My dad is visiting right now. I’ve discovered that in order to stay happy in Colombia, it’s important to leave Bogota once in a while, get away from the clouds, sad pine mountains, pollution, chaotic architecture and big city atmosphere.
So we went to Villa de Leyva, a museum-like town full of white houses and green balconies. For the Virginians out there, Villa de Leyva channels a Middleburg feel. Just replace the English colonial buildings and Arlington/Washingtonian contractor/government worker-types with Spanish colonial buildings and Bogota uppercrust city dwellers looking for a weekend getaway. Lots of Bogotanos have built homes in the mountains around the city and you see more foreigners than almost anywhere else in Colombia, but you also still see your share of campesino grandmothers with nylon stockings, slippers, knee length blue or dark green skirts, a Bavarian-looking hat and ruana (shawl).
My father and I enthusiastically signed up for this “mild,” “beginners” hike through the Villa de Leyva countryside, to the Paso del Angel, a narrow, six foot long strip of mountain with steep drop-offs on both sides. After miraculously finishing the four hour hike, I realized that any aspiration of climbing Mt. Kilamanjaro are years of serious endurance work-outs away. There was a point where it hurt to breath and I wondered if it was possible to have a lung collapse at 25. We were both very thankful that we signed up for the half day hike rather than the full day hike.
For any of you who’ve been to the Minho Province in northern Portugal, the Villa de Leyva surroundings look/feel a bit like that. Rural, windy, arid, mountainous, home to people with 400 years of history in the area who stay and do the best they can despite a difficult terrain and few opportunities (outside of tourism). I like comparisons to other places. Maybe because I’m never completely happy being in only one place, so I like to imagine I’m somewhere else too.
Anyway, unlike much of Colombia, which is vegetated, tropical and almost exploding with color, shades of brown, dull green, yellow and orange characterizes the Villa de Leyva countryside. Tomatoes are one of the only crops that grow successfully here, and long-periods of drought mean the creeks and waterfalls sometimes run dry. But within a 45-minute drive of town, you’re suddenly in a humid, green forest with much more fertile land. It’s always amazing to me how fast geography changes in Colombia.
Don Parra is a part-time construction worker, part-time guide and all-around nature expert with two kids and a nice little house a few miles outside Villa de Leyva. Politics: Anti-Chavez, Pro-Uribe, anti-guerilla, pro American basis.