I am standing on top of El Penol admiring a magnificent 360 degree view over the Guatape’ countryside after huffing and puffing my way 656 vertical feet up a concrete stairway to get here. From this perch, you can see nothing but serpentine alpine lakes sparkling in the bright sun, the emerald green fields of local cattle farms and fincas, and the occasional hawk soaring high over the peaks of the Andes range stretching to the blue horizon in every direction.
They say this huge granitic batholith formed from magma deep within the earth’s crust about 70 million years ago. Take a close look, and you can see that the rock crystals are larger than normal, the result of continuous cooling when the dome was exposed to the atmosphere after the softer formations surrounding the dome were eroded away. Another example of this type is Half Dome in Yosemite or Stone Mountain, Georgia.
Before it became a National Monument the Tahamies Indians worshipped the rock. White men decided they needed to improve it, so they (rather improbably, not to mention incongruously) built a stone balustrade staircase up a vertical fissure and placed a Castle Keep on top. I’m not sure what motivates that kind of thinking, but I’m still amazed that someone decided that graffiti was necessary to determine who OWNED the rock, so the townspeople of Guatape’ started to write their town’s name on the side of the cliff face. They were halted after only spelling out the giant letters “G” and “U” by the townsfolk of another village who also lay claim to the monolith, but you can still see the white letters scrawled across the black dome. Pity.
I’m sharing this vista with an international group of twenty-something’s hailing from America, Australia, and (I think) Germany. They’re lying on a flat rock at the center of the castle’s turret. I ask one of them to snap a picture of me and spend some time just breathing in the crisp mountain air (7,000 feet up). It’s good to be out of the city.
You can reach El Penol by hiring a taxi for about $125, or you can save yourself a C-note by taking the Metro to the bus station. That’s what I did, and I’d highly recommend it, even though it’ll probably cost you about an extra two hours of your time (allow 5-7 hours for this trip).
Ride the Metro ($1) to Caribe’ station, where you’ll transfer to a bus ($7) that’s going to Guatape’, the nearest village to The Rock. You’ll go straight through town until you’re dropped off at the foot of this massive stone edifice. Here you’ll be offered a ride on a strange motorized contraption to the gate for 5000 pesos (about $3). Don’t be stupid like I was and pay it. The walk is only about ten minutes. At the entrance area, you’ll find several concession stands as well as banos (bathrooms).
Then you’ll pay another six bucks to climb to the top. When you crane your neck to look up the sheer granite surface of this monolithic stone, and see the zig-zag stairs, you know you’re going to be in for a substantial hike. You aren’t wrong. Allow 20-30 minutes if you’re in good shape to summit the beast.
A good stopping point about halfway up is at a shrine to the Virgin Mary. At the top, in addition to the turret, there is another concession stand.
I’d recommend you go to El Penol if you’re in the area. If nothing else, it’s a breath of fresh air (literally!) compared to the city, and you can enjoy a glimpse of local life from the bus (try to sit on the right side). I’d just say that it’s too bad they had to treat it like Wally World instead of nature’s own stony sentinel.
One of the tings I enjoy about South American buses is that local food vendors are allowed to hop on the vehicle and sell their wares while you are in transit. Some of the food is tasty, but I’d be careful to avoid anything with meat or poultry. Another thing I enjoy is watching the bus driver try to push slower moving vehicles like underpowered motorcycles out of the way. Who knew mountain driving was a contact sport? Our bus ride home even included a kid who boarded and began belting out a rap tune using a miniature boom box and a hand held mike! You just can’t buy entertainment like that in a cab.
OK, that’s enough for today. Tomorrow, I think I’ll hit the Casino. Lady Luck is calling…J Hasta la vista!