village healer’s house. 

He showed us all kinds of different plants and fruits used to fight and prevent diseases.  It must work – they didn’t have any Covid cases during the pandemic.  Here is the healer putting some protective oils on my arm.

Group photo – the healer and the 2 other women on our tour.  One lady is from New York, but was born and lived in Uganda.  She said this really reminded her of her homeland.

A fun stop – at the village boxing center.  This is a big deal for them.  They have produced 4 world-famous boxers over the years.  The first one won a world championship, and with his prize earnings, he used the money to provide electricity and water to the town. (1975).  The boxing instructor gave us a few lessons….

We stopped at the village museum which was one of the original homes.

  This is the indoor kitchen….

and outdoor kitchen (for larger meals)

At the village square, we saw this monument honoring the founder of the village.  Palenque is America’s first freed African settlement. 

Palenque is quite isolated.  There is no crime here, and no police.  The town has a council that deals with any issues.  While it seems poor here, the people seem to have everything they need.  Most of the homes are small cement-block structures with no glass window panes.  No A/C….and it is very hot here, hotter than in Cartagena.

Finally, our last stop was lunch.  The cook cooked everything the traditional way, over an open fire.

The lunch was beautifully presented.  I had chicken; George had a whole grilled fish.

This was our last view as we left Palenque – a guy napping on the cool tiles in front of his house, along with a stray dog. We felt like joining them!

Back to Cartagena to prepare for a fun evening.  Roof-top bars are very popular here.  Some are for small dinners and drinks; others don’t open until about 9:00 and are for dancing.  We went to the one next to our apartment for happy hour.    We can see this building from our apartment.  Here is that same building close-up.  It is now part of the university.

This band was playing some nice music, standing on a ledge with a big drop-off behind them!

On to dinner.  We selected a restaurant very near our apartment (as we were too weary to walk around and get lost again).  It is part of a very high-end hotel.  Tables were all booked, but we were able to eat in the bar area.

While our food was being prepared, I scouted out the hotel.  It is very impressive….

DINNER:  I had ceviche (again), and George had something called Mediterranean toast.  Each of the ceviches I have had is different.  This one was served on a bed of avocado slivers.  Really good!

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