Tuesday, 30th September
We awoke earlyish today as we were heading to Villa de Leyva for a couple of nights, a kind of holiday within a holiday. We had packed the night before so after showers and breakfast Jose Luis gave us a ride to where we could catch a bus from. We left most of our stuff behind and just took a small daypack each. This was the way I envisaged us travelling in the planning although the reality turned out somewhat differently thanks to my habit of overpacking and obsession with travel gadgets. We had to wait until 8:30am to leave as with a number plate ending in an even number the driving restrictions applied to Joe Luis’s car and you can’t hit the streets before 8:30am. We were catching the bus from the north of the city. We could have caught the bus from the main bus terminal but with traffic the way it is in Bogota, it was quicker this way so we wouldn’t have to wait in a traffic jam for an hour and still be in the city. The buses here stop alongside an ‘Exito’ and there are loads of conductors all hassling you to get on their bus. Jose Luis did the work for us and there was a bus waiting there heading to Tunja. So, with a price tag of 15,000COP each, we jumped on board and said goodbye and thanks to Jose Luis.
The ride was around two hours and we were in Tunja by around 11am. Tunja is a town to the north of Bogota, around 120km away, and is where we can catch a bus to the west to Villa de Leyva. The first bus to Tunja was a large coach but the second bus to Villa de Leyva was only a small minibus, showing the difference in popularity of the routes. There are direct buses to Villa de Leyva from Bogota but only two a day. Doing it this way though didn’t give us any dead time waiting for buses as they are so frequent along these routes. The second bus from Tunja to Villa de Leyva only cost 13,000COP for us both and took around one hour to get to the bus terminal, only a sort walk from the main central square of town. As we were leaving Tunja, a policeman got on the bus wanting to see identification for all those onboard so we handed over our passports. It looked as though he was logging all those on the bus over his radio. No one was in any trouble and we were on way in ten minutes. The bus journeys were both picturesque, travelling north was similar to the ride from Medellin to Bogota, with green rolling hills and steep, winding, climbing roads. Before we got to Tunja we passed into another department, Boyaca, and saw ‘el Puente de Boyacá’ from the bus. This was a strategic bridge of importance in the Battle of Boyaca (1819) during the battle for independence from the Spanish crown. The bridge is no longer in use but it has been maintained as a symbol of the Independence of South America. The journey from Tunja to Villa de Leyva was also nice although very different; more like some of the scenery we saw in Mexico from Mexico City to Oaxaca, more arid and cacti around the place.
Villa de Leyva is a small town with a population of only around 10,000. It is a popular place to visit during holidays and weekends for people from Bogota, being a picturesque colonial town. We only had overnight bags with us so we walked the short walk to the main town square, Plaza Mayor, and had a coffee (me), lemonade with coconut (Kirsty) and some empanadas (both) as a snack whilst thinking about where we might stay. We walked around five hotels before settling on one that suited our budget (60,000COP a night). It is within the old part of the town along a cobbled street and in an old colonial building. Only one drawback is that we have to ring a doorbell to get in the outer door and if there is no-one here we have to walk around the corner to another house to request someone let us in. I don’t think we’ll be having late nights here though so it shouldn’t matter that much. Our room opens onto a central courtyard within the house, a common arrangement in this town for the larger houses. The outer door leads into the internal courtyard with the rooms leading off this courtyard. The more expensive the hotel, the more fancy the courtyard and more flowers. Our hotel, not being that fancy but suiting our needs was fairly spartan.
We then had a walk about town. It’s a lovely colonial town with a massive central cobbled town square (one of the largest in the Americas apparently) and surrounded by hills with the closest looming above the town on the eastern side. There are lots of places to visit close to town but we are content to just take it easy and relax in this town; reading, eating snacks and drinking coffees and teas. Kirsty went back for a nap and I wandered on some more, taking photos as the sun went down and became a golden colour, casting it’s light onto the white buildings of the town. There was a grassfire close to town up on the hillside and ash and smoke was blowing into the town. As I was having an afternoon ‘tinto’ (weak black coffee) it was blowing into my cup. There were also firefighters congregating in the main square, not looking that concerned and seemingly taking a break from whatever it was they were doing. No-one seemed that bothered by the fire, clearly not being a threat to the town which put us at ease.
I went back to the hotel and we both then went out for dinner after walking around to find a place both open and within our budget. Lots of places are closed here, it seems that in low season more places are open on the weekend as more visitors come into town. The place we did find was nice though, again in an internal courtyard of a large building that is shared by several restaurants and cafes. Kirsty had lamb and I had some steak. We then went back to our hotel with the view to having a long restful night’s sleep. Our only plans tomorrow is for more relaxation and snacking so no need to get up early.
Wednesday, 1st October
We had a lie in today, the purpose of this mini getaway to take it easy and enjoy this small town at our leisure. After some cornflakes (again) we went out for a walk about town and to have a hot drink. The weather here is colder than Bogota and after all the heat, humidity and sweating of Central America we are really enjoying it. I had a ‘cafe campesino’, literally a peasant’s coffee which is a black coffee with panela (unrefined cane sugar) and cinnamon added. Kind of like a mulled coffee. Kirsty had a ‘chocolate en agua’, basically a hot chocolate but mixed in water, not milk. It is just as common here to have the water version. We then went for another walkabout, this being a lovely little town to stroll along the cobblestones. There are lots of beautiful houses with the odd town square and statue to look at. On the surrounding hillsides, the fire seems still to be going with a helicopter making trips from the town with a water bucket attached and dropping water onto flames that you can clearly see when the smoke clears. Again though, no-one seems to be that concerned about the matter so neither are we. We walked through the streets of the old town and into the newer, non-cobbled streets where the bus terminal is and back around to the old town. We had a drink on the main square, reading our books with a ‘Pola y Cola’ and a lemonade. I am reading ‘Origin of the Species’ in preparation for he Galapagos. We then found a place for lunch that did the ‘almuerzo del dia’ (lunch of the day) for the bargain price of 10,000COP. For this we got a soup to start, main course with salad bowl and desert with a drink. We then walked back to the main square for another coffee and tea at a place looking out onto the massive ‘Plaza Mayor’ across to the church before walking back to our hotel to rest up for a couple of hours.
For dinner we decided just to snack and started at an empanada bar set-up which had about 10 empanadads to choose from. After a couple of those we went back to the main town square and sat in a cafe with outside seating to have a couple of drinks and another snack (fries yuca chips). There are loads of policemen, firemen, disaster recovery people, news crew and army personnel in the square now. I guess they have been dealing withe the fire during the day and are taking stock in the town square, begin the largest open area in the town. A few blackened faces from the fire but on the whole people still don’t seem that concerned by what is going on so that reassures us. On the way back to the hotel we stopped off for a slice of cake at a cafe and again for a couple of empanadas from a hole in the wall vendor. When we got back to our hotel there seemed to be some kind of prayer meeting going on as the doorbell we rang wasn’t heard. We went around to the other hotel to get a man with a key to let us in. When we did get in we heard what we thought was an argument initially but then we listened closer and it seemed to be several people all speaking at the same time, kind of chanting/reciting something with some louder than others. Anyway, it didn’t keep us awake. Back to Bogota tomorrow.