I'm back!! Thanks to those of you who made comments on missing me while I was gone...even if it was just missing my blogs updates. After not checking email, Facebook, and blogs for five days I feel quite out of touch.
Last week we had a week long break from school, so after 3 curriculum in-service days for teachers (Monday to Wednesday) we took a much needed vacation! I traveled with four friends, Catie, Scott, Kelsi, and Maggie to Bogota, the capital of Colombia, and Villa de Leyva, a small colonial town about 3 hours from Bogota.
According to Lonely Planet Colombia:
Villa de Leyva is where time stands still. Declared a national monument in 1954, the town has been preserved in its entirety and virtually no modern architecture exists. The result is a colonial town par excellence - a place where the streets are still cobbled and the walls still whitewashed. It's easy to see the place in just a day, but many travelers find themselves caught in its magical grasp and hang on for several more.
Ready to go in the Cali airport on Wednesday night!
Here are some highlights from the trip, organized in friendly lists for your reading pleasure. :) Enjoy!
Top 5 Fabulous Touristy Things Visited
Top 5 Fabulous Touristy Things Visited
- Santuario de Iguaque. Located in a Colombian national park just outside Villa de Leyva, this lake is sort of like the Garden of Eden for the Muisca people. According to the legend, the goddess Bachue emerged from the lake with a baby boy in her arms. When he grew up they got married and populated the earth. In old age, they transformed into serpents and dove back into the sacred lake. We started this day at 6 am, leaving our hotel to catch a bus to the national park. The bus dropped us off and we walked about a mile and a half uphill to the entrance of the park. From there we hiked about 3 hours to the top of the mountain. While it was definitely a challenging experience hiking at a high altitude, I LOVED being able to look out over the valley at all the farms and nature surrounding us. Also, a benefit of doing it early in the day meant we were pretty much on our own for the hike up, which made the nature seem that much better! (Don't worry it was a national park so it was totally safe!)
Sign at the start of the hike!
Hiking up the road to the trail head.
Successfully completing a very steep incline during the last hour of the hike!
Valley below! WOW!!!
At the lake! Finally! :)
- Cerro de Montserrate or Montserrrate Summit in Bogota. We rode a cable car up to the top (at 10,400 feet!!) for $3.50 one way and enjoyed some amazing views of central Bogota. The day was totally clear and we could see for miles around Bogota. Climbing to the top and watching the views get bigger and bigger reminded me so much of San Sebastian, Spain when a group of us rode the funicular car to the top!
- Plaza de Bolivar, the main plaza in central Bogota, which is named for Simón Bolívar. In the middle of the square is a bronze statue of Simón Bolívar (cast in 1846), the work of an Italian artist, Pietro Tenerani. This was the first public monument built in the city.
Maggie, me, Kelsi and Catie in the Plaza! Photo credits to Scott :)
LOVE THIS! Okay so while walking around in La Candelaria neighborhood there is this unique art project started by Jorge Olave. He uses recycled materials to make these art works of comuneros, common people you find on the street. This particular guy watches over the Plaza Bolivar from the Casa de Comuneros. "Best seat in town!" according to Lonely Planet.
- Colombian Stonehenge! (formally called Estación Astronómica Muisca or El Infiernito) Used by the Muisca people to determine the seasons; inside the park there are 30-odd cylindrical stone monoliths sunk vertically into the ground about 1m from each other in two parallel lines 9m apart. By measuring the length of shadows cast by the stones, the Muiscas were able to identify the planting seasons. The observatory was also a ritual site, a fact that got in the way of Spanish plans to lure the Indians into church. To prevent the Indians from going to the site, the Spanish renamed it El Infiernito (The Little Hell) and promoted its association with the devil.
- Pozos Azules. Big blue pools of water in the middle of the country side in Villa de Leyva. At the end of a bike ride we went to them and after encountering a very intense guard lady and forking over $2000 pesos ($1 USD) we were in! We went swimming/dipped our feet in and cooled off from the bike ride. The surrounding hillside provided a beautiful back drop for an impromptu lunch picnic.
View from about the top of the hill looking down to the pools.
Pozos Azules!Top 5 Favorite Meals
- Spaghetti Ricotta with bruschetta, wine from Villa de Leyva, and bread with homemade pesto at a small Italian restaurant in Villa de Leyva, right off the main Plaza. I think it tasted 500 times as good because it was the night after we hiked to the Lake Iguaque.
- Dessert at a bakery in Villa de Leyva after the Italian food! Tres leches + chocolate orange + ginger spice + cheesecake = heaven.
- Pasta (again, weird, I know!) at Savia, a natural organic restaurant in the Plaza Mayor of Villa de Leyva. The restaurant is small and quaint, located with many other shops/little restaurants in Casa Quintero, a restored mansion turned retail space.
Maggie's veggies and potatoes
- Club Sandwich, french fries & honey flavored beer at Bogota Beer Company. This meal provided an amazing end to our trip and a chance to experience some flavor outside of the 3 national Colombian brands that taste slightly like tap water. ADDED BONUS: We watched the final 5 innings of the Twins game; exciting even if they did lose to the Evil Empire of baseball aka NY Yankees.
Can you tell the Twins game was on TV but we hadn't lost yet?? I was loving it :)
- Breakfast at the French bakery in Villa de Leyva. Delicious tea, cappuccino, fresh baked bread and pan de chocolate (bread with warm chocolate in the middle!)
Outside the French bakery.Top 5 People We Met
- Alex. He is the dinner chef at the Cranky Croc Hostel in the Candelaria neghborhood of Bogota, where we stayed on the book end days of our trip. He made us dinner the night we got in & did a great job with my instructions of "no sauce anywhere on my plate, thank you."
- Henry. He owns the bike shop named Bici-Full were we rented bikes to tour around the hillside of Villa de Leyva. He was so great! Very friendly and even biked with us at the beginning to show us the way to go. At the end we took pictures with him in his bike shop. :)
Henry showing us the Pozos Azules.
Scott & Kelsi ready to ride.
- Mauricio. He works/is associated with the Cranky Croc in Bogota, but runs his own transportation service. He drove us to Bogota Beer Company and the airport for much less than a taxi. As an added bonus he has a CD of American music that he put in every time we were in the car. It starts with a song that I'm pretty sure came out when I was in middle school. :)
- Fernando. Owner of La Española Hotel in Villa de Leyva. He was a wonderful doorman and host during our three nights in Villa, and he also helped point us in the right direction for renting bikes and visiting the Lake Iguaque.
- Braiden aka random Canadian guy we met in our hostel...Kelsi and I hung out with him and some other people from our hostel on the last night in Bogota. He basically spoke no Spanish and was insanely grateful for any tips we had on living in Colombia. He and his friend just graduated university in Canada and they are traveling around South America for four months! (Sweet deal, I know!) Anyway, it was fun to hang out with some English speaking travelers and get their perspectives on Colombia.
- The discovery that hitch hiking is a way of life in the Colombian bus system. Buses within a city or buses from one city to another will ALWAYS pick up passengers along the way. Basically anyone who jumps on the bus after it leaves the station is more money in the driver's pocket, so I guess I understand why they always stop...but it does make travel take longer! I would say on any given bus trip, at least one third of the passengers pay the driver directly. They usually just stand on major roads and wait for us to drive by...
- On the bus ride up to Santuario this little kid gets on the bus with his dad. After 5 minutes of him being on the bus I notice him playing with a HUGE BEETLE on his jacket...basically treating the thing like his pet. I felt terrified and Maggie told him I was scared. Then he held up his arm in front of my face so I could get a closer look. :( It was awful, and he found it hilarious. I couldn't wait for him to get off the bus.
- On the bus ride from Bogota to Villa de Leyva a girl of about 7 years old suffered from some major motion sickness that resulted in some major vomit on her part. Apparently this happens whenever she travels so she held her own hair back & cleaned herself up afterwards while proudly holding her plastic bag of unmentionable grossness as her mother looked on. Hilarious because she totally had the routine down.
- The plane ride from Cali to Bogota and back actually took like 30 minutes. AMAZING. I have never seen flight attendants move those drink carts down the aisle with such speed and accuracy.
- Bus ride from Villa de Leyva back to Bogota it was raining the entire time. (Don't worry of course we still stopped to pick up more people and open the door each time despite the rain.) This rain resulted in an hour and a half of sitting in Bogota city traffic while Kelsi and I had an extreme need to use the restroom. The bus itself went through a number of pond sized puddles in the roads of Bogota and I remained pretty confident we were going to hydroplane in every one. Awesome.
Sorry and I hope to catch up with everyone SOON!! Sorry I have been MIA, but it doesn't mean I'm not thinking of you often!!