Guatape – Loco Zocalos

Eager for a break from Medelln’s gloom, we slipped away Monday for Guatape, a resevoir resort town two hours east, and a favorite escape for the Paisas. There was no escaping Antioquoia’s soggy skies, but Guatape is a colorful place, and we enjoyed an early stroll through the small town and its plaza.

Colombian calles are lined with houses painted in two colors – continuing a Spanish architectural tradition, the bottom meter is protected against erosion and rainwater with an extra layer of cement or plaster sealed in what I suspect is a more water-resistant paint… like an exterior wainscot. Here in Guatape, skilled “Zocalistas” create folk-art by building up the low plaster layer into colorfully painted, raised relief images depicting local scenes. These “Zocalos” are everywhere, and they make for a colorful, cheery town:

IMG_3646The rain kept us from strolling far; even so it was pleasant to be again in a village free from graffiti, crowds and emissions. We sheltered in our centrally located apartment for the afternoon storm. Sue and I braved the evening rains but found the town asleep Monday night… aside from los perros. Latin dogs are much more lovable than Asian canines.
Tuesday morning we crammed into a moto-taxi and wound West to IMG_3674must-see El Peñón de Guatapé, a 66 million ton granite monolith that erupts improbably from Guatape’s mottled hills. We made the IMG_9588650 step climb to the summit for views which might be spectacular on a clear day; still good in the grey. The reservoir below is a lovely
shade of green thanks to poorly regulated nitrogen runoff… I had to concede to my family that we wouldn’t be swimming or fishing here.

IMG_3684After a lazy Italian lunch (nothing happens quickly here) I ditched the family for some “me time” and rented a motorcycle to explore the countryside. This is motorcycle heaven – smooth, uncrowded, windy roads that begged for an engine larger than my 125cc. Even so it was great fun charging turns at 8,000RPM though the verdant mountains, and as I dropped down 1,000 meters into IMG_3689un-touristed San Rafael I saw the first sun since Cartagena… I even had to layer down.  Climbing back out of the valley up to Guatape, I tried to lure Sue or a son on to the bike’s back, but they were cosy and warm in our apartment.  They made the right choice: the skies opened on the last 30 minutes of my tour, and I returned the bike soaked but happy… we mountain men enjoy a good squall.

We’re on a budget but are adventurous, so often find ourselves in backpacker destinations, away from the package tourists. It’s a funny vibe because our family’s two generations straddle the 20-something backpacker scene – we’re too old for partying, and our boys are two young, yet it creates a good educational context, and invites conversation. Case in point: Tuesday night we wandered over to a local hostel with a well regarded Thai restaurant upstairs. We went early enough to avoid partiers, but discussed the scent of pot in the halls and had to have the wait staff move some cigarette smokers outside. But the boys also get to see healthy, adventurous young people touring about… and they know which are role models.IMG_9576


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