A visual tour of the Lost City

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Occassional guides for Wiwa Tours, the only indigenous owned tour company operating in the Lost City.

 

“In the early 1970s, a group of looters searching for Pre-Columbian artifacts in the jungles of Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta stumbled upon a set of worn stone steps leading up a ridge from the shore of the Buritaca river. At the end of more than 1,200 stairs, they found the ruins of an ancient, silent, abandoned city.

Shortly afterwards, a slew of exquisite artifacts began to flood Colombia’s black market, leaving archaeologists of the era puzzled as to the origins of such intricate golden figurines, urns, beads and statues.

Investigators soon caught on to the trail left by grave robbers. The region, which had been dubbed “Green Hell” by the looters, seemed impossibly difficult. Between the impenetrable tropical forest, the steep, treacherous gradations slicked by constant downpours, and clouds of disease-bearing mosquitoes, progress was slow. But by 1975, excavations were underway, and the site was shortly thereafter revealed to the world as Ciudad Perdida, or the “Lost City”.

What the archaeologists had uncovered was incredible, one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the century—a massive city, once home to some 2,000-8,000 inhabitants.” – Read More

The well-seasoned story of Margarita

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“Margarita Estupiñán was born in El Charco, Nariño, more than four decades ago. At 12 years old, after a family fight, she left her home and landed in Cali where, for some unknown reason – let’s say almost miraculously – a traditional local family adopted her, raised her, paid her studies and taught her several trades, among them the gratifying art of cooking.

When Margarita was 18, the family said: “We’ve done our part; now it’s your turn”. And thus she set out for Bogotá in search of work. Among other jobs, the “Negrita” (as everyone called her), was employed by the Croydon, a packaging company for roses in the Bogotá savanna.

Some of the flowers didn’t classify as exportable so Margarita bought and sold them, door to door, in the streets of northern Bogotá. One day she sold a rose bouquet to Melisa Guibert, a French women that had a boutique in the El Chicó neighborhood.

That afternoon, Melisa asked her: “Have you eaten (here) yet?” To which Margarita responded: “What do you think?” Melisa took her to her elegant apartment in Los Rosales and prepared a type of meat she had never had before. “I want to learn to make this”, Margarita told her.

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And she not only learned to make a steak like that – as she also learned what it was called -, but then she picked apart a French recipe book from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, in which Mrs Guibert was an expert.

So, during 7 years, Margarita cultivated and dominated this succulent type of world cuisine.

In December, 17 years ago, Margarita went on vacation in Santa Marta, a land she then fell in love with. That’s when she decided to leave everything and, with her savings, opened a small place for French food called San Basilio.

The overwhelming success of the restaurant made Margarita expand, and so she rented a place in the city’s historic downtown, where her business still operates. Since then, Basilea (a name she later chose in order to give it a European touch), is an exquisite gastronomic reference in the city.

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Due to the curious curves that destiny proposed, one afternoon a Swiss man named Christian Bumann happened upon her place. And yes…it was love at first sight (it’s been going strong 8 years).

But the incredible and well-seasoned story of Margarita didn’t and doesn’t stop there. Soon after Christian would get to know, in the intimacy of her home, her other speciality: cuisine of the Colombian Pacífico, and so he got her to open another spot, showcasing her other cuisine. The place became reality and it’s called Casa Marina.

If only due to such a story, it’s worth it to sit down at any of the two places. I’ve gone to Basilea many times, and yes, it’s a classic. A little while back, I visited Casa Marina and, in an “encocado” of shrimp, I found Margarita’s other truth: Pacific cuisine. In both cases, pure seasoning and a lot of heart.” – Source (which I translated)

Casa Marina.
Calle 19 N°. 3-53.
Santa Marta
Tel.: (5) 423 1809

Basilea
Calle 16 N°. 2-58
Santa Marta
Tel.: (5) 431 4138

Santa Marta – Natural Beauty, Gritty Charm – NYT

IT’S not called the Parque de Los Novios — Park of the Newlyweds — for nothing. Young couples lock arms as they stroll past rows of freshly planted flowers. A Sinatra love ballad sung in Spanish echoes from a corner dive bar. Aside from a few mustachioed, sombrero-clad men playing a board game, it seemed as if everyone on this breezy August evening was on a romantic sabbatical.

Yet this square in the center of Santa Marta, a port city along the Caribbean coast of Colombia, was not always a streetlamp-lighted refuge of romance. Just a few years back, the park was a tumbledown area trafficked mostly by prostitutes and petty criminals.

Wedged between the sea and the snow-capped Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta peaks, the city may be Colombia’s oldest, but it has always been seen as the grittier and more industrial counterpart to nearby Cartagena — at best, a stopover point for visitors looking to trek through Tayrona National Park or hike to the Lost City, a well-known archaeological site nearby.

“Until five years ago nobody would come here because of the guerrillas,” said Michael McMurdo, a New York City-trained chef who recently opened a Mexican restaurant, Agave Azul, in Santa Marta. “While there is still some sketchy stuff going on, I like it here because it still feels real and Colombian.” – Source (more here)

Rare bird found in Santa Marta

“The mountainous area around Santa Marta, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, is a biological hotspot of sorts, filled with bird species that are found nowhere else.

“It’s just chock-full of these rare endemic birds,” said Michael Parr, vice president of American Bird Conservancy, which works to protect wild birds and their habitat in the Americas. Among the species found there is a hummingbird, the Santa Marta sabrewing.

Rare birds in isolated habitats can be a recipe for extinction, and while there had been a few unconfirmed sightings of the sabrewing in recent years, the bird’s existence had not been documented for decades. Until March 24, that is, when a researcher studying migratory birds, Laura Cárdenas, caught one in a mist net, banded it and took its picture before releasing it. It’s the first photograph ever of a Santa Marta sabrewing.

“She had a little bit of luck,” Mr. Parr said. “The bird just flew into the net, completely by chance.”

The photograph was taken in the El Dorado Preserve, 1,700 acres of land in the mountains that was purchased by the conservancy and other groups in 2006. More than 360 bird species have been found there, including the hummingbird and 10 others that are listed as threatened.

The eventual goal is to expand the reserve to about 7,000 acres in an area that has been badly deforested. “It’s the very best piece of remaining habitat,” Mr. Parr said.

The sighting shows that “the ecosystem is more intact than you might have feared,” he added.”- NYT

Journey through the imagination of Garcia Marquez

On El Tiempo, via Colombia Reports, I caught wind of a story of what must be a lovely train ride through the countryside that inspired the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

“Departing from Santa Marta, the five hour journey will carry travelers through banana plantations, over swamps, past Remedios La Bella’s monument and Marquez’s Montessori school, before terminating at Garcia Marquez’s home town of Aracataca.

On arrival at the railway station, travelers will be greeted by bicycle taxis ready to take them to around 40 sites that appear in the novels and memoirs of the writer. Included on the tour will be the opportunity to sample the region’s speciality dishes typical and buy local handicrafts.” – Colombia Reports