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Tayrona Park in Santa Marta derives its name from the indigenous people, the Taironas, who have lived in its mountains for centuries. I don’t need to tell you what the Spanish conquest did to their population, I’m sure you know how that same old awful story goes, but many of their descendants continue to live in the region.
Ciudad Perdida, or Lost City, is an archeological site “discovered” in the 1970’s up in the mountains, a city that goes back to 800 A.D., and one of many sites of ruins in the region. Taironaka is another of them, with ruins, a small museum and lots of wildlife to see. Oddly (and surreally) enough, the serene river Don Diego that passes by Taironaka is where the movie “The Mission” was filmed—you know, the one set in Brazil, full of good-hearted Jesuits (aka Jeremy Irons) and evil conquistadors who kill/enslave the indigenous people, all the while discussing whether they are any better than dogs? That one.
Getting off the boat, the Taironaka grounds are lush and gorgeous. The quiet, well-curated museum has all kinds of daily-life artifacts that I always find the most interesting—pottery, carved stones used to stamp fabric and worn molcajetes that were used to grind corn.
The traditional huts are there as well, still in use, with a fire going at all times to keep out the bugs.
Taironaka also has (more modern) guest housing, and a restaurant, even; it’s actually used as a wedding venue sometimes, an unsurprising choice given the general tranquility and surrounding greenery.
There’s a small zoo, too, and lots of birds running around the place, not in the least the peacocks, which always make for an impressive sight. Also—just so you know, and because I never find this not amusing, pavo is Spanish for turkey and pavo real is peacock (!?!?) And here I thought turkey was supposed to be fake ham.
We walked along the ruins, terraced stone circles where huts used to sit according to hierarchy in the tribe, palm trees in front and mountains rising up behind us. It’s another side of Santa Marta, for sure, with more than one foot in the past and a reminder of its origins, which are just as complex and sad as anywhere, really. It just happens to be more beautiful here.