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Published: December 29th 2008
Villa de Leyva
Wanted signs are plastered on walls and the midday sun glistens off gun handles. A commotion breaks out on one side of the town square followed by a horse dashing off through the streets. People murmur and exclaim ‘Zorro’.
Villa de Leyva is not only a popular weekend destination for Bogotans, but so dramatically picturesque that it is regularly converted into a movie set. Most recently it’s startling white buildings were painted various shades of brown to accommodate for a Zorro series. I found it quite amusing that after all these years I had no idea that Zorro is Spanish for fox!
We travelled here with Auelio’s family in cars so the trip was easy going and casual, if you ignore all the road tolls. Arriving in the pueblo, quite late, we stopped in the square for a few shots of Aguadiente and to absorb the atmosphere. The instantly noticeable aspect of the town is that it completed and entirely paved with stones. It is quite mad driving around on what could easily be a riverbed; it definitely prevents you from speeding and causes skateboarders to walk. The main square - Plaza Mayor, is just
massive and with the mountains looming over the back of the church it is quite an imposing sight.
Accommodation is abundant and developing to meet the rapidly growing demand. Several farms offer rooms and the place we stayed at had a welcoming log fire, and was delightful country styled. The prices however are mostly top end and even the cheapest meal will stretch the budget. Luckily we had all our meals at the farm.
It is easy to spend hours walking around Villa de Leyva, with it’s artesian stores, and hidden court yards. We even managed to stumble across the bar where one of Elvis’s drummers used to play for years until he recently passed away. I have easily seen more foreigners here in an hour than I have in my whole 4 weeks away, and with the safe, clean and bohemian atmosphere here, it is of no surprise.
There is easily a few days worth of tinto sipping and restaurant grazing to do, but there are also several highlights surrounding Villa de Leyva.
Laguna de Iguaque is the lake of the Muisca’s creation story. ‘According to the legend a beautiful woman emerged from the lake
with a baby in her arms. When the boy became an adult they married, bore children and populated the earth.’ (Lonely Planet - Colombia page 91.)
The Muisca Observatory, renamed El Infiernito, (Little Hell) by the Spanish is a bit like Stonehenge allowing the Muisca people to know when to plant crops. There are about 30 stones roughly a metre high that are shaped like erect penises.
El Fosil is a crocodile like dinosaur that has only been found in two other places, Kansas America and Queensland Australia. He lives in a house where he was originally found along with many other fossils found in the area. Like most of the range in Colombia it was once ocean bed, so if you are keen you may even be able to hunt around for your own fossils.
We also had a look at three new and very blue lakes. They are just a few km from EL Fosil and are so clear you want to dive straight in. Unfortunately swimming is restricted to one small area, and it although it was warm; it was not quite warm enough to brave an, ‘undie run’. I did however get some
simply stunning photos.
Another popular place to visit while in Villa de Leyva is the ostrich Farm, (Finca de Avestruces) about 5km away. A few interesting ostrich facts:
* Ostriches are the only bird to develop in the white of the egg and be nourished on the yellow, as a result they are also the only bird with a belly button.
* Ostriches are pert of the dinosaur family - like dinosaurs, what looks like their knee is actually their ankle. And they have hideously ugly dino feet.
* Their brain is smaller than their eye. That said a human can see an average of 180 metres away, where as an ostrich can see 3 km!
The farm allows you to feed and walk around with the more placid females, which is a bit nerve racking but interesting. If you place your palm at head height in front of the bird it will continue to peck non-stop in a more or less harmless manner. I say more or less, because Aurelio had his nails buffed for the wedding and the ostrich took a liking to one - they like shiny things.
If you enjoy hot pools and spa
Villa de Layva
Around the square
style activities, there is a town called Paipa a few hours away, where you can enjoy an afternoon in a hot tub and get covered in mud. On the way you go through several small typically Colombian towns including Nobsa that is famous for its ruanas - big warm ponchos that everyone in this region wears. They are all worth stopping at even if it is just to look at the church and and have an Oblea, (a thin round wafer the size of a small plate sandwiched with a caramel spread called arequipe).
But then there is always the old fashioned way to relax - with friends, music and a drink. Going to your Mum’s room at 5am to ask where the vodka is hidden, after already consuming everything else, is a sure sign of a good night. I also remember at some insane hour making ‘carne al trapo’, (trapped meat) which is a tender juicy and sumptuous way to cook a beef fillet. A fillet is placed on a wet tea towel and buried in salt. The meat and salt are then rolled up like a log, tied with string and placed in the fireplace for about
Villa de Layva
A few Artisan stores
a half hour.
I recommend Villa de Leyva as a way of seeing ‘another’ Colombia. Its colonial architecture fused with Latin style, both old and new is appealing, and it will be interesting to return in a few years to see how the developments have affected the ambiance. Hopefully there will still be people sitting in the dairy and on street sides drinking beers, and small bars with eucalyptus leaves covering the floors.
I want thank the Diaz family for including me, and making me feel so welcome, you are a shining example of Colombian hospitality. xx
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