When the Lonely Planet guidebook highlights a region as don't miss, I mostly pay attention. In this case, the guide was spot on and then some. Or maybe it was because this was the first place I'd visited after cold, rainy and seemingly unsafe Bogota for 10 days. Whatever the reason, Villa de Leyva impressed me big time. Deemed a national monument, this village just 3-4 hours by bus outside of Bogota, will forever remain frozen in time. The typical Spanish colonial architecture of red tiled roofs and whitewashed buildings were truly stunning against the backdrop of gently rolling, verdant hills. And due to the timelessness aspect and (finally!) feeling safe, I fully relaxed for the first time on my trip.
Taking a cab to our hostel from the bus station was even exciting as the warmth was already evident and damn, was this a cute place even at night. The hostel we booked, Casa Viena, was Austrian-Colombian run and good thing we understood/spoke Spanish. Eager to explore, we took off into town again braving the cobblestone streets by night and what an amazing feeling to feel safe to walk at night! We leisurely strolled the streets until hungry and ate at a Spanish tapas place just off the Plaza Mayor, the largest plaza in the Americas and they weren't kidding with the name, very grand and simple with only a fountain in the middle. Dinner of Tinto verano, gazpacho and a dried fruit salad while overlooking the large plaza from our rooftop seats was amazing.
And to sleep on a good solid mattress and wake to the sounds of countryside and roosters vs. City life and a television blaring, wow, does the soul good. Yep, did I mention feeling safe and away from crowded, smoggy Bogota relaxes like no other? Dayna and I quickly left the hostel to see Villa de Leyva by day. After stopping for a few photo ops, we found a hip french bakery serving yummy tinto (black coffee) and quiches. And the colombians frequenting this French cafe were every bit as stylish as the Parisians.
Saturday is market day in Villa de Leyva and why I wanted to visit on the weekend despite higher hotel prices as every other Bogotana has the same idea, especially with the upcoming holy week, was well worth the visit even just for this market. Dayna astutely observed everyone was drinking beer, and by this I mean everyone on our way to the market whether in the stores and cafes as well as the market were imbibing and this was well before 10 am. So after glancing at the market items of fresh fruit I didn't know half the names of and tasted mora juice, similar to blackberry, ate the best mango ever (and I've had some choice ones in Thailand), we made our way to the top of the market to get a bird's eye view of the market and the locals. And this I love: just observing. Especially the old, traditional dress, watching the routine of families buying and selling their goods at the market, watching the little girls play in the water and brush each other's hair; beautiful to me yet to them, just a typical Saturday at the market. And of course, we couldn't pass up participating right along with them, a 70 cent beer served by a child at 10 in the morning, yep, a first for me. Plus, I'm a backpacker and water is more expensive than beer, saving the planet too! ;-)
Villa de Leyva is so visually pleasing with all of the colonial architecture, mansions which are easily visited as they have been turned into museums, restaurants and cute little shops, Luis Alberto Acuna's museum is even someone's home to this day. Quaint as can be. A lazy way to spend an afternoon. And then the rain came. In droves. And this isn't good for the girl who finds umbrellas to be rude, which basically translates into being unprepared for the downpour so I took shelter for a bit but it just wouldn't quit. So I decided to pseudo hitchhike. And arrived safely at my hostel because a very nice man took pity on me, he offered. In my defense, it was either that or possibly becoming sick from getting soaked, and I'm perfectly capable of getting sick on my own but that happened the following day :-(
Dinner was quite lovely at a Mexican fusion place where I just had to try an excess of meat, because of the guide book's recommendation, this was more than I had had in over a month along with a lulo (yummy local fruit similar to a kiwi) mojito followed by more beer with a group of Spanish students from my school in Bogota. Yep, entirely my fault, the excess food and drink totally took it's toll and I was out of commission until late into the next day, doh.
Attempting to find casa terra-cotta, a Gaudi-like structure was probably a bad idea at four in the afternoon after feeling so weak but I'd already wasted so much time being sick, I wanted to accomplish something. To no avail. Except Dayna and I took an adventure walk outside of town, stopping along the way to talk to the guards with guns working as check points along the road. Sigh. This takes a lot to get used to as an American, still makes me uneasy to see guards/super young looking "kids" with guns everywhere. Afterwards, a quiet night at the hostel with a simple dinner of pizza from the brick oven was the nightlife of choice after hanging in the Plaza Mayor with the locals and tourists alike for a bit.
The next day was a bit more active, hiking behind our hostel to get a decent valley view after a breakfast at a typical restaurant served by the cutest man in his mustache and typical hat. Seriously how is it possible to feel so nostalgic for a time I didn't even live in? That's powerful, Villa de Leyva is that kind of place. So I left with a love for vintage cars I didn't know I had as well as a renewed excitement to see the rest of this diverse country.