On January 7, after two sea days, we reached our first port on this voyage, Santa Marta, Colombia. This is the oldest city in Colombia, founded in 1525, and is most famous as the place where Simon Bolivar died. It is a busy container and coal port & something of a seaside resort for Colombians.
Under our veranda this morning some crew were working on top of one of the tenders, a job I don’t think I would want.
After breakfast in the dining room (they make particularly good french toast) we left the ship. As we have often seen, there was a group of Colombian dancers to greet us on the pier.
Walking through industrial ports is often forbidden, so we boarded a shuttle to take us through the maze of stacked containers to the port gate. A madonna statue (the original, not the singer) watches over the port.
Leaving the port, we walked a little way up the Malecon, a road that follows the shore. We came upon a notable 1928 sculpture of the Spanish Conquistador Rodrigo de Bastidas, who discovered the Bay of Santa Marta in 1501 & founded the city in 1524. He stands atop a tall pedestal with a small plaza below surrounded by stone balustrades.
Across the street we found the Biblioteca Gabriel Garcia Marquez (sponsored by Colombia’s Central Bank). Nobel laureate Garcia Marquez was a local boy, having been born about 50 miles away in a small town called Aracataca that was the inspiration for Macondo in his masterpiece, “One Hundred Years Of Solitude.” A timeline of his life is painted on the wall under the name of the building.
In front of the library is the Plaza de Bolivar. It is lush with trees, with an equestrian statue of Simon Bolivar in the center. Unfortunately he is looking away from the sun (what poor planning), so it is tough to get a decent picture of him. At the end of the plaza is a white fountain with heads whose mouths would spout water if it were working, which it wasn’t.
Nearby is the Antiguo Palacio Consistorial, originally built in the 17th century but restored and updated several times since. Apparently most of the old buildings along the west coast of South America have been rebuilt several times over the years because of earthquake damage. The western edge of the volcanic Ring of Fire follows the coast of South America, leading to relatively frequent earthquakes. Anyway, today this impressive building serves as the city hall of Santa Marta.
We walked on to the Cathedral, a rather plain whitewashed building, small for a cathedral. Originally built in the second half of the 18th century, it is the oldest cathedral in South America. The Christmas display was still there, complete with a lamp post carrying a sign “Let it snow.” Since it is January and it was 88 degrees out, it seems doubtful that snow has ever been part of the Christmas celebration here.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s parents were married in this church. When Simon Bolivar died in Santa Marta in 1830 he was interred here until 1842, when his remains were moved to his home town of Caracas, Venezuela. Legend has it that his heart was left somewhere in the walls here. We saw three plaques dedicated to Bolivar in the cathedral, but they were in Spanish so we aren’t sure which one marks the spot where he was interred. Also here is the tomb of Rodrigo de Bastidas, who died in Cuba in 1827, just two years after founding Santa Marta. His remains were brought here in the 1950’s and placed in an elaborate tomb.
Across the plaza is the 18th century building that was originally the Episcopal Palace, and is now back in the hands of the church after serving in several different secular roles.
We walked on to the Parque de los Novios (Park of the Newlyweds) whose official name is Parque Santander. Francisco Paulo de Santander, whose statue graces the park, was an important associate (and sometimes antagonist) of Simon Bolivar. The area around the park must be jumping after dark as it is full of clubs and restaurants with outdoor seating among the flowers. A town festival had just ended and we saw colorful signs for it in this park and elsewhere.
We walked over to visit one more church, the Iglesias de San Francisco de Asis, passing a very impressive piece of wall art. Originally completed at the end of the 16th century, it was used in the mid 17th century as a jail by pirates (apparently Santa Marta was subject to a number of pirate attacks in that period). It has been rebuilt several times after disasters, most recently in the 1960’s. Only the façade remains of the colonial structure. A mass was in progress when we visited, accompanied by a singer playing a guitar, although since we could not see him it might have been a recording.
We saved for last the Casa de la Aduana, which is also the Museo del Oro (gold museum). The oldest building in town, this is where Simon Bolivar lay in state after he died in Santa Marta in 1830. It also houses a very fine collection of pre-Columbian art and artifacts from the Tairona and other indigenous tribes that lived in the area. Unfortunately, visiting this last proved a poor strategy, because we had barely looked at the first two rooms of artifacts before they began to close the museum. The museum is normally closed on Mondays but they had opened it just for the morning presumably because of the presence of a cruise ship. So we would have been better off visiting here first. Live and learn.
It was mid day so we walked all the way up the Malecon looking for a likely place to eat, but we didn’t find anything enticing. So we crossed the street and walked back toward the port on the bay side. There were a number of public statues of Indians, interesting if not great art. There was a row of cabanas and a lot of people swimming by the beach. We probably wouldn’t want to swim there since it is part of a commercial port, so how clean can the water be? Then there was a long row of vendors’ tents, mostly selling souvenir knick knacks.
Back on the ship as we waited to sail away there was much to see. The nearby hills were covered with cactus as big as the trees.
A lot of pelicans were flying and floating in the area. A large flock of them was perched in some trees on a hillside.
Meanwhile, up by the Lido pool there was a Colombian dancing performance. A group of Colombian “ambassadors” had been on board since we left, giving cultural classes and demonstrations. Mary came down to tell Rick about it, but he only made it up for the tail end of their dance. More about them in a future episode.
So as the sun set we sailed away from Santa Marta, our first port in South America.