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This is Las Lajas sanctuary in Colombia.  It was built on a bridge 50 metres (160 ft) tall which crosses the Guáitara River not far from the Ecuador border.  This beautiful sanctuary, a gothic revival mini cathedral, was completed between 1916 and 1949, but previous chapels have existed at the site for a long time.  According to folklore, the Virgin Mary appeared to a woman, Maria Mueces, and her deaf-mute daughter, Rosa, at the site in 1754.  The two were passing by the Guaitara River when a storm broke out.  They sought shelter by a waterfall coming from the canyon wall.  Suddenly Rosa began shouting to her mother that the Virgin was calling to her and the pair witnessed the goddess above the gorge.  Later when Rosa unexpectedly died, Maria went back to the canyon to pray, whereupon her daughter was restored to life.  The modern church also features its own “miracle”: there is a fresco of the Virgin mother behind the altar…and nobody knows who painted it! To an artists, this latter miracle seems a little less like a miracle and more like an improperly executed PR plan. Also look at the Virgin’s enormous crown!

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Wax palms in the Quindio area of Columbia

The Quindio wax palm (Ceroxylon quindiuense) is a tree which lives on the western slopes of the Andes mountains in Quindío (a region in northwest Colombia).  This palm tree has a smooth waxy trunk topped by a crown of dark gray green leaves….and what a trunk it has!  The tree grows to heights of 50 and occasionally 60 meters (160-200 feet) a bit taller than the space shuttle or the Statue of Liberty (without its base).  They are the tallest palm trees in the world. They are exceedingly beautiful and magical.

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(Monilemor photography)

The Quindio palms almost went extinct since people relentlessly overharvested them to make wax candles and torches and for palm fronds (which have a religious significance in Christianity).  This would have been a tremendous shame since the palms are not just magnificent in their own right but also provide a habitat for astonishing animals such as the yellow-eared parrot.

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Although the palms are still in trouble due to habitat loss, they are now stringently protected by law (and they have been named the national tree of Colombia).  Additionally landscapers grow them in warm climates around the world. Somehow I still find it hard to believe they are real…just look at them.  The world is filled with beautiful wonders!

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