Thursday, January 28, 2010

Jesus in a Mine Shaft

About 50 km North of Bogota lies Zipaquirá, not much to look at, but home to the biggest salt mines in Colombia and consequently, "Colombia's first tourist attraction" (their words, not mine): the salt cathedral. The ocean that used to exist where Bogota now is was drained after the Andes mountain range rose up to form Colombia as we now it today, leaving a large quantity of salt deposits. While the indigenous populations had a basic way of creating salt cakes from streams and lakes, the Spaniards streamlined this process by boring into the mountainside.

While the tour quietly skipped over the sad-but-true fact of how these indigenous populations were forced to work in the salt mines, it did a good job of explaining the development of each of these crosses representing the 13 stages of the death of Christ were made. Being a miner was (and still is) one of the world's most dangerous professions, so the miners figured that one of the best ways to protect themselves from the many dangers of the mines was to pay tribute with a cathedral in their workspace. As we were led nearly 700 feet (200m) under the ground, the chambers got bigger and wider, reflecting some of the blasting and extraction techniques of the salt miners. As we reached the great hall with it's great statue and pews, we were informed that public church services are still held here every Sunday. I had to stop for a Star Trek looking picture next to this tablet of power:

We even did a mine shaft tour, where there was a "simulated" explosion and we got to throw pickaxes around mining for salt. After a disappointing 3D movie (which sadly did not rival Avatar), I tried my luck at a climbing wall and was humbly put in my place by the wiry Colombian operator, who had mad it look way to easy by scrambling around on the wall earlier.

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