Colombia Journey 6
Guatape and Piedra del Peñol
The rock of Peñol is a good old-fashioned tourist trap. A hulking, sheer-sided rock over 600 feet high sits incongruously alongside a large reservoir. In a cleft in the rock, industrious entrepreneurs stitched a zig-zagging stairway from top to bottom. Even if it is not the wooden deathtrap of days of yore it is still a remarkably iffy-looking construct of brick and concrete. At its base is a clamorous encrustation of cheap cafes and tourist kiosks, peddling everything from mochillas, keychains and sunglasses to Pope John Paul II portraits and jokey dishtowels. A few boys hawked donkey rides. At the top of the rock someone had built an ugly tower of badly mortared brick. Up there were more cafe's though not as dense, and barbed wire fence to keep people from falling off. Bromeliads find purchase somehow on the rock faces, and in turn they offer a resting place for litter thrown or blown from the top. Loud, tinny music completes the scene.
Years past, a mayor of Guatapé had grown annoyed that it was called the Rock of Peñol, despite the fact that Peñol had been drowned in the reservoir. Since the rock rightly belonged to the town of Guatapé he had painters begin emblazoning the rock with the name GUATAPE´ in white letters several stories high. But national outrage brought a quick end to that project and he only got as far as the "G" and part of the "U" - and so an enormous GI, only slightly faded, adorns one vast face of the rock.
Guillermo hates all this vulgar ruination of a unique natural site -- and I sympathize. But I admit to having a weak spot for this kind of tourism. Maybe it is nostalgia for some of the 3rd rate tourist traps of childhood (what 5-year old can fail to be impressed with a two-headed calf or a deformed pig's fetus preserved in jars of amber liquid), but also it is just seeing the families out for the day enjoying themselves; the ludicrous interactions of young couples climbing the 700 steps together to the heights; the kids skipping past; the guy jollying people into getting their pictures taken. And too, the craziness of those cockeyed flights of steps stitched into the rock with such reckless optimism.
The nearby town of Guatapé is a pretty and full of color -- apparently GI-man was not the only relentless mayor -- because all of the houses are freshly and boldly painted. And each has a kind of stucco or tiled wainscoting bearing some set of emblems or little bass relief scenes. Some are just stylized flowers, but others are bucolic scenes or owls or chess pieces or billiard tables. Flower baskets hang from every balcony.
Little three-wheeled chivitas work as taxis. They are as intricately painted as their larger cousins, the chivas. We walked the streets and I took pictures, because the town seemed as though it would be insulted if I didn't. Porter walked the little dog, Sophie.