You know those travel destinations that become the “It” place to be? Colombia seems to increasingly be the place where everyone and their brother or sister is going to, has gone or just went to. In September, I finally) had the opportunity and occasion to visit Cartagena, Colombia for a wedding. I was worried about how my rusty Spanish would serve me (the answer was barely) and interested in what this tourist haven could offer me. I found my answer in San Basilio de Palenque, commonly known as Palenque.
San Basilio de Palenque, established in the 16th century by Benkos Bioho, is recognized by UNESCO as the first free town in the Americas-I felt especially blessed visiting the town given the United States of America’s year of remembering and wrestling with the 400th anniversary of enslaved Africans arriving in Virginia.
I visited Palenque on an organized tour with Alexander Rocha of Experience Real Cartagena. Alex is a proud to be Afro-Colombian man who started a tour company that involves his whole family. On a tour bus full of young black professionals from the U.S., he shared how his experience growing up as a Black man in Cartagena compelled him to learn more about Black history in Colombia. Inspired by both the U.S. Civil Rights Movement legends and rappers, he dug to find himself and his culture in the history books to little avail. Now, through Experience Real Cartagena tours, he has the opportunity and obligation to make sure that hard-won knowledge is shared and spread.
Thank you, Alex.
Walking through the small village, Alex shared (and patiently answered my many questions!) about how Palenque first came to be established by Maroons in the 16th century who simply wanted to be free. As we walked through the town he hipped us to how the residents of Palenque are keeping their ancient traditions alive and are also adapting with the times.