Monday, August 06, 2007

Villa de Leyva

We spent the weekend in Villa de Leyva, a colonial town about 160 kilometers North(ish) of Bogotá. It took about 4 hours to get there but that’s due to the twisty, two-lane mountain road that keeps everyone going at a relatively slow pace. They’re expanding the road to make it two lanes in each direction, so at some point in the near future, it should become a quicker trip.

At any rate, Villa de Leyva is a big tourist destination because it is a colonial town. The inn we stayed at, for example, was founded in 1568 and while I’m sure modifications have been made, it felt like something out of a time long passed. It even had a Hobbit bar, although we saw several similar bars.

(Hobbit bars are dark, woody bars in which one could imagine hobbits regaling great deals of farming and singing long songs about crops lost and loves gained.)

The town is organized around a central, cobblestone (more or less) square lined with colonial style buildings that look as if they have been there for more than a century or two. There is a very large church (cathedral) at one end as was traditional and the square is reserved for walking on only.

Around the central square are shops and restaurants and bars, all very nice and entrepreneurial. We spent a significant amount of time walking around, doing some shopping, and of course, eating. I found the food to be of excellent quality. Since it is an international tourist destination, and there were many foreigners, it has flavors from all around there world. For example, I ate Thai style lomo (beef loin) that was not particularly spicy, but was tasty, succulent, and delicious. That was in a restaurant that offered a variety of world flavors from Thailand to France. There was even an Austrian restaurant, which I found bizarre since I can’t imagine the demand for Austrian food is terribly high outside of Austria.

The inn we stayed at, in addition to being about 450 years old, although I imagine it was an estate first and converted to an inn later, was wedged up against the mountainous wall of the valley. In the back there was a completely natural “swimming” pool. I put “swimming” in quotes because it’s not really hot enough to swim in the icy water, no matter how strong a dose of Colombian optimism you apply to the situation.

Essentially, it was a lake with crystal clear water, lined with stones, and fashioned into a swimming pool. Water bubbled up from underground streams and at one end a small waterfall maintained the water level of the lake. The waterfall formed a stream that divided into different parts that ran around the various buildings ensuring a constant sound of running water, culminating in a small waterfall that entered into the restaurant and disappeared underground. All very soothing indeed.

Our room had old style shutter doors which we could bolt shut from the inside and keep locked when we left with a masterlock. There were also old style shutters on the windows that, if not properly secured, would make quite a racket when the wind picked up. And pick up it did. The valley is known for its wind, especially in August. There is a kite festival in about a week.

The road through the mountains was much like a lot of mountainous roads in that it twisted and wound around natural formations, up and over hills, and through deeply cut rock. At some point, quite close to Villa de Leyva, the mountains change from the trademark emerald green to a muddy brown. Colombians refer to the area as a desert and, although the term doesn’t really fit (it’s not terribly hot), it certainly looks desert like. The route is not, however, as majestic as the route to Villavicencio. This is likely because this road doesn’t cut between mountainous corridors. Instead, it’s a more or less north-south road that remains within the Bogotá corridor.

The wedding we attended was very non-traditional. It was also quite disorganized. Still, there was no real harm in that and we enjoyed ourselves by dancing and chatting with friends old and new. The night ended early, about 11ish, and we headed to bed. It had been a long day and staying up until the crack of dawn like some of the other revelers would have been asking too much. It was interesting to find, however, that the heavy shutters on our windows kept most of the sound out, allowing us to sleep peacefully.

Ultimately, Villa de Leyva may not be a “must see” location but it does have its charms. Anyone who comes to Colombia for an extended period of time should definitely visit, as should anyone with a soft spot for colonial towns with tasty eats and good shopping opportunities.



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