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The first social club was founded half a century ago. The conscience of self value and the rejection of favoritism and fatuity. An illustrious intellectual stated: “I wish the Colombian society were like the one in San Gil’s”. “It is not known whether Don Quixote’s heart is buried in San Gil or in Popayn” manifested one of our most known writers. “Letters to the Sangilentildea nobility” published in 1851, or the resentment of a Priest against the San Gil society.
Recently, in San Gil, the distinguished orator and writer Joaquin Estrada Monsalve summarized the virtues of the Sangilentildea society when he said: “I wish the Colombian society were like the one in San Gil’s”. This phrase could be engraved on the entrance of a social club in the city. It is a testimony to the traditional acknowledgment made to the Castilian nobility of the Sangilentildea society, center of lineage, culture and seigniorage that, yesterday, had a Count. Because as it was expressed by one of the columnists “Calibn”, claiming the adoptive title of Sangilentilde, to extol the gentility of its men and the beauty and virtue of its ladies: “It is not known whether Don Quixote’s heart is buried in San Gil or in Popayn. Both cities have the right to claim the remains of of the illustrious forefather. But in San Gil, anyway, stayed Don Quixote’s heart. That great heart moved only by generous passions that Sangilentildes carry in their chest”.
Unjustly, the Sangilentildea society has been called austere and proud. That is due to the fact that through generations, it has maintained a conscience of its self value and rejected with horror favoritism and fatuity. And, the inhabitants of the city have been called regional, which in reality, they have been, since Colonial times to the present. This pernicious attribute has served them to emulate in civic mindedness, general admiration and the proper constant progress. But the urban conglomerate is absolutely cosmopolitan. Forty-seven years ago, on July 10, 1919, the first social club, San Gil Club, was founded. Later, Ciprea Club, in the center of the city, became one of the most “chic” with two hundred members, and with presentations of ladies to society every year. There are other clubs like Lions, Commerce and Rotary not absorbed by the Campestre Club situated in a modern building in front of the Gallineral Park on the left bank of the Fonce River. It was established in 1941 and possesses the most modern facilities such as tennis courts, bowling alleys, ping pong, hunting and shing and almost two hundred members, There, elegant reunions are celebrated with good humor. The best praise of these clubs was made by Priest Afanador’s caustic “Letters to the Sangilentildea Nobility” mentioned earlier.
Many of the members of one club belong to the other, without stingy rivalries.


Two places able to impress a cosmonaut: “Bella Isla” (Beautiful Island) or “Gallineral” (Henhouse) where nature made an effort to return to mankind the lost paradise. “La Antigua” (The ancient) Cave, a prehistorical cavern which extends under three municipalities. “El Hoyo de los Pjaros” (The Birds’ Hole).
For the desired tourists tired of maritime beaches, bars and common places, San Gil has a true circuit of recreation, which due to lack of propaganda, is not listed in the national touristic guides, next to the most common known spots. There are especially, two natural phenomena, if that is what can be called, the “Gallineral” and the “Cueva de la Antigua”, which deserve to be detailed. The first one is considered by travelers knowledgeable in tourism as the most beautiful natural park of the country. I dened it as: “The place where nature made an effort to return to mankind the lost paradise”. The second one is a cavern, the biggest one found in the Andes. There are other phenomena which will be described briefly. EL GALLINERAL
It is an island of about 2,000 square kilometers formed by the delta of the Fonce River and the Curiti Brook. It is linked to the last city streets by a concrete bridge which permits easy access by automobile to its beaches and its circumvolving road. This park has been projected in movie theaters by national and international lm rms. (The closest places I could simulate i t with, but which are not tropical, are a combination of “The land between the lakes” in Tennessee and “The Everglades” in Florida)
There is no Santandereano who is not proud of this spot, nor a poet who has not found it a source of inspiration. The name “Bella Isla” was changed to “Gallineral”. They did not change anything because they are like the noun and the adjective. The island is covered with twisted caves of long moss beards. In the center of the island, there is a lake with humane temperature, diving boards and cabanas. There are walking trails illuminated at night with colorful lights which permit lovers their best time of enchantment. There are several kinds of sport elds and zoological collections these, next to the river sand beaches, give the visitors unforgettable recreation. It is pleasant for those who, with the passing of time, have not seen the plant tendrils on the Fonce waves. Those millinery trunks rock like a marvelous hair of a helenic virgin. We have vivid memories of the time we went to the island for the first time. The “Gallineral or Bella Isla” is for Sangilentildes like those sacred rivers of the Greeks where they would burn incense and sing with lyre the beauty of their women. And their poets would try their stanzas inspired by generous wines to sing to the bizarre bravery of their elders. The waters of the river are musical. Under the tree shadows crossed by gray stones, fantasy and illusion overflow silently. I can almost hear the river, under the light, like a silver belt which embraces the emerald island under the intrepid mountains. And I can almost look at the island drowning in its froth under the mosses where mystery encourages the anguished race that has always concurred there to pasture their future idylls. The writer, Don Germn Arciniegas, in a published article in the Tiempo newspaper of Bogot under the title of “Las Maravillas de San Gil”, (San Gil’s Marvels), after referring to the Castilian traditions of the town, states: “ In San Gil there are things you do not see any other place. The stone streets are perfectly built like the walls of a building. The plaza has ve or six trees which foliage covers it entirely. It is one of the most beautiful plazas of Colombia. If you attend major mass, the swallows fly constantly under the cathedral dome, giving the impression of an open sky. But nothing like ‘Bella Isla and Pozo Azul’, it should be consecrated into a national park. There is no other place like it in Colombia or in the world. The ‘Bella Isla’ is formed by the arms of a river which ends in the Fonce River next to San Gil. The island is full of ‘Gallineros’ or big beautiful trees which branches form caves over the park trails from which mosses hang giving it a fantastic scenery. As far as the eye can see, in all directions, you can see this long plant hair of a bluish-gray. In between, the San Gil golden lights turn off in a silver air. Agelvis, the most popular landscape painter from Bucaramanga, has painted a series of pictures of ‘Bella Isla’, in which, without forcing the imagination, the trunks can be seen like dancing gures, with their shoulders challis, which nature has given them. The enormous pool in the park is really spectacular because it is located under the long tree branches from which mosses hang until they touch the water surface. ‘Bella Isla’, as maintained by San Gil, is a privileged corner of nature without its due propaganda. If you have never been in ‘Pozo Azul and Bella Isla’ you have wasted your trips as a tourist”. The notable columnist of the same newspaper, Calibn, in one of his “Danzas”, (Dances), dedicated to San Gil stated: “San Gil will be one of the best tourist centers of the country. Let us not talk of its incomparable and healthy climate, its panorama, its rivers and its mountains which beauty has been the talk of travelers and it does not have rival in the country. It is a marvel of nature it is a prodigy of beauty unique in Colombia and the world, the ‘Gallineral’, which I have dealt with, many times”. Also, the illustrious writer, Luis Martinez Delgado, wrote, not long ago, of the “Gallineral”, the following concept and realistic description: “Who can stop evoking the glorious past of San Gil, the city of noble ancestry situated at the margin of the Fonce River? The park and lake of Bella Isla may be, one of the most notable natural beauties of Colombia. It astonishes because of the solemnity of the place. There, no sad tree grows, but the happy trees that sing in the gardens with their deep roots, trunks toward the sky and their branches of melodic and prophetic rocking, conquering the universe with their triumphal arches. What beautiful spectacle hangs from the centenary trunks with beards which form capricious gures. The breezes from the river which murmur through the tranquil forest invites the spirit to meditation. And, it is even more beautiful to contemplate the pale moon over the bloody cup of the vessel made of fragrant earth!”. The Gallineral, with its modern local tourist hotel built next to the island by initiative of the then President of the Republic General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, is not only the inspiration of poets and writers, but the center of vacation attraction of Eastern Colombia, which fame will continue to grow, as the due propaganda is made of the Bella Isla Hotel.


The main entrance of such notable geological and archeological curiosity is situated on the banks of the “La Laja”, (Flagstone), Brook, two kilometers from the city. It is constituted by a branched and extensive cavern which in its time was a Guane Cemetery. The cave has, judging by the numerous official and private travelers who have gone in with scientic or recreational aims, connection or exit to the “Macaregua” Caverns in the municipality of Barichara, “El Yeso” Caves in the municipality of Aratoca and “Nitro” Caverns in the municipality of Zapatoca a distance of 20, 30 and 60 kilometers respectively. (They are like the combination of Carlsbad Caverns of Texas and Mammoth Caves of Kentucky)
The Cueva de la Antigua can be entered without any difculty, including with recreational vehicles.until it divides into three branches which go to the places mentioned. These tunnels have to traveled on foot and they communicate with a series of rooms with a plethora of stalactites and stalagmites which look like columns. They are made of calcium carbonate and give the appearance of an oriental room. In several of these dark rooms, the known French scientists, Niceforo Maria of the La Salle Community and Michel Pointu found abundant bones of the Guanes, Macareguas and Butareguas Indians with their correspondent arrows, clay vessels, shrouds, collars and other domestic and bellicose items. Many lateral cave burials have been destroyed by “Guaqueros”, (Grave Robbers), judging by the pieces of bones and clay pots left. In these places, Guane Princes and Caciques’ mummies were buried (As the style of the Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamen in the Valley of the Kings). In the deepest part, in pathways lled with bats, there are water torrents, which noises terrorize whoever goes there for the first time. From this place, Indians excavated nitrogen and amulets. The latter were exhibited for many years in the Guanent Museum. There have been plans to illuminate the caverns, so that visitors do not get lost for days, as it happened to the Nativity builder, Ramiro Prada.


This small cavern is situated at the bank of the Curiti Brook, also two kilometers from San Gil. It can be reached by automobile through the eastern road. It is covered by an immense granite stone from which the brook forms its third waterfall. At one time, great quantities of alum were extracted from this cavern. One of the most interesting aspects of this geological curiosity is the fact that it forms a bridge under the water. Its floor offers deadly danger due to its very smooth surface.


It is situated 12 kilometers from the city, in Mr. Victor Rueda’s farm, in the village of Macaregua. There is a pathway among trees which provides easy access to this geological curiosity. After entering it, two tunnels are found. The one to the right goes to an abundant fountain. The other one goes to a dry and dark place with deep rooms. They have red dirt and are full of amphibian and nocturnal animals. The walls are made out of calcium, calcareous tufa and layers of nitrogenated compounds which have not been used for agricultural applications as they should. LA CUEVA DEL PARAMO (Paramo cave)
It is located 15 kilometers from San Gil, in the Paramo Municipality jurisdiction. It has a monumental entrance, similar to the one of the Marseille Zoological Garden. All it lacks is a couple of giant oxen laying down and throwing water through their fauces. The Paramo cave is penetrated by a small river. It has gigantic vaults one of them has a lake and a water fall.
The writer Juan de Dios Arias published delicious chronicles of this cave and The “Hoyo de los Pjaros” in Mogotes. He afrms, that there is a deep abyss, full of plants and crossed by a torrential river, and that there are many big nocturnal birds called “Guacos and Gucharos”. These birds feed many hundred of miles far into the jungles of Opon and Carare and come back to the caves to raise their young which are three to four times the size of the adult birds and look like owls. EL HOYO DEL YESO (Gypsum Hole).
This great subterranean vault deserves special mention. Its name is due to its deposits of crystallized calcium sulfate like the Nitro one in the region of Macaregua. It is located in the place named “El Placer”, (The pleasure), near the Palo Blanco Brook under an abrupt escarpment full of bushes. Its entrance is not easy and it is required to climb down about ten meters holding onto the rocks down the den. Inside there is a room of thirty meters of extension with an elevated roof covered with quartz crystals. The articial light gives certain brilliance and splendor to the place. There is a beautiful labyrinth of calcareous columns which leads to small rooms. Its calcareous icicles look like European residences in winter. The walls are covered with crystals that look like pearls. There are tranquil water ponds covered with a white layer of calcium carbonate, (CaCO3), where everything gets petried, due to its action, preserving every detail. Following tight tunnels which threatens every tourist to become part of a sandwich, there are other caverns but to get there is tiresome and difcult for those not accustomed to walk on their knees. There are other natural beauties, the “Salto del Mico”, (Monkey Falls), near Barichara, which are over 300 meters high. They have less water than the Tequendama Falls, but in winter they are more imposing. The “Puente del Indio”, (Indian Bridge), near Aracatoca, which could be as famous as the Icononzo Bridge over the Sumapaz River. They are of similar characteristics, but the former is more daring. The “Piedra del Colmenero”, (The Bee keeper’s Stone), situated over the cliffs clean their sand over the Fonce River. About this phenomenon there is a legend which others call folklore.

POZO AZUL (Blue Deep Pool)

It is a spa situated on the Curiti Brook, two kilometers from the city. The spa consists of a deep blue pool. The brook enters the spa with a torrent fall. Big trees on the border of the natural pool give a refreshing feeling which does not contrast with the water temperature. There are modern restaurants and baths. It is a preferred spot for motorists. There is also a special degree of alkalinity and sulfur in its waters recommended by physicians for its healthy effect on rheumatism and other epidemics.

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