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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Savant

The Cathedral of Salt

Updated: Dec 8, 2020


The next morning my plan was to head for Villa De Leyva, a place I wanted to visit before going south for the Catedral de Sal and to Bogota for the Gold Museum. I punched in Villa De Leyva on the Garmin, which said it didn't exist. After several tries I cursed the Garmin and pulled out my phone for real information. I found it and plugged the coordinates into the GPS and took off.

It rained again and the roads were slick, varied from excellent to pothole hell, all bound up in massive truck traffic, most of which were fuel tankers or cattle trucks going south. Which brings to mind how much gasoline was being sold on the roadsides coming south. Sometimes entire villages were lined with people selling gasoline from gallon jugs, and I mean massive amounts of gasoline. I also noticed almost all the gas stations were closed as well. It seemed that the police checkpoints, of which there appeared to be one every 5 miles, there were signs of copious amounts of gasoline having been poured out on the ground. It would seem there is gasoline coming from Venezuela illegally and being resold by individuals along the roadways.

But back to the story, the mountains to either side were a welcome sight as were the cooler temperatures and it felt good to be turning off into the mountains and climbing higher, despite the rain. It was getting late and I got that funky feeling I'd been Garminized again. Sure enough I was in northern Bogota, the GPS having sent me there first then to head back north, rather than just take the easy route across to Villa de Leyva. Maybe I missed the turnoff and it rerouted, but I was pissed. My Garmin GPS, one of the very best and most expensive, had proven so poor at finding places and routes that I basically quit using it and used my phone instead. The difficulty was that my phone is not waterproof and most of my travels were in rainy conditions so I was forced to enter information from my phone into the GPS unit, which still screwed things up.

Frustrated, I found a hotel on the edge of Bogota for the night and crashed. Now my route was twisted up as I'd reserved a room for two nights in Leyva, and in addition my rock-steady T-Mobile data plan was now not working. I'd had to find wifi to let the hotel owners know I wouldn't make it and I'd wasted the money as well as time. I decided to forget Bogota and the museum, which would take another day and I'd lose the hotel money again. Besides, I just hated facing another big city with all its bedlam.

The next morning I headed back north for Zipiquira and the underground salt cathedral, which was on the way to Leyva. It began to rain lightly and after insane traffic in the small towns, I made the famous salt mine. It cost a bit more than expected, but I had to take the tour and was stuck amongst a group of folks. The mine is still active, but the portion where they built the underground cathedral was from the earlier period when all the work was done by hand and explosives.

Winding down past the stations of the cross at large chambers, we eventually made the main room. It was far more impressive than expected and I really enjoyed seeing it.

The immensity of the main chamber is difficult to capture

I finally ditched the group and guide and walked back out. In the darkness and alone, there were surreal moments with the statues and stairs and one could savor the sensory experience.

The ride north took a few hours, as it is mainly a twisty mountain road with a huge number of trucks and the resulting convoys going 10 miles an hour. I rode like a she-devil from hell in the other lane and passing on blind curves or I'd never have made Leyva. Of course the heavy rain began about 30 miles from the town, and it was dark when I arrived but found the hotel/hostel pretty easily.

Soaking wet, I pulled the bike into the parking area next to the owner's Tuk-Tuk which he'd driven with his wife to all the way to Patagonia and back! I paid extra for a larger private room and excitedly pulled out my fleece jacket for the first time in I don't know when. The cool temperatures were so refreshing after months of sweltering heat. Even though it was dark and raining, there was a tangible sense of calm and tranquility in the town. It was exactly what I needed after so many days. The temperature after dark was brisk and refreshing as I found my way to a local restaurant, returning to meet a couple of other travelers before falling asleep.

Fleece and cool air! Woohoo!

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