Since we descended to the savannah, the heat began to hit us, suffocating and sometimes a little uncomfortable for those of us who live in the mountains, like me, who came from Medellin.
After a journey of 14 hours, with our friends of the tourism company Trazos, between many landscapes and climates, crossing the central and western mountain range, we arrived at the department of Sucre and from there we went to Bolivar to contemplate, from the bus, the imposing Montes de María, which rise up to 800 meters from the plain, to tell us between native trees of dry forest and the song of the “mochuelo”, the stories of the terrible violence that this imposing region has suffered since colonial times.
Without having much time available, we are longing for future trips to make a tour of the Los Colorados Nature Reserve in the municipality of San Juan de Nepomuceno from there, we go to San Basilio de Palenque turning left on the road that San Cayetano leads to the municipality of Malagana, the same route that in other situations would take us to Cartagena, but this time, it will leave us at the foot of the Montes de Maria, on the side of the department of Bolivar, to know what was and is being the land of black maroons, who got their freedom from the Spanish yoke.
Looking around, I can imagine miself being Benkos Bioho in the sixteenth century, desperately looking for a secluded place in the mountains, in the forest, in the most muddy and lost places, where nature was so wild that I could protect people newly freed from the sale of slaves in Cartagena. I can imagine the persecution of the Spanish soldiers who were looking for their lost “merchandise” with desire. Just recreating the scene in my mind, it produces a great terror and I feel as if everything will be a fiction film, a film that sadly continued until the 21st century and from which it seems that we are now knowing the end.
The Palenqueros hold the great title of being the first free town in America, thanks to that leader, Benkos Bioho, who to this day, is still the badge to tell the story of those who had the opportunity to create and are still creating your own identity
The village smells like a wood fire. The same stove where recipes that appear in a compilation are cooked, which won the prize of the best cookbook of the world Gourmand Cookboook Awards in 2014, Kumina ri Palenge pa tó paraje there is reflected the culinary culture Palenquera, its ancestral wisdom and his knowledge of native botany.
Walking through the dirt streets and taking a visual tour through the colorful houses, our local guide Jhon finds us in the main square. From there we start a tour to learn in depth the rites and the daily life of the Palenquero people.
The tour is a delight for the senses. Flowers blossom trees of India, fill the streets with unforgettable aromas, they are also seen women selling cocadas pass, joys and enyucados. In several houses the drums and songs of the groups that practice for the nocturnal presentation resonate.
We went to admire closely the statue of Kid Pambelé, the two-time world boxing champion, next to a very new court made for sports, there they tell us about all those world-famous palenqueros , who, like him, have brought the glory to the people and also the electric light that came as a gift from the nation for the triumph of this boxer. They also tell us about the legendary Evaristo Marquez, who was the protagonist of the film in 1969 Queimada with the famous actor Marlon Brandon Jhon also speaks to us about those musicians who have traveled the world, taking the sound of their deep voices and the rumble of the rhythms of Palenquero drums to other continents, including Mr. Rafael Cassiani of the sextet Tabalá, Emilia Reyes “la borgo “Who replaced his mother Graciela Salgado in The Cheerful Ambulances and Mr. Justo Valdez, heir to the tradition of musicians of the Valdez Simanca family who has proudly carried the music of their ancestors to other latitudes.
Trying to understand a lifestyle, that resembles nothing of what happens in another part of Colombia, confuses and amazes visitors, to enter the homes of the elderly, those who have a special place in the community. Knowing the lady “trena” rezandera and also understand how the community management of the Kuagro or for the song of the Lumbalú, are some of the knowledge acquired in this journey that invites us to get closer to this piece of Africa that still remains alive in Colombia.
The people are exceedingly friendly and in each house the beautiful Palenqueras women braid one another, to look more beautiful, if possible, for the party of the night. The hairstyles are another of the cultural riches of this population, as well as the drum and Palenquero language, the braids were also used to communicate, making maps in the heads, the blacks were informed of the routes, at a time when their voice It was quiet. The Benkos Bioho square is beginning to fill, the drum festival was held in 2016, 34 years of existence, some people from Colombia and many others from abroad are approaching this lost place in the middle of the swamps of Bolívar, to know why Unesco chose this site and its culture as intangible cultural heritage of humanity.
During the weekend of the Drum Festival, which is generally held the second week of October on the bridge of the 17th, race day, in San Basilio de Palenque there are cultural activities, with concerts of international stature, with guests from other communities Afro-Colombian and indigenous. There are also competitions, a live drum museum, percussion and dance classes, an academic symposium about the studies carried out in the town on different topics, a dawn where the sunrise is heard walking around the town, following the rhythm of the drums and the unique opportunity to visit is in the midst of the joy of the party and the hand of the locals who will always be happy to receive those who want to visit them.
The combination of a language created to enable the communication of Africans who arrived with slaves but found their freedom in America, the best cookbook in the world, beautiful black women and men proud of their culture and the ability to express themselves through half of a drum, make this place and the drums festival of Palenque, an incredible event, that all foreigners and Colombians should know.
How to get there:
From anywhere in Colombia, you can take a bus or a plane to Cartagena.
If you go by bus from anywhere in Colombia, make sure the bus takes the route 25BL San Cayetano – Malagana – San Juan de Nepomuceno
If you go from Cartagena:
- From downtown Cartagena to the terminal: 30 minutes, $ 15,000 COP journey
- Terminal bus Cartagena – San Basilio de Palenque: take the route San Juan de Nepomuceno or Mahates: 1.5 Hrs, $ 8,000 COP person
- Mototaxi from the Palenque – Palenque exit: 15 min, $ 3,000 COP person
You can also manage a tour with ZOOMING.CO
When does the festival take place:
Second weekend of October, usually on the day of the race; October the 17th.
What to do:
If you go at festival time, we recommend you spend at least two days in the place to do most of the activities that are proposed for the event. Choose one of the available places to eat or ask in which house they would be willing to make a good Palenquero dish like the ones that appear in the book. Visit the cultural center and the drum museum, ask for the help of a local guide who tells you the history of the town and takes you to the most important places, ask the guide to take you to visit a musician and if you want you can make a nice hairstyle or buy some of the crafts, cds with the music of local artists, medicinal herbs or insurances of the rezanderas.
Where to Stay:
You can look among the houses of the Palenqueros those who provide the accommodation service in which you feel comfortable, there is also a very good hotel at the exit of the town and a very comfortable road hotel with air conditioning service, wifi and restaurant in the Cruz del Viso just 15 minutes from Palenque
What to eat:
You can find traditional dishes of Palenquera food or more ordinary food such as soups, chicken, meat and fish. Do not forget to try the enyucados, the cocadas alegrías and the sesame sweets.