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Travel

I Visited the First Freed Slave Town in the Americas & This Happened

By
Eric Aguirre
on
May 11, 2017

The first freed slave town isn't where you think it is. I recently led a small group of travelers with Under30Experiences to this historical place and had the best cultural experience of my life.

If I were to ask you: "Where was the first freed slave town in the Americas?"

What would be your first guess?

If you went with Palenque, Colombia you nailed it (and should get your a*s on jeopardy asap).

More on this fun fact later.

Colombian Roots

To those of you who know me, you may know that I’m a first generation American from parents who immigrated here from Colombia and Ecuador.

That being said, when the opportunity to take a trip to Colombia, the country where mama dukes was born, I was ecstatic.

I was lucky enough to take a family trip to Bogota, Colombia when I was 12 years old. The trip was family focused and my biggest takeaway at that age was being able to bring home my very first puppy (yes, my pup is Colombian, hi Toby!). 

This time around I was a 23 year old who was determined to soak in every detail of the country's history, culture, beaches, and of course nightlife...

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Playa Blanca, Cartagena

Cartagena, Colombia

From everything I read, watched, and listened to leading up to my flight to Cartagena I knew that I was going to fall in love with this city. How can I not? I’m flying into the safest, most visited, arguably most beautiful city in Colombia, AND I’m Colombian.

Well, needless to say, at the end of my trip I didn’t want to leave this city. The colonial architecture blended with Caribbean vibes, the talented street performances of dancing, singing, & rapping, and the impressive history that makes you wish streets could talk.

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A Welcomed Surprise

Out of the nightlife, food, and beaches that Cartagena boasted, what ended up being my absolute favorite part was the cultural experience we arranged for our group.

One of the many things that makes Under30Experiences different (and a reason that I’m proud to work for this incredible company) is that we try our damn best to incorporate true cultural experiences into our adventures around the world. 

Yes, we have fun and make sure your vacation is everything you want it to be but we also make sure you leave with more knowledge of how the world works outside of our borders.

I’ve played soccer with children in Costa Rica, learned about the struggles women entrepreneurs face in Nicaragua, and have been blessed with the spirit of the mountains by a Peruvian Shaman.

I’m grateful for all of these experiences and they’ve truly helped to shape my world-view.

What I saw in Palenque, Colombia was unlike anything I've experienced in all my travels.

The day started off with a 1.5 hour drive from Cartagena to Palenque on some true “off the beaten path roads”.

When we arrived we we’re greeted by our Palen-tour guide, Danillo.

Danillo was one of the proudest, well-spoken, individuals I’ve ever met. He greeted us and took us into his family home to begin the tour around his community.

What followed was some of most beautiful words I’ve ever heard a person speak. The man spoke like a poet. The passion in his voice as he spoke about his community, culture, and people is something I will never be able to describe in writing.

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Just look at that admiration on our faces

Palenque people

I wish I had an audio recorder to remember every detail of what Danillo said to us but one of the core takeaways was that the Palenque people pride themselves on the immaterial in every aspect of their culture. They we’re even recognized by UNESCO as being a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

As our tour began around Palenque it seemed as if every building, person, and structure had a meaningful history behind it. 

Danillo was poetic in how he described the impact some of their most famous residents had on their community.

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A statue commemorating Palenque's founder: Bioho Benkos

Palenque Food

Following the tour, we enjoyed one of the best meals while in Cartagena. 

Everything was cooked and grown in Danillo’s backyard and prepared specifically for our group. We ate our meal with traditional “plates” and “spoons”.

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Before: Meal Prep
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After: Finished home-cooked meal

Palenque Music

After lunch we were treated to a performance by some of Palenque’s most talented and globally recognized musicians.

Rafael Cassiani is in his 80s and has traveled around the world spreading Palenque’s unique blend of music. He’s one of the most respected and admired individuals in the community.

Rafael Cassani

Kombilesa-Mi is a rap group that has been touring around the United States and is working hard to get their Palenque style rap recognized. 

They practice every day and the whole community comes out to hear their performances and support their music. Even the local children join their practices as part fans and part backup dancers.

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Local children supporting and practicing with their favorite rap group

Palenque was truly an extraordinary place. If you’re ever in Cartagena this should be at the very top of your list of things to do because you’ll walk away astounded by the pride and history of this small community that began as a group of escaped slaves in the 17th century.

Thank you Danillo, Kombilesa-Mi, Rafael Cassani, and all of the proud Palenqueros we met that day for an experience I will never forget.

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P.S. Join us on a trip of a lifetime to Colombia over New Years, or in 2017!

Not only will you have an amazing cultural experience, you will explore the many gems Colombia has to offer!

Eric Aguirre
I'm Eric, I aim to inspire and lead fellow and future thought-provoking leaders around the world. I love geeking out on Personal Development and strive to make myself and the world around me a better place.

Edited by:  Miles Demars-Rote

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