Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Hobbling along the cobbling in Villa de Leyva

Plaza Mayor, Villa de Leyva
Our last stop before big city Bogota, and or flight home- is the popular, frozen in time village, Villa de Leyva. Set in more gorgeous countryside, hilly one direction and desert-esque another, Villa offers days worth of hiking, strolling, markets, sights and general ways to entertain ourselves. Villa is home to one of the largest main squares, Plaza Mayor, in the Americas. Its 120m by 120m! In the center is a disproportionately tiny water fountain which is said to have provided water to the town's people for almost four centuries. There's a white washed church at the top of the square and more white washed buildings now cafes, banks, stores and restaurants making up the other three sides. This is the town's main gathering area. People lounge on the big stone steps and stone benches, mostly sipping beer. Saturday night there were so many people there, partaking in the general merriment that we were sure they must be waiting for something. A firework display, perhaps. We sat and waited too, not wanting to miss the show, and enjoying the people watching. But nothing else happened. Just the place to be.

Like the other charming Colombian colonial villages, Villa is whitewashed and red roofed. Forest green is the colour of choice and all the of the town's doors, shutters, balconies and trim are painted to match. Bright pinks, oranges, reds and yellows are provided by the abundance of flowers overflowing from balconies, in pots secured to the whitewashed walls, outside doors-everywhere. The stones that make up the cobblestone road are massive here, round and smooth from centuries of use. They look spectacular but aren't conducive to walking- straightly or safely, or sometimes at all. Sometimes its more like hopping from stone to stone like you are trying to cross a stream. We met and American man while we were at the little arepa shop other night and he explained the cobblestones perfectly- 'They're pretty but not practical,' Steve tells us- 'Just like my Colombian wife's family!' Hilarious, especially because after being in Colombia for a month we can easily relate to the rather impractical way many things get done around here. Getting from 'a' to 'b', so to speak, is never as straightforward as it seems it should be- but that's a story for another day.

Back in the day of the dinosaur, this whole valley was under water. It was a massive bay. As a result the area is incredibly fossil rich. Fossils are embedded into shop entrance ways, fountains and statues. The star attraction of fossils in the area, 'El Fossil,' was discovered in 1977 by a local peasant. The seven meter long remains of a marine reptile from the Cretaceous period, 2.36m of which is just his head, is said to be a Kronosaurus. Except for the missing tail and back right fin, which experts say were likely eaten by another dinosaur when this fellow accidentally beached himself all those years ago, the fossil is remarkably in-tact. What I found the most amazing is that it is displayed exactly where it was found. The excavation, preparation and restoration of the remains all took place right where the fossil was discovered. The locals built a little house/museum for it and that's where you see it today! J thought everything about it was fascinating, naturally, being the kid who made (all on his own, not at the request of a teacher or anything) and entire book about dinosaurs at age seven or so, drawing each it's own page and then copying information about the dinosaur- for a complete comprehensive guide. The four kilometer hike out to the fossil is a sight in itself, past desert terrain, mini blue pools, the valley and surrounding green mountains.

Another neat sight out on the way to the fossil is a average sized house- made entirely of clay! It's orange and roundish with decorative windows and little clay people out frolicking in the garden. Quite the sight- especially when the late afternoon sun makes the warm terracotta glow!

Saturday morning Villa's local market was in full swing. Very local. People tried to sell us everything. A bag of green beans twice the size of my head, freshly fried sausages, ginormous avocados, plates of mangos, shoes, sweaters, sombreros... In the early morning light the brightly coloured fruit was so photogenic I couldn't help myself. The other most photogenic thing- the old ladies drinking bottles of Poker brand beer in-between selling their over-sized bundles of green onions- before nine in the morning!

Sunday morning, bright and early we hopped a bus to the little village of Raquira, known for its clay pots and ceramics. It was the most elaborately decorated town we've seen thus far. Outer building facades were painted any variety of bright colour and all along the bottom of each wall was a three foot tall painting, mostly detailing in a variety of creative ways, the town's most famous offering- clay pots. It was really quite a fantastic place to stroll. Especially because every colourful building was a shop selling loads of fantastically fun and wholly unneeded trinkets, toys, scarves, purses- and of course, ceramics. Goodies spilled out of the shop doors and adorned the outside walls, bright hammocks framed doorways and ice cream freezers sat on every single porch. Fantastic!

We had read about a hike that was said to lead an hour over one of the surrounding hills and down into the next little village and a monastery. Turned out it was a little more difficult than we thought. We headed up the steep hill passed the ramshackle local houses and growling dogs to a tiny shine. There were about five choices of paths from there. We stood at the head of the trails and weighed our options. Through the trees we saw some movement. A local man was making his way up a path- staring at us like we were a strange apparition. We waved and said hello and he seemed less concerned with our existence and pointed us down the right path. Perfect. Down, down, down we went. This was upsetting because according to our information there was actually no way back up other than on our own two feet. I started regretting our adventurous choice to set out here in the first place. Two hours later, we were at the monastery where an old man was trying to teach us Spanish by repeating the same thing over and over again, getting increasingly louder. Turns out, just as this tactic doesn't work in English- it doesn't work in Spanish. No matter how loud you speak- we still don't understand. He finally gave up and we started the dreaded hike back to Raquira. Only a miracle happened. We were just walking up the driveway from the monastery when a mini van, complete with the bus company logo and three boys crammed in the front seat who looked to be about 14 years old, stopped in front us. 'Raquira?' The driver asked. I was overjoyed and it seemed to good to be true. There was no one else in the van. Were they actually going to drive us to Raquira? Or was there some other town in the opposite direction that sounded like 'Raquira' that we would be dropped at 5 hours later? And there was the complicating factor of the bus 'drivers' looking as though perhaps they had stolen the van to take for a Sunday afternoon joyride... Oh what the heck. Pretty much anything would be better than climbing back up that hill in the midday sun. We hopped in. The drivers changed places to give another kid a chance to practice his newly acquired driving skills on the steep, windy, hilly road. Why not. We headed out, picked up a few more people waiting at the side of the road further down and- magically- we were back in Raquira 15min later! I probably told J about 15 times in that 15 minutes how much I loved these 14 year old boys and their genius idea of borrowing their dad's van (or stealing it- whatever) and driving it back and forth to Raquira on a Sunday to make a few extra bucks. Genius, I say!

Look at the size of these green onions!
Another amazing thing that happened during our time in Villa was one sunny afternoon in the supermarket. We had stopped in to get some popsicles. We were at the cashier when we realized that we had forgotten our money back at the hotel. We were on our way to put our stuff back when the man ahead of us in line insisted on buying them for us. We declined, of course, but he was so persistent that we eventually gave in. What a generous gesture and quite representative of the people we've met the whole time we've been in Colombia.

Where we stayed in Villa de Leyva: Casa Viena, 35,000COP for a private room with shared bathroom. We changed rooms when it became available to a 45,000COP room with private bathroom and balcony. Really nice and one of the best values in Colombia!


Anonymous said...

Wow...what amazing adventures you've been having and such wonderful photos and memories to look back on.I particularly love the orange clay house with it's little people!
Enjoy what's left of your trip.
lots of love from sunny Belfast.

Anonymous said...

J and K,
You entertained us well with your wonderful blogs which added greatly to our education ! It is great to know you are safey home.

Adam Amanda said...

Awesome blog and a great post!
thought we would swing in and say hi. just looking to add you to our google friends list but couldn't find out how to do it through ya profile.

heavy hedonist said...

Marvelous! I especially enjoyed the story of El Fossil.

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surin singh said...

Hi there, Lovely pictures and matching material. Saw the heading "The Adventures of J & K". I am surin singh from India and in India, J & K means Jammu and Kashmir one of the northern states. so first I thought, you are talking about India's J & K. Come to India and you will find millions of things to capture. Our country is very vibrant. All the four corners of my country are different from other. Must visit India.