As I put my foot down in Quinchia, something in me shifted – it was meant to be, but only at the right time. My mind wandered back to the first time Carolina contacted me about an unheard of pueblo outside of Pereira which she thought I might be interested in.
Now, over a year later, I am finally here; not because it is far, or unreachable, only that some unseen barrier existed as life kept moving me away from my intended path. Or maybe there were old unseen spirits of the place which prevented me from coming until the time was right…
From Hell to Heaven on Earth
There is a place that is waiting for amateur archeologists, hikers and adventure seekers to explore. From giant footprints, to unexplored caves, 14 local peaks, or cerros, to climb, and a rich history of native tradition and culture – Quinchia, Risaralda, is an undiscovered gem of the Coffee Region in Colombia.
It wasn’t without its struggles however, Quinchia was once a hotspot of the Colombian Civil War. Many locals still bear the scars of their experiences at the hands of three converging armed groups, which fought for control of this mineral rich area.
A local filigree silver artisan recounted to me his experience living through dangerous times. In the following statement he sums up his experience as:
“10 years ago we slept with our boots on, now it is a paradise.”
A local woman summed up the courage to tell me about one of her worst memories:
“Local inhabitants had received a note under the door announcing a 6:00 PM curfew. I had just arrived in the pueblo because I felt a longing to return, and decided to visit. At 5:00 PM, I heard music at the Casa Comunal and decided to go see what was happening there. Some children were practicing a dance the older ones were milling around listening to the music.
Suddenly men with the white armband of the autodefensas (Self-Defense Militia), gathered them all up and took them to the soccer field. The little children were padlocked inside of the school house. At the field two local working class men – who everyone knew to be innocent, were executed as having been snitches, or government supporters.
Next, they turned to Her. She was told that she had 5 seconds to disappear. Heart beating wildly she took off into the dense jungle and tropical forest shrub outside of her neighborhood, called el monte, in Spanish. Later, she wondered why she had chosen in this way, but ultimately it would save her life.
Hiding in some brush she waited for the autodefensas to come and shoot her down, when the area became suddenly full of what she described as “long shadows.” When the Long Shadows materialized they were the FARC. She had been found!
A woman guerrilla found her and assured her saying, “We are going to put an end to this bullshit, but you have to leave now.” And, not long after the shooting began. Later, they discovered that not two, but three armed groups had ultimately converged in a firefight in that area with heavy death tolls.
She spent the entire night out in the jungle terrorized by all that she had witnessed. It would take many years of personal therapy and counseling to move past some of the trauma she carried after that night.”
Suddenly, everything was quiet. Alvaro Uribe may not be popular (for very good reasons), in many parts of Colombia, but local residents hail him as their savior because ultimately some of his domestic policies put an end to the constant warfare and violence they had to coexist with. And Quinchia finally found peace.
Today, Quinchia is a quiet mining pueblo populated by 4 indigenous tribes, and colonial descendants. Most of these families are some kind of mix of the two, however many indigenous cultural habits and norms still exist in pueblo society reflected by greetings, banter and conversational quirks.
I haven’t spent enough time there yet to be able to articulate my impression adequately, but a return trip is definitely in the making!
Giants and Artifacts
I went to Quinchia looking for adventure and artifacts, and found both! Within the pueblo itself is a really nice little culture and archeology museum. Well worth taking a few minutes to browse and learn about the local history. Spanish only.
Quinchia has some very particular features that I haven’t yet encountered anywhere else. Firstly, they are home to several tribes, of which some have sanctuaries where they are hiding something special. If I am lucky, at the very least maybe someday I will learn some of those secrets, even if I am unable to tell their stories in the present timeline.
What I DID find however, was also very cool…
There is a book in the Casa de Cultura called “Historia de Guacuma, ” a compilation and investigation by Alejandro Ugarte Rico, Merardo Largo, and Fernando Uribe. It tells the following story called “El Llanto de Xixaraca“:
Dicen que cuando los misioneros cristianizaron a la brava a los indigenas, el dios ancestral se retiro compungido. En el camino sus lagrimas fueron dejando huellas en las rocas y sus pies quedaron estampados en ellos, como postrer recuerdo de su existencia, cerca de la escuela de Mápura se puede observar una enorme huella, como humana, estampada en la peña y los campesinos creen oír en las noches borrascosas el eco de pisadas de seres gigantescos.
(Translation) They say that when the missionaries bravely Christianized the indigenous people, the ancestral god withdrew in remorse. On the way his tears left footprints on the rocks and his feet were stamped on them, as the last memory of his existence, near the Mápura school you can see a huge footprint, like that of a human, stamped on the rock and the peasants believe they hear during stormy nights, the echo of the footsteps of gigantic beings.
Was Quinchia one of the many places where the Genesis 6 giants may have lived? Only long forgotten memories, long-dead witnesses, and a few ghostly remains could possibly tell the story. And this is my evidence.
Hiking Adventures at Cerro Batero
Even if archeology and ancient historical narratives aren’t your thing, maybe hiking or even climbing is! To date, Quinchia has become one of the special places whose experience I will always cherish.
Colombia abounds with these kinds of places and I couldn’t possibly see them all in my lifetime, but I can try. My favorite adventure was hiking up to the two waterfalls on the lower shoulder of Cerro Batero.
We took a Jeep out to the “Cerro Batero” vereda, and then began hiking upwards. This is not a hike for people who have any kind of knee or back problems which limit mobility.
It wasn’t terribly long, but the second half was a bit intense as we had to go up through a steep coffee field, then navigate some overgrown jungle, erosion, difficult terrain and water crossings.
Of course, the views were absolutely AMAZING! We had great weather, and I was completely in my element. The constant walking up hills in Manizales served me well in this venture.
Carolina, my guide, was so patient, kind and informative about the area. Her wanderlust has led her to explore beyond the average as she pursued what has become a lifelong passion – walking the trails of her ancestors and exploring the mountains around Quinchia.
If you plan to visit, she is my top recommended guide for the area. Yes, she does speak some English. You can contact Carolina via WhatsApp at +57 311 713 4477
Summing it all up…
I sincerely hope to be back in Quinchia again soon going where no one has previously gone, and exploring the entrance of a cave or two. The 3 days I spent were barely enough to uncover the secrets, and even then I found more than I expected to, in a place where reality is much stranger than fiction!
To learn more about my favorite destinations in the Colombian Coffee Region, click the following link:
All original photography by Erin Donaldson
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