Fresh Air in Villa de Leyva

“So how were the kites?”

It’s Tuesday afternoon, first Spanish class after the previous long weekend.

“The what?”

“The kites, you went to Villa de Leyva for the Kite Festival, right?”

My classmate, a Korean kid not much older than me, looks a little bemused.

“…oh yeah, there were kites at that thing.”

I feel this conversation sums up Festival del Viento y Las Cometas (Festival of Wind and Kites) in Villa de Leyva, Boyaca, Colombia. Sure, there was a few kites. Some of them were even quite pretty. But there was also horses to ride, random waterholes to swim in, a few waterfalls to shower under and rappel down (and a fat man to watch as he lost his dignity dangling a metre from the ground, helplessly spinning and kicking as water pummelled his face), a few mountains to climb, a massive Plaza for drinking and, if you couldn’t find accommodation, sleeping.

Lonely Planet sometimes reminds me of that Simpsons episode, where at one point Homer and Mr Burns are driving together:

“… and I’m not easily impressed. Wow! A blue car!”

For example: “One of the most beautiful colonial villages in Colombia, Villa de Leyva is a city frozen in time.”

or this gem: “Villa de Leyva is a leisurely place made for wandering around charming cobblestone streets, listening to the sound of church bells and enjoying the lazy rhythm of days gone by.”

I think we’ve all got enough adjectives and clichés there to last until the cows come home and all the chins in your Chinese phone book go back to the drawing board, wondering how to make hay while the sun shines while taking in the breathtaking view from the dramatic peaks above a city of contrasts.

Sure, the cobblestone streets look nice, but I get the feeling the only locals who actually appreciate them are Villa de Leyva’s mechanics and physiotherapists, who surely make a killing off all the town’s shattered suspensions and broken ankles. The white buildings are pretty, and the huge main square (Plaza Mayor) is cool, albeit littered with the bleached bones of kids who broke legs in Kite Festivals past, then starved to death trying to crawl the several kilometres back into the sightline of people chilling around the edge.

For me, Villa de Leyva’s allure lay outside town – the bare mountains watching from behind the square, the waterholes and waterfalls for swimming, the hiking trails, the walk out to our camp ground past the holiday mansions of Bogotá bigwigs and the rides in the back of pick up trucks with stoned rappelling guides.

We spent our days getting our fresh air and mild adrenaline fixes and the nights/early mornings chilling in the square, buying beers and aguardiente from deliriously grinning corner store owners, whose fridges emptied so quick all the beer in town was warm by 10am every day.

The best thing around is definitely Santuario de Iguaque, a national park where you can hike up to Laguna Iguaque, a little lake plopped on top of a mountain range at about 3800 metres above sea level. A bit of hedonism the night before the trek does not come recommended, but the views away over the valleys and farmland on either side of the range definitely do.

It was a nice change from the Bogotá hustle and a welcome distraction from all the study we should be doing. Just watch yourself on those charming cobblestone streets on the dawn stumble home.

I didn’t get many photos in Villa, but here’s a couple from the few times I did dig out the camera:

Gigantic Plaza Mayor.

Hazy mornings

Robbie and Chris.

Santuario de Iguaque

Johan and Chris share a moment.Santuario de Iguate

Here’s one of yours truly, with Johan and Robbie, in Plaza Mayor. Gracias a Paula por la foto!

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