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Villa de Leyva

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While Zipaquira was a charming city, it was lacking in real adventure tourism. After many months of travel I was definitely overly anxious to get out and have some fun. We headed out to a small town called Villa de Leyva. Villa de Leyva is particularly famous for being a well preserved colonial town, with classic Colombian architecture and charm. In that respect it certainly didn’t disappoint. But it definitely has built up as reputation with the residents of a Bogotá as a weekend retreat. This means that the cheap Colombian prices I was getting accustomed to were about go up.

This is probably a good time to talk about that. I always thought Mexico was inexpensive but it can’t hold a candle to Colombia. Most hostels in Colombia charge between 10 and 15,000 pesos per night, or 5 to 7 dollars. They are usually clean and nice, and have free Colombian coffee all day. A good meal is between 4 and 6,000 pesos, or 2 to 3 dollars. Beers go for about 75 cents a pop, but are virtually undrinkable. The food leaves a bit to be desired as well, but is edible. They love to cook with tomatoes here, and apparently haven’t discovered condiments yet. The Colombian tortilla is called an "Arepa" and couldn’t have less flavour. Taking all of the above into consideration I was getting used to the Arepas, and the prices. After 6 months out of the country I don’t even think in terms of what things cost back home, just what they cost here.

For all of those reasons, Villa de Leyva left me shell shocked. The first restaurant I went to didn’t have a meal on the menu for less than 15,000. Dirt cheap in the states, but this is Colombia! My accommodation was double the price, and not much better than what I was used to. I have no reason to spend my time in tourist traps, especially when it’s not enjoyable. On my last afternoon in town I met a local guy named Oscar who is a biologist. He recommended me a couple of great hikes in the countryside that didn’t cost a dime.

The first hike we took was to the Perequeria falls. It is a series of 7 waterfalls on a trail that winds you down into the canyon. The trail is not extremely well marked which leads a lot of people to hire a guide. However, it is perfectly manageable solo. It was a bit too cold to take a swim, but when we made it down to the bottom I was thinking of a taking a dip anyway. From the last fall there is a series of about 400 steps that take you up to the rim of the canyon. From there you can hike back into town along the canyon rim worth views of the entire valley. Really a spectacular time and only cost the bus fare to get there.


Oscar has a mountain house a bit out of town where he rents rooms. We decided to stay a few extra days in his place, and do some more exploring. The following day we rented some mountain bikes and headed out to get to know our surroundings more. It easy to see why some many tourists are attracted to the area, because the surroundings are spectacular. Mountain views are everywhere, forest, jungle, waterfalls, and red rock cliffs line the panorama. We finished our day at the Muisca Indian arqueological park. The Muiscas erected stones in the park to help them observe astrological changes and to aid them to know when to plant and when to harvest. Behind that was a field of tall narrow tones that looked a lot like, well, male genitalia Brenda said I was just being childish, but low and behold there we were in a field of penises. The Muiscas decided to erect sculptures of male genitalia to help the fertilization of the land. Now these are my kind of people. Throwing gold into lakes and worshiping the male genitalia.
Here’s a shot of me contemplating .......

The following morning we headed from the back of Oscars place to another hour and half hike to the lookout. The hike takes you up to another fantastic panorama of the Colombian countryside. Sadly we readied our stuff and headed out from the town of San Gil. San Gil is famous for adventure tourism and boasts the best white water rafting in Colombia.
A shot of the view from the lookout100.jpg

There are three forms of overland transport in Colombia. You have your first class bus, which takes you just about everywhere in comfort, but is slow. Then you have a collectivo or a minivan that zips through the country side passing everyone on two lane roads with nothing but blind corners. Needless to say you don’t go anywhere in comfort in on of those, but they get you there quick. The third is the "Chiva" which is a Colombian Tradition. They are usually used school buses from the US, painted all kinds of colors on the outside. They are commonly boarded by people travelling with chickens and hens, and take forever to get you anywhere. I usually prefer the colectivos, fast, cheap, dangerous, but usually pretty entertaining. The trip to San Gil was windy, and I got the drift when they gave us plastic bags upon boarding. After a pretty exciting trip we arrived safely into San Gil, dizzy but alive.

Brenda had never been rafting before and was definitely nervous about her first trip down the most dangerous river in Colombia. I on the hand have been several times and successfully convinced here that there was nothing to fear. The Suarez River is about a three hour trip of consecutive class 4 and 5 rapids. The likelihood that the boat will flip is 33%, and that someone will fall out is 100%. Fortunately this was all information I got from an English guide, and I decided not to share it with Brenda. The Spanish speaking rafting guide did divulge all of those stats before heading into the water which was just about enough to send her packing. Too embarrassed to go home, she stayed on.

This was by far the most exiting rafting trip I had ever been on, and also the most physically exhausting. Passing one of the most dangerous rapids (named the labyrinth for the maze of rocks you have navigate to get through safely) the guide shouted "everybody inside" as i slid into the boat a wave swept under me and washed me right out of the raft. Clutching my paddle and the cord on the raft for life, it was a series of waves splashing over my back and my body into jagged rocks before I was successfully back into the boat. The funny thing is that I was more concerned about loosing my shorts than anything else. After having lost about 15 pounds, my trunks don’t exactly fit snug anymore. As it turned out I was the only one to go in, and thus had to by beers for the whole boat when we got back. A small price to pay for the rescue, and an overall fantastic time.

Afterwards were were moving on the othe other side of the valley to the city of Medellin.

Don`t forget to check out the map to keep up with where we are now

Posted by natewhd 16:02 Archived in Colombia

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Awesome buddy, this trip sounds better and better every time I read about it.

by mwoodhead

Glad you made it back in the boat and with your shorts on to boot. Might have been a tad embarrissing if you made it back in without them. I can see you now refusing to get back into the boat... "No,really I'm fine... now that I'm over the uintial shock I enjoy cold water and being bashed into rocks, I'll just hang onto this tether and float behind the boat. When we get to shore you guys go on ahead and I'll catch up." Actually the minivan ride sounds a lot more scary and dangerous. :) Clad you are both safe. Thanks for the great update.

by PeteW

Hey Bro,
It sounds like you are having an Columbian adventure to rival "Romancing the Stone", although I think Kathleen Turner was riding one of those "chiva" buses. Considering how well that turned out for her character, you probably made the right choice going with the minivan, harry as that sounded. Did anyone bail on the rapids when the English speaking guide gave the statistics? It sounds like the trip was well worth the preliminary anxiety. Now go buy some shorts that fit. What do they cost $2 bucks? Miss you much!

by SWoodhead

Ok you're making it harder and harder to wake up and go to work every day! Wonder what you were pondering as you stood in awe of the fertility stone? LOL

by phyllisw

Gotta say Nate, don't know when I laughed so much.....that shot of you and the fertility stone is a riot.....you should consider keeping this blog and photos for a comercial endeavor.....publishing a book would be a way to go when you return stateside.
Much love and miss you bunches,

by mkwade0531

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