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If you’d asked me in November what Palenque was, I wouldn’t have known what to tell you. In fact, I’d never heard of Palenque until someone asked me if I was visiting during my time in Cartagena. Palenque de San Basilio is actually a UNESCO World Heritage site founded by escaped African slaves. The ships would arrive in Cartagena and slaves that actually did escape, would go back to help others escape as well. You can still find the town filled with the descendants of those slaves working hard to preserve their culture and spread knowledge about it.
I know that Black people are all over the world, but I never thought that Cartagena would be the place I’d visit and they actually acknowledged their Blackness. During my travels, I often find that people several shades darker than me pretend that they aren’t Black at all. This especially happens in Latin America. They act as if they did not also descend from African ancestors, but I digress.
Setting up a tour to Palenque:
After a friend asked if I was visiting Palenque, I immediately looked it up. A town of Black people that are actually proud of where they came from? Sign me up! Upon researching how to get there, I realized setting up a tour seemed next to impossible. And then Alex Rocha came recommended to me.
I’d seen his name floating around in my travel groups, but forgot to contact him in time for my trip to Colombia. His tours center around experiencing the REAL Cartagena. And even though my van to Palenque contained humans of various races, we all just wanted to learn about Afro-Colombians and more specifically, more about Palenque. That’s one thing that I appreciate about Alex. He incorporates Afro-Colombian history into all of his tours.
The Road to Palenque
On the way to Palenque we first stopped in a small fishing village. We got out of the van to meet and chat with the locals. I used this opportunity to snap a few shots. It was amazing to see how small the population was and how content everyone was with what they had. I’m a city girl so I couldn’t imagine it being pitch black outside once the sun actually goes down. However, I could get used to unplugging after some time.
Upon arriving in Palenque we drove around the town to check out some noteworthy monuments and murals. We couldn’t walk more than a few feet before Alex would introduce us to one of the locals. He knows EVERYONE and it comes in handy.
The best part of the day was meeting a group of youth who also happened to make up the towns soccer team. Part of what Alex charges for this tour is actually donated to them. Let’s not talk about the fact that some of the locals are teaching him Bantú (the language of Palenque) while he teaches them English.
After hanging with the kids we got to see a performance by the group, Kombilesa Mi. These young humans sing, dance, and play various instruments. I was most impressed with the 2 year old drummer who was the child of two other drummers in the group. It was an amazing experience to get to interact and ask any question that literally comes to mind. It was also great that they wanted to know about us, the Gringos, as well.
Heading back to Cartagena seemed like a shorter journey.
I think by that point we were all starving and super excited to have an authentic Colombian meal. I went for the fried fish entree and must say it was one of the best meals I’d had during my visit to Colombia.
If you’re heading to Cartagena and interested in learning more about Afro-Colombian history, I highly recommend this trip. Read about my time in Medellin as well.