The underground charms of the Catedral de Sal

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March 5th 2009
Published: March 20th 2009
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Day 703 (02.03.09)

We'd originally planned to head straight up north to the Caribbean coast of Colombia but having spoken to a fellow hosteller in Bogota and fancying a few shorter journeys we decided to explore the region north of Bogota for a few days first.

Our first stop was Zipaquira where we planned to visit the underground salt cathedral which is part of the extensive salt mines in the town. To get there we shouldered our packs and hopped on the Transmilenio bus system to Portal Norte - far easier said than done with all our luggage making us a tricky fit on the packed out bus.

At the end of the line we were helped to the bus to Zipaquira by a friendly local and this was to start what seemed to be almost a production line of helpful Colombians who passed us on from one to another throughout the day in their best efforts to get us from A to B without us having to think! The people of this country have immediately made themselves a warm place in our hearts.

We arrived in town and got a cab uphill to the entrance to the salt mines where we were able to check in our packs and join a couple of other people for an English tour of the cathedral.

Heading into the hillside with our guide we could immediately see the salt on the walls of the tunnel. The salt deposits were apparently (according to a 3D show we were given in the mines) formed when an evaporated section of sea folded in on itself during the tectonic movements that created the Andes. It has been mined for around 200 years and has contained a cathedral for about the last 50, the last of which collapsed and was replaced 13 years ago with the current structure. Salt is still being mined from the area but inviting tourists in to view the cathedral is an excellent way to generate income from the now disused portion of the mines. The cathedral is also used for Sunday mass, baptisms and weddings and can hold around 8000 people.

As we walked the tunnels we passed by monuments carved in salt to symbolise the 14 stations of the cross and then entered the choir stalls of the cathedral itself for an astounding view down to the altar and the huge cross carved above. Carved entirely from salt and lit in blues and greens it was quite a haunting sight. Down in the cathedral we were dwarfed by the sheer size of this creation, a fantastic and unusual place to visit.

We planned to get to a small village called Villa de Leyva by the end of the day but a delay in getting our laundry back in Bogota meant that we were on a bit of a tight schedule. After a little confusion and some very helpful people we took two minibuses to get to the main road so that we could pick up a bus to Tunja where we'd then have to change to another minibus to get to our destination.

It had been a 6 bus day but we eventaully arrived in Villa de Leyva and found a beautiful room in the Hosteria Colonial to stay in for the next couple of days.

Additional photos below
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21st March 2009

Wow, The underground Cathedral is like in a Tomb Raider Movie :)
23rd March 2009

Wow - world famous bloggers
Hey guys... I just went to travelblog to begin my next entry and I notice your name on the featured blog from 3 days ago! What a coincidence. Im going to add myself to your recipient list. Good times guys! Cheers.

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