After a relaxed start to the day – and yay! the threat of headache seemed to have abated – we eventually found our way downstairs for the hotel breakfast buffet. OK, not super adventurous, but it was nice to be able to just see things and take them or not without having to know what they were called and convey that information to someone else. Most of it was pretty recognizable, although there were some I think Colombian items, and then things like ham and cheese slices and a fried rice that don’t usually show up at American breffast. And bonus! a pot of warm milk with the coffee.
I had spaced out and had only had $50 in my wallet, so that was all I’d been able to exchange at the airport, which I probably could have got on pretty well with for quite a while, but, for the second part of the trip we were joining in on the excursion to the Amazon, which we needed to be have a chunk of cash on hand for, and there were daily limits on ATM withdrawals, so I figured I’d better start with that. So I had a brief excursion over to a bank and HEYWOW – miracles of modern technology – withdrawal in local currency from my bank account back home. Plus super HEYWOW! The illusion of being muy rico – the balance report had eight figures!!!
We packed up and checked out and waited in the lobby. It was fun to see friends from the Bay Area in a totally different place. There were others I didn’t know, but seemed pretty likely to be with the wedding party. I actually chatted with a couple of folks, although of course that was eased by the obvious topics of “How do you know Angela and Jon?” (riding bikes mildly inappropriate distances) and “Where are you from?” (California Bay Area) and “Have you been to Colombia/South America before?” (nope). I had the brief thought that we should have name tags, but quickly shook it.
There were actually two busses, everyone loaded up luggage and found seats. Angela came on the bus we were on and took roll to make sure all were accounted for. It was like being at summer camp or going on a field trip! A third bus was collecting people directly from the airport later. It was a 3-day weekend and Angela was hoping our leaving earlier might miss some of that traffic. “It’s actually the third (3-day weekend) in a row. There’s always some saint.” It was interesting to see more of the city. My first impressions included it being pretty clean for a large city – in fact I’d seen two workers sweeping the sidewalk and street gutter outside the hotel that morning. But we did pass through some areas that were maybe not so touristy that perhaps did not get the same attention, and there were some indications of homelessness.
The countryside we travelled out into was very green. I did see quite a number of recreational cyclists along the way, with a higher percentage then in the US riding flat bar bikes. There were also people walking along the highway, and in common crossing places paths were worn in the medians perpendicular to the road. In a few spots I saw train tracks, but couldn’t tell if they were actually in use – it didn’t really look like it.
We passed an amusement park with a fun looking assortment of jumpy houses and slides, and a rope course. A bit further on was a pretty boss looking motocross course. Part of the way was a toll road, and at the toll booths there were toll takers not just in the booths, but also in the road way before hand, so if your line was stopped you could pay before you got to the booth. I guess there was some way they designated you as paid so then you could roll through at the booth. I’m wondering now if the extra toll takers are always there or they just have them at times when they are expecting more traffic.
And speaking of field trips! We made a stop at the Puente de Boyacá, the site of the battle where Colombia won its independence from Spain in August of 1819. There are several monuments, and hiking up the short hill to the Monumento a Bolivar reminded me that we were still at elevation. <Insert shortness of breath here.>
Back on the bus, we continued our journey. I’d been noticing the retornos – U-turn lanes, but hadn’t quite put the pieces together until we took one a bit down the road, and came back to take an exit on the opposite side from the Puente de Boyacá. It made me realize I hadn’t seen any under or overpasses. And no straight across intersections. So if your exit was on the other side you had to go past and come back to it. Huh. Not sure how that would fly in the US.
Off the main highway the agriculture was more noticeable. I saw fields of potatoes, and later onions. At another point there were many large greenhouses, but I’m not sure what was growing in those. I noticed cows, sheep, horses, a couple of pigs, and what seemed like very large chickens. The houses had plastic tank water cisterns on the roofs or otherwise elevated, I wondered how they were filled. Another thing we noticed was buildings where the rebar would stick up above whatever was the top finished story – I guess leaving open the option of adding on.
There was another stop for snacks. I know, right?! Super deluxe. Arepas for the win!!! A Colombian staple, arepas are corn meal patties? pockets? Hmn… Neither of those sound quite right, or as tasty as arepas are. They aren’t tortillas – thicker than that, and they aren’t bread – well, at least not a leavened bread. But they can be filled with things, kinda like a sandwich. These first ones we had had cheese. Yums!
As we descended towards our destination of Villa de Leyva there was more apparent geology – some very cool rock formations. There were also some dinosaur crossing signs! The region was under water in the Cretaceous and Mesozoic eras, and is rife with fossils.
The town itself is ridiculously picturesque – a colonial village with stone streets (the guidebooks say cobblestone, but in my mind that implies a certain regularity which yeah not so much) and whitewashed buildings. And along with that no busses. So our herd o’ gringos was disgorged at the outskirts. Which, in the end turned out to be very close to where we were staying, but we had a bit of a detour helping Angela and Jon with the bonus luggage they had for a family member, I think it was. It was neat to see some more of the town, and we also ran into some of the folks who had come directly from the airport.
We looped back to our hotel – saw a rainbow on the way! – and got checked in at La Mesopotamia. Therese was also staying there, she said she’d liked how it looked. I hadn’t looked at any of the recommendations so didn’t know what to expect. Turns out it was a flour mill, built in 1568! We were staying in history!
After relaxing a bit we went out to the tejo shenanigans. The national sport. It’s like cornhole with explosions. What could possibly go wrong?! Well, as they say, all fun and games until someone gets a bottle cap in the eye. Eric’s skills at opening beer without an opener – in this case using the edge of the table – had gone a bit awry. Fortunately it was the smooth side, but it was the cue to call it a night, at least with the tejo.
Back at the hotel we sat on porch, listened to the water flow in the old mill race, and watching the lightning in the storm in the distance. After a while we went back out for a little walk around town. There was some sort of movie being shown in the park near our hotel, and various musicians busking here and there on the streets. I’d been excited to see a sign for Helados when we’d first gotten off the bus, but it turned out there were lots of ice cream places. Does it get any better?!
June 9, 2018
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