History Lessons & Barbed Wire Stressin’: A Weekend in Villa de Leyva

The joys of writing blog posts in Word, then transferring them to WordPress: when your computer dies and you haven’t saved your work, your entire page of a bazillion (ok, maybe not that many) letters and words gets deleted. So that’s what we are dealing with today. But I’m in South America and have tropical fruits at my disposal, so life is good and technological frustration is but a bump in this dirt road I’m traveling on. ALSO. Hilarious side note – here in Colombia, speed bumps are called policía acostado: sleeping policemen.

So. Last week was spent in the beautiful town of Villa de Leyva reuniting with old schoolmates of my dad’s from his days in the Colombian Air Force Academy. I guess I was doing more meeting and awkward Spanglish speaking, while he was mostly reuniting. Regardless, it was a perfect 4 days spent in a beautiful colonial village far, far away from the TransMilenio. The weekend began with a 4:30 am wakeup call and sleepy taxi ride back to the Antolinez household to embark on the 3-hour drive to Villa de Leyva. Good thing this girl took it upon herself to enjoy a nice nap because I think I got a total of 3 hours of sleep. The night before,  my dad and I had gone to dinner with a couple of his childhood friends and 1. drinks after dinner are apparently always a must, even with an early morning alarm set and 2. the pizza we had for dinner had BUFFALO CHEESE ON IT and also had my stomach feeling like there were grouchy gremlins doing backflips in there for the entirety of the night. Self-diagnosis for the week: I think I might be lactose-intolerant.

I was awakened from the siesta to a luscious green backdrop with the mountains calling my name in the midst of it. Sprinkled throughout the greenery were red-roofed houses doing their best to fit in among the rolling hills Mother Nature had blessed Colombia with…share the wealth, sister – I know this place in the middle of the States that would love some of that scenery. Impressive enough was landscape, but El Gato’s* house was the cherry on top.

*note: I don’t actually know anyone’s name from last weekend because they all have nicknames for each other. Yes. All of the 50+-year-old men still go by solely their names that were bestowed upon them at the age of 17. So…sorry.

Anyway, floor to ceiling windows in between a rich chocolate Walnut trim. A spacious kitchen with the biggest chocolatera I’ve ever seen in my entire life as the centerpiece, nonchalantly sitting on the stove warming us up some delicious hot chocolate. Surely I’m on the right track to owning a house like this with all the money I’m making spending this year, right?  Don’t answer that. After a hearty breakfast of eggs, bread (like 5 different kinds), and fresh marmalade, we were back on the road, caravanning the rest of the trip to Villa de Leyva. A nice history lesson on the Battle of Boyacá was given by El Indio during the remainder of the drive and now I think I know more about the independence of Colombia than that of the United States. In case you were curious, Colombia obtained its independence from the Spanish Monarchy on August 7th, 1819. Simón Bolívar is kind of a big deal and there’s a statue of him in Bolivar, Missouri, if you’re feeling adventurous my Kansas City/STL/Columbia friends.

If you close your eyes and picture an old Spanish village, complete with cobble-stoned streets and a collection of bright white buildings, that is Villa de Leyva in a nutshell. I kept imagining it to be a mirror image of Antigua, Guatemala, but it was actually the complete opposite as far as the atmosphere goes. While both towns were founded in the 1500’s and have preserved their colonial architecture, Antigua is a pueblo full of vibrant colors and a white wall is hard to come by, whereas Villa de Leyva maintains a more subdued, quiet feel, with red tile roofs acting as the only accents to the white façades.

Our time in the beautiful town started with food (when does anything not start, or end for that matter, with food in Latin America is my question) and I ate my first insect. Specifically, I ate an hormiga culona – a fat-bottomed ant. I know, I know, your mouths are watering at this point. These suckers are a Colombian snack (HA) that are only harvested in the Santander region of the country. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it wasn’t horrible. By no means would I grab a handful over, well, anything, but I’d eat one again if I had to. Lunch was followed by exploring the town for a couple hours and then heading back to our weekend hotel. Wandering the streets we came across Plaza Mayor, a plethora of artisan shops, and more stray dogs than I’ve ever seen in a single place. Plaza Mayor is the largest plaza in Colombia, covering an immense 14,000 m². While it was pretty sparse during our time there, it is used for many a celebrations and festivals held in Villa de Leyva.

From my first 4-wheeler ride to an (almost) emergency with a horse, I’d say the rest of the weekend was full of laughter and adventure. All of our tours were organized through the reunion, so I don’t have specifics on the companies, but my suggestion is you find a tour company and you do both of those tours. The 4-wheeler ride gave us incredible views and mostly it was just fun to drive around without a speed limit. The horseback ride was much more somber, but we got to see a different part of town and made some pup-friends along the way. The mention of an (almost) emergency is a bit of an exaggeration, but said horse and I were not exactly buds. Apparently, there were two teams of horses and I was unaware my steed was part of the one ahead of us. Halfway through the ride he made his frustration known and darted toward his friends, which resulted in him bucking me into a tree and entangling my feet in the stirrups. This was not even an hour after I sliced my hand on barbed wire, so to say I was not pleased is an understatement.

While the adventure was experienced mostly in town, all the laughter was had in our hotel/resort. I think this is where I get the intensity of my love from. It’s in my blood – it must be. These men consider each other family, and their families are family, and I was welcomed in with open arms. Whether it was singing karaoke at the top of their lungs until midnight or catching up on the ins and outs of the last year, there was sheer joy radiating from every single person in the room. It was perfect. Maybe even more perfect than the miloja we ate at Pasteleria Francesa. If you make it to Villa de Leyva, this pastry shop is an absolute must. It is on the corner of Calle 10 and Carrera 6, a bit of a trudge from the center of town, but you. must. go. Cappuccinos to die for and sweets to boot.

The weekend getaway quickly came to a close and before I knew it I was back asleep on my dad’s lap headed back to Bogotá. It was a beautiful 4 days and I can’t wait to make my way back to Villa de Leyva someday – who knows, maybe for a reunion of my own if I can drag my friends out of the States!

I’m currently in Bucaramanga and never ended up getting a response from the Minca hostel, so decided to just book a stay at Casa Elemento for next week. Famous for it’s bathroom views, it sits in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas with a constant flow of extranjeros winding in and out of the hostel.

Here’s to the next bout of adventure and more ‘firsts’ to accompany it!

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