Shrouded in mists, well above the treeline, and surrounded by the eerie silhouettes of “frailejones” (giant tree-like daisies in the genus Espletia), Iguaque Lake ( 5°41’14.94″N 73°26’11.92″W ) offers a special experience for visitors that brave the steep 1000 m climb to reach it. Recently I visited this beautiful place for some birding, during a visit to nearby Villa de Leyva. As mentioned in my last post, for the next month I am am being hosted there by the Institute Alexander von Humboldt while I measure some birds in their collection.
Part of the importance of Iguaque lies in its central place in the spiritual tradition of the Muisca people of the Central Colombian Andes. The Muisca were a highly organized and industrious civilization that greeted the Spanish when they first arrived in the region in 1537, and were renowned for their weaving, metalwork and terraced agriculture. Iguaqué was the place of origin for the mother of all creation in Muisca legend, Bachué. She arose from these waters, gave birth to a son, and the two of them created created the Muisca people and taught them their crafts, before returning to the same waters as serpents.
The truth of the importance placed on these and other high altitude Andean Lakes by the Muisca and other Andean peoples is perhaps only now being rediscovered: their water capture and storage capacities have led Paramo and Humedales to be included in a special atlas project at the Instituto Alexander von Humboldt in Colombia. The importance of these environments as sources of life-giving water for forests, agriculture and human communities on the lower slopes, as habitat for threatened and restricted endemic species, and as a refuge for temperate climate species under climate change is now clear, and suggests urgent need for increased protection and monitoring.