Colombia- Gramalote ruins; the bones of natural disaster!

I seldom dedicate an entire post to just one topic or place.  But Gramalote is an unsual exception, as it demonstrated the amazing destructive power of Mother Nature.   (Caution: Spoiler alert……there are graphic photos of human bones in this post.  Proceed at your own risk.)

We arrived here at sunset after a very long day of driving on mountainous, dirt roads with potholes, rocky passes and sheer cliffs on the shoulder.  It was a slow and tedious route, made particularly dangerous if oncoming traffic approached when there was no space to scoot over.

We parked at the central plaza of the former village of Gramalote in the dark and went to sleep. In the morning we were astounded at the location we had found! gramalote camping We spent the next few hours exploring the rubble of the city, the plaza and the church.  What we found was shocking!

Gramalote was a pleasant little city in the mountains of Colombia up until 2010 when disaster struck.  This was the location of many festivals, fiestas, parades and religious celebrations.  People came from many miles around to celebrate the beauty of this location with friends and family.  Archives show gatherings of hundreds of people in costumes and finery as they celebrated.  This is a link to the Facebook page includes many photos of areas that you will recognize in my photos below.  Click here to see Facebook page of memories

During our exploration we started at the former central plaza which still featured a gazebo, some benches and trees.  But the landscaping has grown over and the walkways have huge cracks and heaves in them.

gramalote plaza  All around the central plaza are piles of rubble that were once homes and shops.  But they are now crumbled bricks, overgrown plants and shards of stucco and glass.  No home remained standing after disaster struck in December 2010.   Here are photos I found that show what the city looked like just before and after the event.

old gramalotegramalote after damage And now you are asking, WHAT HAPPENED HERE????  Well, we were too! And there was no information to be found on site.  So we began researching online.  In summary, there had been torrential rains and a few earth tremors on the regional fault line.  The nearby river was flooding and the rain kept falling.  The mud up the mountain began to slide and within hours the entire city was moving at a rate of 13 feet per hour.  The mud slides moved the foundations and floors of the buildings, then the walls began to crack and crumble.  Before long nearly every building was reduced to rubble.  Remarkably all 870 families were evacuated without harm, but everything was destroyed.   Here is a link to a New York Times article about the incident. article about Gramalote Ruins

When the rain stopped and the mud quit moving the townspeople could assess the damage.  The homes and shops were ruined.  Much of the church was ruined, but one of the two steeples was still reaching skyward.  It has been left as a haunting reminder of what used to be.

gramalote steeple crack

gramalote door crackgramalote door crack close

The outside of the church had sustained major damage.  Cracks were more than a foot wide in some areas.  Major sections of the walls had fallen and rooms were caved in.  But curiosity got the better of us and we had to go inside……….

gramalote steps

gramalote inside church

And our exploration became a little bizarre.  We began to encounter papers and documents from the history of the church.  And then we turned a corner to a storeroom area and gasped at what we found!

gramalote papers

Baptismal and tithing records of the church

gramalote skull

We spent a few minutes discussing things like disturbing the dead and possible evil deeds being done here.  We debated the possibility that this human artifact was real vs. phony.  Then we touched it and confirmed it was real.  But the creepiness had just started.  The next room we entered was the mausoleum of the church.  Townspeople had been interred in tombs here for many years.  And in the shifting a few of the tombs appeared to have cracked open.  But many more had been truly vandalized.  Perhaps looking for jewels on the corpses, perhaps looking to relocate family members.  Whatever the reason, it left an eerie situation.

The following photos are graphic.  You may choose to stop reading at this point.

mausoleum floorgramalote mausoleumgramalote mausoleum walkwaymausoleum skullinside mausoleuminside mausoleum1

gramalote crack with nica

Nica exploring a crack in the front steps of the church

gramalote panorama

The ruins of Gramalote left us speechless for so many reasons.  We discussed what we saw and the startling reality of bones and bodies.  But we also discussed the way this impacted the families as they struggled with complete loss of everything.  And the children who lived here, as they learned to deal with moving to a new location because their childhood home had been destroyed.  The effects this experience must have had on religiosity, family structures, economics and every other element of a community are difficult to fathom.  The memories that remain for the people of Gramalote must be the precious past that they cling to as they try to establish new lives in a new community.

We felt so fortunate to have been able to spend the night here and explore these ruins.  And we feel fortunate to have never witnessed forces of Mother Nature like this in our own lives.

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