The bus trip from Villa de Leyva to Bogota offered many ”Kodak moments”. Here’s one of them.
Two men in a Monday afternoon conversation in down-town Chiquinquirá, a town of some 50.000 inhabitants north of Bogotá.
The low motor capacity of the bus, oftentimes resulting in slow speed, was an immense help when taking photos on-the-go. Chiquinquirá, by the way, is the religious capital of Colombia. It’s here that the image of the Virgin of Chiquinquirá, Colombia’s patron saint, is being kept.
Colombia is a country with lots of food production.
Going back to Bogota from last weekend’s trip to Villa de Leyva, I shot some pics from the bus window. The mountaneous landscape provided gorgeous views with lots of black-and-white Holstein cows – giving the Colombians plenty of milk.
Colombians eat a lot of meat, and in the Colombian plains a lot of cattle is being held for that purpose. The meat is of very high quality, but still it can’t compete with the beef from Argentina. Maybe the subtropical climate is the problem?
The combination of mountaneous roads, lack of money for building tunnels and old buses makes sure that bus trips always end up taking longer than you had thought… And just like when going back from Melgar a few weeks ago, the bus broke down in the middle of the road also this time. But after a ”quick fix” we were back on the track within 15 minutes.
It’s easy to forget about the problems that Colombia has to deal with. But sometimes you run into a serious reminder.
Staying in the better parts of Bogotá, and doing excursions to some touristy places, you do not have to worry too much about guerilleros and criminals. But it’s important to be aware of the political situation.
Villa de Leyva probably is one of the calmest places in Colombia. Therefore I was more than surprised when a European citizen that I met there, told me about his five bodyguards!
And yes indeed – outside the building they were strategically placed, five well-built men with earphones and whatever you need to protect a high ranking person working for a big company.
I hope that they made me high-ranking European fellow feel safer. Personally, I took it as a reminder of being precautious. The conclusion, as far as I can understand, is that important people need bodyguards, but that there isn’t any reason for the ordinary tourist to worry as long as one keeps out of troubled areas. Villa de Leyva isn’t one of those.
At last, I offer you this final picture from my Villa de Leyva excursion: one of the many old trucks you see in Colombia. However, this is the only sample of International Harvester that I’ve seen this far. Did they ever sell that truck brand in Europe?
Going back to Villa de Leyva from Ráquira, we made a stop to eat some fritanga, aiming especially for the famous longanisa.
Sutamarchán, a small village, and the surrounding area is known for its delicious longanisa – a sausage made of pork tenderloin. We ordered a fritanga for six people – the taxi driver included.
Fritanga is a popular mix of food, usually sold in road side restaurants and markets as a good-value-for-money dish. It may include chorizo, longanisa, bacon, potatoes, fried banana, corn on the cob, guacamole and more. It’s being served on a tray or big plate, and in this case with toothpicks to eat with.
My great food interest couldn’t keep me from entering this restaurant kitchen in Ráquira.
The restaurant is located next to the village square. The tables are found at the courtyard, and in connection with the courtyard you find the kitchen. The local nenas were happy to pose, one of them in front of the wood stove.
The food being cooked is all local style: pork, corn on the cob, soups etc.
The mix of old fashinoned means of transportation and the modern variety of cars and aircrafts is striking in Colombia.
This one photo is from Ráquira, a very rural place. I’d guess that the young lady bought some potatoes at the Sunday market and is now on her way home with the cargo, loaded upon the donkey.
But even in Bogota’s better-off northern parts, you see the occasional horse carriage. In fact, I hear the horses walking by the house where I stay almost every day. In Bogota, horse-based transportation is being used for trash, moving and more.
But just as horses are getting out of fashion in Poland, the same thing is happening here – at least in Bogota and the other big cities.
Last Sunday my friends and I rented a cab for half a day and went to Ráquira, the Colombian capital of pottery.
We left the hotel in Villa de Leyva in the morning hours, then driving thru a dry landscape. First stop was ”El Fósil”, a tiny museum built up around the fossil of a kronosaurus, originally 12 meters of length.
After a drive of somewhat less than one hour and 25 kilometers, we arrived in Ráquira, a village of a little more than 1.000 inhabitants. A rural but very lively place, and the ultimate mix of local peasantry and tourism.
The main village street is crowded with shops, most of them selling fine pottery – anything from typical souvenirs to sets of plates and cups. The village square, caught on this photo, is complete with restaurants, the church and chatting locals. Just a block behind the square, the scenery was the Sunday market.
Tourists probably bring quite a bit of money in, but in many ways the economy gave the impression of being very local.
According to my Lonely Planet travel guide on Colombia (edition 1995/97) Colombian wine is ”poor, not popular and best avoided”.
I decided to find out for myself, and found this little Vineyard at the outskirts of Villa de Leyva. The business is run by a German farmer, Don Joachim, who decided to settle down here a number of years ago. He started out with 15 different kinds of grapes, and finally decided to continue with two of them: one red, one white. The vineyard produces five different wines, ranging from sweet to dry.
So what’s my conclusion? White wines seem to be difficult in this kind of climate – the taste was not too impressive. The red wines are better, especially the sweet ones. I bought a few bottles of the red wines, so further tests will be undertaken during the time to come.
In general, Colombians are not very much into wine drinking, and the supermarkets do not offer much of a selection. If you want a good wine, imports from Chile is the most common choice. However, according to Lonely Planet there is one exception in Colombian wine production: Viñedo de Puntalarga, not very far from Villa de Leyva and Bogotá. Wines from the world highest situated wineyard – 2.500 meters – are said to be some of the best ones in Latin America. Conditions are similar to Rhine and Alsace, as are the wines. A difference is that the climate permits two harvests a year.
Maybe Colombia has a future as wine producer. But before that happens, more Colombians have to learn about the difference between liqueur and wine…
Last weekend I spent in Villa de Leyva, a town of some 5000 inhabitants a few hours north of Bogotá.
Villa de Leyva is a beautiful, extremely well-preserved colonial town, founded in 1572. Nowadays the town is a trendy weekend spot for Bogotanos, but still a lot of genuinety remains. Situated on 2.140 meters above sea level, the climate is very pleasant. Days do not get really hot, and nights do not get very chilly.
The central square of Villa de Leyva measures some impressive 120 X 120 meters. It’s paved with cobblestones and lined with whitewashed colonial houses, and of course the parish church.
The rural colonial architecture, as shown on this photo from Villa de Leyva, largely consists of a simple outer surface. But once you enter a building, you walk into a lovely, square courtyard. Many of those buildings with courtyards have now been turned into either picturesque hotels, like the one I stayed at, restaurants or ”shopping malls”.
Handicraft shopping, especially clothing, is a must in Villa de Leyva. And what a relief not to run in to one single street vendor!
The Old town of Cartagena is listed by UNESCO as world heritage. The well-preserved old town with plenty of Spanish colonial architecture is the main reason.
At this photo you find one of the more colorful examples of colonial architecture. The building houses a bar/disco called ”Mr. Babilla”.
Not only buildings are colorful. Blacks are numerous at the Caribbean coast, since this part of the country formerly was a center for slave trade. This is one of many factors that make Cartagena very different from Bogota where almost everyone is either mestizo (mixed white/Amerindian) or white.
According to statistics, mestizos constitute 58 per cent of the population, whites 20 per cent, mulattoes 4 per cent, mixed black/Amerindians 3 per cent, and finally Amerindians, 1 per cent.
Unlike Peru and Bolivia which have high percentages of indians, or Argentina and Uruguay where whites predominate, Colombia is much more of a racial blend. And yes, the variety compared to what I’m used to in Europe is really striking!
Having spent a few days in Cartagena, I can guarantee that this city is well worth visiting. But the street vendors of Cartagena really know how to drive you mad. It’s understandable that extremely poor people are trying to sell you anything from lobsters to jewelry. However, compared to how tourism industry is run in some other parts of Colombia (and the world), it’s more than obvious that a lot can be done to improve the way things are done in Cartagena.
One of these days there are elections held in this Caribbean city – the locals will choose a mayor to run the place for the next few years. Corruption among politicians, lack of education among citizens and absence of big money are challenges that have to be dealt with.
Cartagena does possess the power of attraction. But will the city be able to fully exploit it?