The small colonial town Villa de Leyva was the last place I visited before I left Colombia.
The first thing I remember is having trouble walking over the uneven streets. I’ve been places with cobbled streets before, but none that were so difficult to navigate, and I wondered what it must be like to live there and to walk everywhere on those slick stones, or to run over them. In fact I did have to run at one point that weekend, when I realized I had left my passport in our hostel and we had only half an hour before the bus to Bogota, but that was later – when we came into town it was hard enough to walk without tripping and also pay attention to the lovely old colonial buildings. I read that the streets now are actually reconstructions, and not the original roads, and that really made me wonder why they didn’t make them a bit steadier, but perhaps they came out more historically accurate this way. In any case it’s like walking on marbles and took some adjusting to.
I came to Villa de Leyva for a weekend, but it was still very quiet. You can walk along the cobbled streets and look at the beautiful white buildings with green doors and shutters, with flowers from the courtyard gardens climbing over the walls. You can find little parks (I’m crazy about parks) and eat at little charming cafes and restaurants. There was a cafe I particularly liked that was part of a sort of complex of shops and restaurants, all set back from the street and all connected by series of small airy courtyards and passageways of cool shade opening onto more charming little courtyards and cafes. In some ways it reminded me of Tuscany, with the warm color of the paint and the way the colonnades glowed with reflected light, but Villa de Leyva has its own particular style that couldn’t truly be mistaken for anywhere in Italy.
One morning I climbed a steep hill above the city. Near the start I met three stray dogs hanging around the park. Normally dogs unsettle me a bit, but these were friendly and didn’t seem to want anything other than to keep me company on my way up the hillside, racing each other ahead and stopping occasionally to wag their tails enthusiastically while they waited for me to catch up.
Villa de Leyva is apparently famous for fossils, including a huge kronosaur that has its own museum. People go to the hills around the town to hunt for fossils but I didn’t really know about that when we went, so I had to be content with seeing them embedded as decoration in walls and stones on the streets.
On Saturday the peasants and farmers in the surrounding countryside bring harvests in to a market in town. We walked there for breakfast, eating sweet arepas with chocolate. We strolled past huge piles of exotic fruits that after a month in Colombia were starting to become familiar to me – pitayas, lulos, papayas, and huge quantities of oranges, limes, and bananas. We bought juice made from a few of these blended together. I also bought a molinillo, which is the special blending tool Colombians use to whisk hot chocolate into a froth. Everywhere in Colombia people I met drank hot chocolate, usually instead of coffee in the morning, and often with little bits of mozzarella cheese dropped in to melt and give the chocolate a savory edge. The best coffee in Colombia being exported, it’s hard to find in the country and many people drink instant coffee if they drink it at all.
My friend Javier and I had just had lunch and were on our way to the bus terminal when I remembered that my passport was still locked in a cubby at the hostel where we had stayed. It was only 30 minutes until the bus was meant to depart and the hostel was about a 20 minute walk, so I had to make a run for it. Sometimes when you travel you end up running to catch your plane or train or bus and making it at the last second, and it’s embarrassing to be running through some quiet town, especially with a huge backpack, but it’s something I think most travelers have done at least once.
I seldom forget something as important as a passport, though, so I made myself a little checklist with PASSPORT at the top for the next time I leave a hostel, just in case.