Foreign Findings: The cross vs. beer (cross edition)

This is the morally superior counterpart to last week’s post where we chose drinking beer over seeing a cross in Guatapé, Colombia. The next morning, after our night of drinking on a boat, we headed back to the water in hopes of finding the same man who sold us the tickets the day before – he’d been so patient that it seemed a shame not to give him some repeat business. Unfortunately, he was nowhere to be found. Instead, this is what happened:

A happy man in a life vest approached us and began to talk a mile a minute in what we presumed to be Spanish, although at such speeds, we couldn’t recognize a single word. Not. One. Word.

It was like this:

I’m not kidding, the man completely missed his calling; he could have been an amazing auctioneer.

The following conversation took place in Spanish and I feel I should give the disclaimer that my translation might be a bit off.

Julie: I’m sorry. I only speak a little Spanish. Do you have a cow… umm, no, a boat?

(Also, my Spanish is a little rusty.)

Man in life vest: Ha ha!!! I will laugh heartily because you say you don’t speak much Spanish but I will not slow down at all!!!

Andy (to Julie): So does he have a boat?

Julie (to Andy): Well… he’s wearing a life vest.

Man in life vestI’ll just keep talking fast!!!

Julie: We want to see the cross. Is that possible?

He hands us this card:

Guatape Boat Tour Information Card

There is indeed a picture of the submerged cross.

Julie: How much does it cost?

Man in life vest: I’m going to continue talking extremely fast!!! $80,000. Also, I’m going to add many superfluous words so everything is more confusing!

At this point a young (and oddly quiet) Colombian couple approached us and by the grace of our common sense and definitely not by any amazing communication skills on our part, on their part or on the man in the life vest’s part, we figure out that if they come along, the price is split. Meaning $40,000 per couple.

Man in life vest: I’m just going to keep talking super-duper fast about details of the boat trip and surely I’ll win you over and you’ll agree to take my tour. Look at me being so friendly and charming!

Julie: For the love of Pete or Pablo or Pedro or whoever you are… Please slow down!! I’m begging you! I CANNOT UNDERSTAND YOU! I UNDERSTAND NOTHING!

Man in life vest: Oh you silly girl, that’s just too funny!! I won’t slow down, however I will completely misinterpret your confusion to mean that you’re bargaining for a lower price. $35,000?

Andy (to Julie): Did he seriously just lower the price? Lower than even the guide book says? Isn’t the cardinal rule of negotiation to not negotiate against yourself?

Julie and Andy: Sold! To the couple in the front with blank looks on their faces!

On the lake in Guatape, Colombia.

Here we go!

So then we were off. First, we saw Pablo Escobar’s former lake house. I tried the best I could to find out when it was bombed but Google really let me down. He was killed in 1993 and the destruction of his property was presumably around that time. For anyone who’s interested, this guy has lots of pictures of the house. He mentions that the government prohibits entrance, but that’s not the case anymore.

Pablo Escobar's former lake house near Guatape, Colombia.

Pablo Escobar’s bombed-out former lake house.

Next, as we were skimming across the water, our driver turned to us and in his typical quick-tonged, long-winded manner, explained something. Our blank faces must have given us away because the male part of the silent couple pointed into the water and said, “Casas.”

Ah ha! That, we totally got. We were now over the submerged town of Viejo Peñol.

(Side note: the driver looked totally mystified as to why we understood this other guy when we we obviously hadn’t understood him once all morning.)

Under the water to see Viejo Peñol in Guatape, Colombia.

There are houses under here. Pretty weird.

The small town of Viejo Peñol (Old Peñol) was flooded in the 1960s-1970s during the construction of the reservoir and a hydro-electric dam. The new town of El Peñol now stands nearby on higher ground.

Next, we approached the submerged cross of Viejo Peñol. As we got closer, I was a little confused at how new it looked.

The cross of Viejo Penol in Guatape, Colombia.

Not exactly the old, waterlogged cross I was expecting.

We would have questioned its newness if we thought for a second that we would have understood the answer. Instead, I filed it away under Google it when I get home.

The cross in Guatape Lake in Colombia.

Here’s the rest of the church… or so I thought.

Well folks, I’m home and here is what Google has to say. As it turns out, this is not the cross of the submerged church. It’s a cross that stands as a memorial to the town and the church that is some 25 meters under the water. I suppose this makes more sense. Even if it was a tall church, that would have to be a pretty shallow lake.

Instead, here is what the church underwater actually looks like:

Viejo Peñol church in Colombia.

Here is the church of Viejo Peñol. See? No towering cross.

And here is the replica in the nearby El Peñol:

Image from

The church in El Peñol. Again, no huge cross. (Image from

In the end, it was a bit of a let down. There’s just something so mysterious about underwater things and while it was cool to know that there were casas beneath us, it would have been a bit cooler had the cross been attached to one of old, waterlogged structures. Also, I think they’ve really neglected a sightseeing jackpot by not offering scuba tours. I would have loved to go on that excursion and I wouldn’t have even flexed my apparently amazing negotiation muscles to do so.

Here are a few more photos from the boat trip:

Houses along the lake in Guatape, Colombia.

I’m guessing these houses went up in value after they became waterfront property.

Boating in Guatape, Colombia.

Our driver let the girl drive the boat for a while. I would have tried it too but he never offered. It’s possible he might have not thought too highly of our intelligence and didn’t want to entrust his livelihood to us.

3 responses to “Foreign Findings: The cross vs. beer (cross edition)

  1. Pingback: Foreign Findings: The cross vs. beer (beer edition) | See Jules Travel·

  2. I loved the squirrel chatter! Yes, I’ve had those Spanish conversations before too. Maybe on my next trip I should bring a recorder, record the chatter, play it back in front of the person at a slower speed, then slowly respond with one or two words. It would all be good for a laugh anyway!

  3. Haha, the older woman I lived with for a couple of weeks in Nicaragua could never understand why I couldn’t grasp a word she said (all of her words were delivered at warp speed) but I could understand nearly everything that her 8 year old grandson told me (he REALLY understood how to SLOOOOOW it down). Also, I am pretty sure the entire family thought I was of somewhat low intelligence. I am sure if there had been a boat they also would not have let me drive it, so don’t feel bad!. I will never forget one time when it began to rain and no one else was home. Trying to be a good house guest, I quickly took the clothes in from the line and when they returned, everyone was AMAZED that I had had the mental capacity to do this task at the appropriate time. I was praised exaggeratedly, over and over again, as if I was a small child. Haha, now I can see their point because I could barely speak and had to be slowly taught how to do literally everything from washing a dish to opening the gate (and I kept messing stuff up!). At the time though, I just felt like I was being measured with the wrong yardstick or something, lol.

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