There are, at the very least, 500 reasons we love Colombia, this country that has somehow ingratiated itself into our lives as our home. One of these reasons is the claims – often bizzare and/or outrageous – that seem to be made about pretty much everything in this country. New Zealand may well have the biggest toothbrush fence in the world, but Colombia has the second biggest plaza in all of South America. It is also home to the tallest cold-climate palm trees in the world. The second biggest mosque in South America is in Northern Colombia. The tunnel on the highway leading from Medellín to Santa Fe de Antioquia, a staggering 39 metres longer than its nearest rival, is the longest tunnel in all of Colombia. Colombia´s own Mongui is famous for being one of the most beautiful towns in Boyaca, apparently.
Well, in the spirit of this fine Colombian tradition, today is the day when I proclaim the Most Colombian Town in South America. As my chief-in-arms, Azzam, explored yesterday, there are literally billions of towns – most of which happen to be in Colombia – which would be worthy contestants for the title, including Cucunuba, just to take one random example. Listing them all would literally make your eyes pop out of your head like literal party favours from a literal party. However, it behooves me today to bring you the results of our extensive scientific research on the matter.
The scientifically-determined winner of the title of Most Colombian Town in the Parts of South America Gilesy´s Been To Or Seen Pictures of So Far is Antioquia´s own Marinilla. Now that the results are in, let´s inspect my reasons for bestowing this coveted title.
It´s got a plaza and a church
Any Colombian town worth a shot at the title I just made up must have a charming little plaza-with-church-and-monument with old mates sitting on a bench shooting the breeze; a lady selling obleas; a young long-haired hoon trying to chat up a girl with long dark hair and jeans with indeterminate success; a new family showing off their irritatingly cute little dog; and somebody honking their horn for some reason or other. Marinilla ticks all these boxes comfortably, in a characteristically relaxed, slow-paced bustle. We knew straight away that we were in a very Colombian place.
It’s got to have some obscure claim to fame that is both very random and almost impossible to argue with
Due to its warlike history of being involved in pretty much every battle of note in Colombia, Marinilla is “the Sparta of Colombia.” Not only is this wildly imaginative and (to some) clearly a long stretch, it’s something the good Spartans of Colombia take great pride in, right down to the little boxes of battle dirt displayed in the local museum.
It´s got culture flowing through its streets
“Culture” is a pretty fuzzy word, especially when we refer to a place as “having” it. Clearly, everywhere – except, perhaps, Australia, mate – “has” some kind of culture. I guess what this slightly pompous term means is that rather subjective feeling that the people of a particular place are eagerly living a contemporary, traditional way of a life with enormous enthusiasm and energy, which manifests itself in everything about that place – particularly “cultural institutions.” You can feel this subjective buzz of energy in the plaza, in the traditional guitar factory that has been going for five successive generations, in the aforementioned museum in the Cultural centre, and nowhere more than in the words of the most awesome little musical improvisors you’re ever going to hear (keep your eyes on our Facebook page in the coming days for a video of the aforementioned youth improvisors).
It’s very Catholic
Many Colombians love saying they’re Catholic. An evanescent feeling of Catholicism pervades Marinilla, and it breaks out in many forms: from the good citizens crossing themselves when they pass the church, to the amazing workshop of Catholic art we had the privilege of visiting. It also manifests itself in another very unique, but also recognisably Colombian, celebration of Catholic iconography.
There’s some completely unexpected, bizarre feature to the town
In Carmen de Viboral, which we had a brief look at yesterday, they like to stick plates into their building’s walls. In Barichara, there’s a statue of a flying ant. In Marinilla, there is the coolest, creepiest, and biggest collection of crosses and crucifixes in the world. One particular Colombian Spartan liked crosses, so he and his family decided to travel the world for 35 years to collect them. This is the most amazing collection of things I’ve ever come across. Being both Catholic and catholic, it heavily features Catholic iconography from all over the world, but also Ancient Egyptian crosses, Celtic crosses, and esoteric crosses. Crosses and Jesuses in every shape, form, and material are ranked in a pattern the key to which our esteemed collector took to the grave. An absolute marvel: completely unexpected, but somehow, knowing Colombian towns, not surprising.
These were just the objective details that won our town the title. Other than that, it was just the vibe of the place that impressed us. Loaded with the hard-to-define substance, culture; without being at all touristy, this is a Colombian town that will welcome you with enormous, heart-felt smiles. Still, it doesn’t need you. There are some towns here in Colombia which I love, but are lovable because they’re tourist attractions. Marinilla loves visitors, but you get the feeling that these Spartans would happily live out their lives without you. Here, you get the real heart of rural Colombia. This is a special place that blends immense pride with matter-of-fact humility; rich history with a completely contemporary way of life; and an obvious, indescribable warmth and love of life. This town is Colombia. And, here, and pretty much everywhere else, you’ll discover that Colombia is eminently, impossibly, lovable.