July 30, 2014
50 miles east of Medellin lies La Piedra Peñol, an enormous stone monolith towering over a series of interlocking artificial lakes. I previously met Nick Morrison, a New Zealand native, in the Buddha hostel where I volunteered and decided to visit one of Antioquia's top attractions. We took a taxi to Medellin’s northern bus terminal on the outskirts of the city. We departed at noon to Guatapé, which was roughly two hours there and back. Peering out the window, the rock looked spectacular. It dominated the landscape around it and felt like it did not belong there. Believed to be the product of a volcanic eruption more than 70 million years ago, the 10 million ton rock is composed of granite, quartz and feldspar. As we exited the bus, Nick checked his pockets and realized that he left his iPod on the bus seat. I told him I would wait for him near the entrance as he caught a mototaxi to go retrieve it. I befriended some other visitors who invited me to join them at one of the restaurants at the foot of the hill. It was a Colombian family of three, both siblings in their mid-thirties celebrating their mother’s birthday. It was fascinating to hear about their lives. Both son and daughter know at least 3 languages fluently. Both siblings teach English abroad so their reunion to celebrate with their mother was extra special. The daughter worked in Turkey while the son worked in Japan.
When Nick returned, we scaled the rock that soars 200 meters (650 ft) into the sky, zigzagging up the 659 steps to the top. As if stitched to the long crack running down the rocks faces, the staircase made out of brick and concrete wedges itself in between. It takes approximately 30 minutes to climb La Piedra, but I was incredibly anxious to reach the top. It did not disappoint. The view was spectacular and gave a 360-degree view of the Guatapé reservoir and countryside. Endless blue skies clashes with emerald green mountains below. When we descended the stairwell, we noticed a statue dedicated to the first climber of the monolith. Luis Villegas Lopez and his two friends first scaled the mountain in 1954 and took 5 days to complete. It was painfully slow climb using the cracks in the rocks to support themselves. As if the climb was not difficult enough, a beehive and heavy rainfall proved to be a whole new challenge.
The rock has what appears to be the letters “G” and an incomplete "U" painted on the side of the rock. In 1988, the two neighboring towns of Guatapé and El Peñol feuded over who had claim of La Piedra. The rivalry escalated to the point where some residents of Guatapé climbed the rock and began painting their town’s name in large letters. The residents of El Peñol alerted authorities where the culprits were prosecuted and the markings halted before the second letter was completed. All that remains is “GI” on the northern face of the stone and the graffiti does not appear to be leaving anytime soon. It is a shame that they would defaced such a beautiful natural structure.
Afterward, we caught a ride to the colorful, picturesque town of Guatapé. Known for its zocalos, beautifully painted designs located at the lower parts of houses, this resort town has colorful colonial houses dominated by a white and red church. The zocalos depicted the traditions of the townspeople such as farming and fishing, while others shown political events and animals. The residents are proud of their sculpted designs for the enjoyment of others. Two kids decided to showed us around the colorful streets of their town. They showed us their favorite places to hang out as welll as the main plaza. The town benefits from the surrounding lakes which provide hydro-electric energy for the country. It is also a very good location for water sports and boat rides. The trip to Guatapé was worth visiting and by the end of the day, it was time to return back to Medellín.
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