The Legend of El Dorado
Everyone hears about the Legend of El Dorado at least once in their lifetime, but we don't always know where this story comes from. It's origins lie in the Guatavita Lagoon, situated in the Cundinamarca region, 2 hours from Bogotá. Hence Bogotá`s airport bares its name to pay tribute to the indigenous tradition of these lands. Today, Guatavita is a very popular destination among foreigners that come to enjoy its beautiful landscape, and at the same time, learn more about the Muisca culture.
The lagoon lies at 3000 meters above sea level, surrounded by sub-páramo and andean forest ecosystems. Some plants that can easily be found here include frailejones, orchids and the famous borrachero (or drunken tree). The latter is very interesting because has traditionally been used by indigenous people for religious ceremonies. It has hallucinogenic proprieties that are said to bring one closer to divine spirits.
Indigenous people consider the lagoon a sacred place, and in the past, the right of passage of new Muisca chiefs (also known as Caciques) was celebrated here. The Cacique, also known as El Dorado by Spanish Conquistadors, was the head of the Muisca’s government and in order to obtain this position, he had to follow a ten-year preparatory path with the help of the Council of Elders. Only after turning 18 years old and spending years in isolation and meditation deep in the mountains, was he allowed to become a Cacique.
So how did this ceremony take place? Firstly, the future Cacique was covered by gold dust in order to represent the Sun, the principle of masculinity and divinity. Then when the sun came up and started to illuminate the lagoon, he immersed himself into the sacred water, which symbolized femininity. That way the masculine and the feminine parts of the world symbolically procreated life and a new beginning for the people. The rest of the Muiscas, who could not witness the act with their own eyes, would throw gold jewelry and pottery into the lagoon as a religious offer (reason why Conquistadores thought this area was full of gold).
When the ceremony finished, the Muisca people celebrated the event by dancing and drinking Chicha (a fermented beverage made from corn) for 8 days. Also, the Council of Elders introduced four women to the Cacique and he had to the decide amongst them which would be his future wife. The Cacique’s wife had an important political role to play. In fact, she governed alongside her husband. Being that they were a matriarchal society, Muisca women were allotted a great deal of power.
In the picture below you can see this legendary lagoon. Water here is of an intense green, but the color continuously changes and this depends on weather conditions. Just seeing one of its many colors is an incredible experience in itself!