Colombia: Villa De Leyva

Main Plaza in Villa De Leyva

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Monday, 24 March 2008, Villa de Leyva
Easter is over for another year and tomorrow we head back to Bogotá with fingers crossed. The campground here is now empty but for one tent and us, and has been almost so since yesterday. Colombia is the first country since Mexico where many of the locals actually seem to enjoy the outdoors and especially camping - so finding suitable places to stay overnight is somehow a lot easier for us. This particular campground is quite attractive with nice new bathrooms, hot showers, and power for the camper. But the camping habits of the Colombians that we have witnessed in the past week seem to be a little unusual. In Mexico the people would head to a campground with their family and set up camp for the entire holiday period. Here people seemed to be constantly coming and going. They would arrive in the afternoon, set up, spend the night, go out for the day, come back late in the afternoon and pack up and leave. One couple arrived early in the day and set up their tent, spent all morning in the tent and only emerged in the afternoon to begin some serious drinking which continued until late. The next morning with beer in hand, and looking decidedly seedy, he took his tent down and off they went. Some people stayed 2 nights, and rarely 3, but there were no campers that came and stayed for the entire holiday period. Of course we don't know if they were travelling from one campground to another or if they only left home for a couple of days. The strangest behaviour though was of those who arrived at various times during the night - we had a particularly noisy arrival one night at around midnight and then, to beat that, some people were setting up at 2.00am the next night. I just can't imagine that it is any fun to arrive and set up tents at that time of night.
Many seem to have some very good equipment and there were some interesting tents to be seen here over the week. Some arrived with serious mountain bikes in or on their cars and spent the day out on these. A lot of the young people came in groups with backpacks on their backs and equipment in their hands. We assume they came into town by bus and then hiked out to the campground. It is a good 20-30 minutes walk from the centre. Generally people seem to have cars in Colombia and, although not always the newest, they do seem to be well cared for. Most of the campers were quiet and considerate of others around them. Except for the few late arrivals and, on odd occasions, some rather loud revellers who had over-imbibed, we had a quieter and more relaxing Easter holiday than we had actually expected. The campers in general weren't as curious about us as we have been experiencing. There were surprisingly few who came around to have a look at the camper and the rest left it at a greeting if we happened to be walking past close to them.
Most of our time here was spent around the camper. Partly we were relaxing after the stressful time in Bogotá, but there were a few jobs that were overdue and we had been waiting for the opportunity of having a water and power supply to do them. This seemed the ideal place. Juergen cleaned most of the blinds and windows and repaired a couple of them. This entailed quite some time since there are many nooks and crannies that were full of dust from the roads we have travelled and which are not at all easy to access for cleaning. I don't think the designer of these campers ever really thought about how one should clean them! He also spent one afternoon re-attaching the bench top to the kitchen cupboard, where all the wonderful roads we have been driving had shaken it loose. This was particularly tedious because it meant trying to crawl into a space that is not physically big enough for an adult body. Yesterday I completely emptied the fridge and freezer and cleaned them thoroughly, and that took the best part of the afternoon. I was visited whilst doing so by the campground owner and her children. They brought us some cake and also wanted to chat about our time here. Six of them crammed into this small space, and stuff from the fridge all over the place didn't deter them or dampen their interest. The interruption was welcome in more ways than one.
I had brought Juergen a copy of Sim City for his birthday and he spent quite some time on the computer getting the hang of this version. I finished a job I'd started in San Jose of copying all our music onto the external hard disk so that we have it two places. We also watched several DVDs. We can't always do things like this because we don't very often have power for the camper and hence the computer.
The countryside around Villa de Leyva is quite beautiful and we have taken the opportunity to stop and photograph both when driving in and leaving. Early last week we drove out of town to visit El Fosil which is a museum of fossils built around the site of the discovery of the biggest fossil found in the valley - a kronosauras which looks like a very large crocodile skeleton and is actually just a baby! The area abounds in fossils and, other than those seen in the museum, we also saw plenty around Villa de Leyva in the stonework of walls and steps. From El Fosil we drove on to the Convento Ecce-Homo. This is no longer a working monastery but is preserved for its historical interest. It has the most beautiful garden in the central courtyard, and interesting exhibits in the surrounding rooms. Many stones used in construction also contain large visible fossils.
We walked from the campground into Villa de Leyva on a number of occasions during the week to buy supplies and to use the internet. Mostly the supplies consisted of cigarettes and bread and, thanks to the Australian traveller we met on our first night here, we knew exactly where to go for the latter. La Ricotta is a restaurant with an Italian flavour which has pizzas on its menu. The staff also bakes bread in these pizza ovens and they have a supply of fresh bread each day. We had some very good rye bread (and even bought a spare for the freezer) and chiabatta that was as good as I've had anywhere. It is rustic and obviously hand made, but it is good bread and, since at times we have found it quite hard to come by, we appreciate it when we do. We also ate at the restaurant on one occasion and the food was good.
Villa de Leyva is a picturesque, colonial town with the traditional whitewashed walls and terracotta tiled roofs. Colour is added with the woodwork of attractive doors, windows and gates, and also with flowers of many varieties. Everywhere you look there are flower gardens full of brilliant colours. Bougainvillea drapes the walls which surround the larger properties. And if there is no space for a garden then the balconies are festooned with baskets of geraniums or other flowers. This town was declared a national monument in 1954 and even the new houses on the outskirts carefully maintain the appearance and structure of the original buildings. The town square is rather bare since it has no park or trees - it is simply a cobble stoned expanse with a fountain in its centre, which served as the water supply to the village for almost four centuries. But it does have the claim to fame of being one of the largest plazas (at 120m by 120m) in Latin America. It is easy to spend time wandering the streets of this beautiful town, but the novelty of walking on cobblestones wears off faster than the interest in the architecture.

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