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The mYstery of

Guatavita PHOTOGRAPHER:

markus lindewald WRITER:

JUAN ESTEBAN QUINTERO

Guatavita is a town located an hour’s drive north from the tory of the place is marked by fascinating mysteries such as one about the unfaithful chieftain, the inundation of the nology of Lake Guatavita -the dozen attempts of draining it, eigners and natives that died pursuing the treasures of

city of Bogotá. The peculiar histhe legend of El Dorado and the old town, and the rough chroas well as the hundreds of forEl Dorado- are some of them.

lake is the entrance to a tunnel that passes through Earth to the other side of the globe, where one can find a similar lagoon. Others claim that the lake is haunted, and that its bottom sucks anything that is plunged into its waters. Some natives say that the lagoon, haunted as it is, repels any bad energy intending to disturb its supreme peace: if humans venture to the moor with intentions of making noise, polluting or desecrating, the pond expels them with black clouds and unforgiving downpours.

Geology

Distracted by the impressive sandstone cliffs, the Spanish Colonial architecture of the village, and the immense Tominé reservoir, one could easily complete a trip to Guatavita without knowing what lurks behind the facades. But the stories are there. Dormant. They have been preserved, some written and others orally transmitted down the generations. Lake Guatavita -which administratively belongs to the municipality of Sesquilé- is part of a circuit of six sacred lagoons that the Muisca tribe -that once inhabited these highlands- used to roam once a year. Lake Guatavita was ostensibly the most important one. The lake, deceiving with its heavenly calm and frosted mirror plane, imperturbable, is the center of myths, tales and legends in Guatavita. Each person in town has a story to tell.

Guatavita, Cundinamarca Colombia

Many locals assure that the lake is bottomless, and for this reason no one, not even with the largest machinery, has been able to drain it. They say that the

The Lake of Guatavita is located in a crest of a fold (i.e. a deformed geological structure, the uppermost part of bent solid rock) called the Guatavita anticline. The few geological reports that have been written about the area indicate that the lake is cast on sedimentary rocks, the likes of shale and sandstone, which are typical rocks in the north of the Bogotá savanna. The geological origin of the lake is also enigmatic: How was the cavity formed? Was it an impact of a meteor that created the hole? Is it a result of a volcano that went extinct millions of years ago? Was it formed by the collapse of a large salt body like those that are found in the region? Unfortunately, no evidence that confirm any of these hypotheses have been produced to date.

THE GEOLOGICAL FORMATION OF THE WATERBODY SEEMS TO BE ONE MORE OF THE MANY MYSTERIES OF THE LAKE Other authors propose a complex tecto-geomorphologic model, a sink formed by fluvial processes, as an explanation for the lakes origin. Geotravel Colombia calls for a detailed study of the lakes surroundings and the need for alternative hypotheses. Lake Guatavita appears very similar to La Alberca de los Espinos, a maar lake in Mexico, which is a volcanic crater formed by phreatomagmatic eruptions (the interaction of magma and water). Could Lake Guatavita have a similar origin? Possibly. Surely someone has thought of it, but in that case one would have


01 the mystery of guatav ita

to find volcanic rocks around and beneath the lake. Nevertheless, the geological formation of this almost perfectly round shaped waterbody situated above the tip of a mountain seems to be an addition to the list of mysteries.

The legend of El Dorado Colombias’ most famous legend, and one of the world’s most known legends, is the tale of an inauguration rite that the Muisca tribe performed in honor of their chieftain. The Muisca tribesmen would adorn and decorate a raft that they had made out of wood. Meanwhile, other members of the group would undress the chieftain, smear him with mud and dirt, and dredge his body with gold dust until it was completely covered: hence “the golden man” (Spanish “El Dorado”). The ritual was carried out at dawn of an equinox. As the hour drew near, the raft was thrown into the waters of the lagoon, and as it coincided with the sunrise, the golden man would reflect sunlight in all directions. The sight must have been spectacular. When the raft reached the middle of the lagoon, the golden Indian would offer treasures to the lagoon throwing them into the water from the raft. Such was the ritual that completed the ceremonial crowning of the Muisca chieftain prince.

The bottom that nobody knows One would have to write a book in order to describe in detail the numerous efforts that have been made to drain the lagoon. Both Colombians and foreigners were seduced by the myth of El Dorado. The search first started in 1521. Motivated by the golden treasures that awaited them entire European armies walked thousands of kilometers in the merciless Colombian wilderness sometimes fighting their way through hostile territory searching for the golden man. After eighteen years of searching three European armies reached the lake in 1539. The first documented attempt of draining Lake Guatavita was made in 1562 by Antonio de Sepúlveda, just decades after the arrival of the first Europeans in the New World. Camps were set up around the lagoon while local Indians worked like ants to empty the lagoon manually. Records tell that the head of the mission supplied the labors with wine in order to keep them working in the cold conditions of the moor. Sepúlveda’s attempt only yielded some emerald and gold which was found in the mud at the shores of the lake. Another attempt was made in 1625, however, in the colonial times there were practically no attempts of vacating the lagoon. With the nineteenth century came a newfound interest for the treasures of the lagoon: in 1823, the Colombian national hero “Pepe” Paris managed to lower the water level, but he found nothing.

Between 1823 and 1965 another seven attempts of draining the lake were made by a British diplomat, an Irish, an American Anglo-Colombian naval captain, an English consortium among others. The methods that were used for gaining access to the treasures included: digging drainage tunnels under the water level of the lake, sucking the lake water with mechanical pumps, diving, and the most notorious of them all: the clearance of the crater wall on the northeast side of the lagoon which has altered the shape of the lagoon. Slate and sandstone is exposed on the surface of this visible cut. The locals in the area assure that one of the many enigmas of Lake Guatavita is its bottom. However, in 1910 a German traveler and adventurer, Konrad Beissmanger, took a picture of the empty lagoon which reveals its flat muddy bottom. The responsible party for this complete drainage was the English company Contractors Limited, which also consisted of Colombian members. In the twentieth century further efforts of removing all the water was in progress but it all ended with the interventions of the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and the Council of Monuments, prohibiting any illegal excavation in the lagoon. Despite the fact that many treasures already have been taken, the people of Guatavita think that the waters of the legendary site still harbor great riches, yet to be discovered. Tourism in Guatavita currently revolves around the town center, the lagoon, and the Tominé Reservoir. Boat trips and various water sports are available by the reservoir. The main attraction of the village is its neocolonial architecture; the whole town was designed by a single architectural firm, which explains its homogeneous appearance. We also recommend hiking in the hills of Montecillo, which according to the locals is an extinct volcano. Lake Guatavita, of course, is a must-see. But before you pay it a visit, be sure to familiarize yourself with its captivating history and the numerous charming myths that surrounds this universal wonder. Be fascinated.

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The mystery of Guatavita