Colombia- We explore some holes in the ground!

When we finished with our business in Bogota we had new friends, new experiences and a desire to go exploring again.  Being parked in the city is hard on these old nomads.  So we were ready to find some cool stuff to see.  We were headed in the direction of the antique family home of our new friend Julian from Bogota.  But first Mike had to help a couple of guys when their truck dumped the entire load in the road in front of us as they turned in to a gas station!

Mike helping with a dropped load of cattle pen railings!

Then we continued to the small city of Zipiquira.  This area is known for the underground salt veins.  In this region there were salt mines in operation dating back to the indigenous people of the area.  But the attraction that brought us there was the very amazing work by the salt mine workers during their free time ……. a spectacular underground cathedral with several incredible features.  The miners worked for over four years to form a regular salt mine into a religious treasure.   The access tunnels were towering above us as we headed underground.  And the salt could be seen dripping from the braces and supports in the entry passage. 

In addition to huge tunnels containing the requisite gift shopping zone, there was a beautiful reflecting pond.  The water clarity and the lighting create an illusion of a mirrored surface.  The reflection of the ceiling was very vivid and clear. 

Can you see Geneva on the right side of the photo?

But the real treasures in this underground gem were the religious displays.  These began with an amazing interpretation of the Stations of the Cross.  Each one was symbolic (rather than realistic) and used the textures of the salt, the stone and the lighting to convey a message.  Some stations even had music playing.  This music echoed through the chambers and enhanced the power of the experience. 

The main feature, and the life work of the miners was the chapel itself.  This included a nave, a huge cross and seating for hundreds of worshippers.  And all the features of a church including a pulpit, chandeliers, nooks with sculptures and religious displays. 

The lighting in the tunnels was carefully designed to bring out the best features of each area.  This room was round, with a domed ceiling.  This effect elicited a celestial feeling as we stood with our heads tipped back staring at the rock and salt colors illuminated by blue lights.  

Another hallway tunnel was carved into a rectangle, with extensions of stone and salt giving it beautiful, colorful striations.  

 Fourteen small chapels, three naves, and a chapel which regularly hosts up to 3,000 people on a Sunday.  The tireless work of the salt miners was first finished in 1954 and then an entirely new set of passages, the one that we toured,  was completed in 1995.  Of course the true power and beauty is difficult to capture on a phone camera.  But we both found the Zipiquira Salt Cathedral to be a very impressive project. 

When we prepared to leave our campsite the next morning we discovered that our starter battery was not holding a charge.  So we made a quick stop to a battery store.  We were pleasantly surprised to learn that they had exactly what we needed.  There were many helpers when it came time to install the new battery. 

After the battery installation was complete we moved along to another hole in the ground.  This time we camped near the opening to an underground salt mine that has been turned into a tourist stop in the small village of Nemacon .  We settled in to our campsite near an old adobe wall, with a gorgeous view of Spanish moss outside our windows. 

As evening fell on the sleepy little village, we walked into town to check out the central plaza.  When we arrived we were surprised to see a film crew, lights, and an actress on a motorcycle.  Someone in the park told us they were filming for a major national telenovela (soap opera).  And just that moment the scene started, the actress slapped the actor and revved the engine of her motorcycle for a dramatic getaway.  She immediately crashed into the doorway of the nearby ice cream shop.  Filming stopped and helpers came running.  She continued the drama, and we walked away!  Before they put actresses on motorcycles, they should confirm that they know how to ride!

The next tour included hard hats and hair nets as we prepared to descend into another salt mine.   This time we had a guide who would lead us efficiently through the tunnel and deliver his well-rehearsed speech in rapid Spanish.  We could keep up with the walking, but the words really challenged our limited language skills. 

This tour started with a walk past the drying ovens as we entered a real, working salt mine.  This one was included rough walls, muddy trails through smaller tunnels and innaccesible areas where mining was still taking place.  Of course there was fancy lighting and a few nice features to keep the tourists happy.  One of the attentiion-getters was the set of the movie “The 33” which is the story about Chilean miners trapped underground. 

A working tunnel, sealed from tourist access.
The rescue capsule used in the movie “The 33
The reflecting pool.  Can you tell which lamp posts are real and which are reflected?
The requisite Virgin Mary statue, surrounded by salt crystals. 

We survived the tour and even learned a few things.  And of course, we had to take one more selfie before we turned in the hard hats.  

Our drive was a short one as we found our way to the shore of Lake Guatavita.  The original small town is under the waters of the lake.  But before they built the dam and flooded the canyons, they built a well-planned new community along the anticipated shoreline.  The town is picture perfect and has a lovely lake in the background. 

Nica relaxed on the back deck as we enjoyed a peaceful night at the lake.  Mike and Nica enjoyed a hike up the hill and we found a delicious bakery in town.  


After a few nights at Lake Guatavita we were finally ready to start driving towards our friends home in Tenza.  We were excited to see the antique family home and hang out with Julian and his relatives.  The next post will tell you more about our time in Tenza and then the fun of taking on a passenger as we continued to explore his family tree! 

But first we had to make one more stop to have the front end aligned.  It may feel like a lot of mechanical work lately.  But remember, we have gone about 20,000 miles on this trip.  So it is time to begin addressing a few maintenance issues.  When we squeezed this big rig into the the shop for alignment, they noticed some worn bushings.  The alignment, the bushings and a tour of the camper took less than 45 minutes and less than $45.00.  Then we were on our way down the bumpy road to Tenza!

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