Sometimes you go around the corner and what you come across is nice surprise.
I was in Supia, Colombia, hanging out with Mauricio Mellan of Bogota, Colombia, and Katrin Vollmer of Munich, Germany. We had driven three hours south from Medellin to go check out Colombia’s coffee-growing region. Mauricio also grew up in Supia and still has a family house there. When I met Mauricio in Bogota – those early readers of this blog will recall that he was my second host in Colombia – I had expressed interest in going to a coffee “finca” or farm. And now it was about to happen.
We arrived in Supia a bit later in the afternoon than we had intended. Mauricio had some car trouble – a nail in a tire – that required repair before we set out on the winding mountain roads and down to the valley on our way to Supia. I was surprised to see that Supia was much larger than I had imagined. Katrin also said she expected a smaller town. Maybe we both had been in Colombia too long, because not long ago I would have considered Supia a small town. But in my two months touring the country I had seen much smaller pueblos. In comparison, Supia felt larger, but it still had that small town vibe.
First order of business in Supia, of course, party! They call it rumbiando in Colombia. Colombians love to party! And, ahem, to drink! I can’t hang with this crowd when it comes to alcohol consumption. Two beers, three tops, and I’m done! I’m such a lightweight, yes, I know. And good thing I know.
But before the partying started, Mauricio mentioned that there was a small town not far named Guamal and that there was a time in the town’s history all the residents were black, descendants of African slaves. That got my interest and so we went. And glad I did.
There we met several men sitting on the steps of the church near the square. The church, Santa Lucia, dates back to the 1800s and on its exterior wall has the history of Guamal and its inhabitants. Most of the residents of Guamal have the surname Moreno because they took the name of their slavemaster, Josefa Moreno, who freed them long before Colombia declared slavery illegal. The land that is now known as Guamal was once also land owned by Josefa. The inscription on the church is written in the African language the slaves spoke and declares that they were brought from Mozambique.
As we walked around the town, I stopped to say hello to the group of men sitting on the church steps. I introduced myself as a visitor from the United States and the conversation and history lesson began. The men talked about their history and surname and had a good chuckle about all of them having the same last name even if they were not directly related. We chatted like old friends, sharing laughs and discussing each other’s countries. Pedro Moreno, one of the elders among the group, said the town held a celebration when Barack Obama was elected. Blacks across Colombia, in fact, did the same. Despite this, one of the men in the group said he did not know there were black people in the United States. He was surprised to see a black person from America.
As the conversation progressed, Mauricio asked about panela production. Panela is a natural sweetener culled from sugar cane. They said they were making some now and we were welcomed to go see. A great opportunity to see a product so widely used in Colombia.
On our way we walked passed a very old cemetery and one of the men said they were slaves buried there. I vowed to return to check out the cemetery in the light of day.
We walked through the town with residents staring, of course wondering who were these strangers. But everybody was really nice and friendly. We descended down a dark sloping hill and there we found the panela in full production. It was great to see. But more joyous was getting to know these men with such a rich history. So I say, if you come to Colombia, put Guamal on your list. You will learn so much and leave enriched.