Santa Marta, Colombia

Santa Marta, Colombia, the oldest city in Colombia established in 1525, appeared like this at 8:00 this morning off the starboard side of the ship. We crossed the gangplank and stepped ashore for the first time in three days. After an hour’s drive between the Tairona National Park on one side of the road and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains on the other, we arrived at an archeological site in the mountains which had been a Tairona village. The Tairona were an indigenous tribe that prospered from 900 AD to 1500 AD when the Spanish arrived. The Kogi tribe are descendants of the Tairona and still live in the area.

Following a short boat ride, we visited a typical Kogi hut, made of sugar cane husks and a thatched roof. A fire burned in the center of the round space, about 20 feet in diameter. Men and women enter from opposite sides, not unlike Shakertown. Two hammocks were hanging on opposite sides of the space for sleeping. A Kogi man sat in front of the fire and crushed seashells in a poporo, which is a hollow gourd with a long neck given to young boys at puberty. As he created a white lime powder, he chewed coca leaves. Our guide explained that the lime mixed with saliva and coca leaves creates a “numbness” that strengthens the men when they have hard tasks to do, have to go without food, or want spiritual experiences. The guide said it is not like cocaine, but it sounds like it is to me. Cocaine is processed from these leaves.

A very small museum had examples of Tairona weapons which were bows and arrows and large round stones that were thrown from heights to break the legs of the Spanish horses. Many examples of burial vessels varied in size based on the importance of the person and were decorated on the outside to indicate the sex of the remains. Paintings depicted battles with the Spanish, especially the last battle before the women, children, and old men disappeared into the mountains. Following a typical Colombian lunch, we returned to Santa Marta for a short walk through the city to visit Simon Bolivar park and the cathedral where he laid in state before his remains were returned to Venezuela. We boarded the ship after a full day with five minutes to spare before departure.

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