2378. The Amazing Cathedral on the Gorge

Lajas Travel Blog

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There's a long line of people waiting to get into Colombia. Mostly South Americans—but a couple of European tourists as well. “The line is going to be a lot longer in a couple of days, when the Colombian football team will be playing a match in Quito to qualify for the World Cup. Lots of Colombians will be coming to see it!”

The fellow is a young, well dressed professional looking guy and quite eager to talk—as are most Colombians, the Traveler finds out.

How are things going in Colombia now?” the Traveler asks.

People are very optimistic now that there is peace. For the first time in a long time we can travel around and enjoy our own country in peace.

There are also more job opportunities.”

The Traveler asks a question he will ask often on this trip. “So if you immigrate to the USA and make more money, would you?”

The response is the same he receives from many others. “No... I love living in my country. I'd like to go visit the US—but not live there.”

The Traveler decides to take the chance and ask him how the feels about the United States' relationship with Colombia. He knows it might be a touchy subject, considering the US's questionable involvement in the so called “war on drugs”. But the answer he gets catches him by surprise.

The big problem we have with the US right now is their exporting a lot of grain to Colombia.

Colombia farmers—many who till unmechanized patches on the mountainsides can't compete with American prices and it forces them out of business.”

The Traveler immediately feels troubled by this situation. He has seen, both in Africa and in the Caribbean how dangerous it can be for a country when farmers stop tilling the ground and all start moving to the cities. Once a developing country stops growing its own food, it's economy often becomes very uncertain at subject to the whims of the Powers that Be.

So in Colombia is small scale farming still considered a worthy occupation?”

Yes, people are very proud to till the ground. However, as the children of farmers get an education many of them look for other professions and not farming”

The Traveler gazes up to a patch of corn, high above on the steep mountainside.

Considering the rainfall, it would seem that all the fertile topsoil would have eroded a long time ago on such steep slopes... and yet... people have been growing food on these mountains for many hundreds, if not thousands of years.

Finally it's his turn to get his passport stamped... and officially enters Colombia.

The Traveler didn't bring a map or guidebook for this trip, figuring that this it will be better just to stop in random towns and cities and see what he discovers. But when he sees a tourism office, he can't resist the temptation to get a map which shows the main attractions of the country. It would be a shame to accidentally pass right by one of Colombia's gems just because he doesn't know it's there he figures...

Good choice. The first gem is right near the border.

And it will instantly rise to being one of his favorite spots in the world: El Santuario de Lajas. The fellow at the border told him that this is a must see, so he heads to Ipiales, and from there to Lajas, assuming there will be a place to stay the night there.

Colombia has an energy about it that makes you want to discover and talk to people. Ecuador was pleasant and enjoyable, but compared to Colombia it seems kind of sad a quiet. Colombia feels electric.

The Traveler gets to talking with the fellow next to him. He's a German who came here for a short visit and fell in love with the country. He's learned Spanish and even has a bit of a Latin air about him. Clearly Colombianness has seeped into his bloodstream. He now lives and works in Medellin.

.. a city that a few years ago was the most dangerous cities in the world. Not any more. Now it's a place where a young German fellow can just show up... and immediately feel at home.

The collective taxi to Lajas goes up over a ridge, then down a windy road into a valley that gets steeper and steeper until it's just cliffs overlooking a raging river. A the top of these cliffs is the town of Lajas, clinging to the edge. Here the Traveler quickly gets off, hoping to get a glimpse of the famous santuario before dusk... He follows a stairway path... down... around a bend.

And there it is. One of the most beautiful sights he's ever seen. Jutting out over the gorge is a cathedral jutting out of the mountainside, straight over the river, with a double arch bridge reaching to the other side. To the left is not one, but two waterfalls cascading into the river.

On yonder side above the cliffs are forests and a village and an unknown world continuing on forever... Wisps of clouds floating through the gorge.

Everything combines so perfectly. It's as if man and nature decided to join forces to create something absolutely perfect. The Traveler is in awe. It's only taken Colombia a couple hours to make him fall in love with this country.

Under the cathedral you can head down some stone steps into a castle-like museum which has some interesting pre-Colombian pottery and figurines—as well as the history of this place. Turns out it's the typical story the Traveler has seen all over Latin America: in an attempt to connect the indigenous population with a very foreign religion, a legend was created of the Virgin Mary appearing to an Indian girl... the local priest “confirms” the authenticity of this apparition.

.. people pray to this virgin and are miraculously healed... And suddenly a Middle Eastern/European religion becomes native.

This story is what inspired the local people to pitch in to build this glorious structure to commemorate this “encounter”. Something that believers and non-believers can enjoy free of cost. Can't really complain.

The Traveler heads back up to the town to look for a place to stay, checking into a family run hotel, then sits down to a supper of his favorite soup: chicken feet soup...

Wanting to soak in this experience as much as possible, he heads back down to the cathedral, which has light shining on it that change colors every minute or so, glowing by itself in the middle of this canyon. On the other side, he finds a bench to sit on, pulls out his guitar and starts to sing.

This will be a Parkbench Concert to be remembered.

Suddenly it strikes him that, just a few months ago, he was very nervous about the idea of traveling to Colombia. He figured, if he came here at all, it would be a very short, calculated trip never taking any unnecessary risks. But here he is, playing music in the dark all by himself... and feeling completely safe.

Colombia is completely different than what he'd expected.

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Lajas
photo by: nathanphil