From Cobbled stones to rabbit holes – San Gil to Villa del Leyve, Colombia

A morning spent winding through one of the three mountain ranges that cut across Colombia deposited us in the small town of San Gil, an outdoor adventure haven. With rafting, waterfall rappelling and numerous other adrenaline pumping activities on offer, we decided to take a different road. An old road in fact, the 9km cobbled pathway built by the indigenous Guane people linking the small whitewashed pueblos of Barichara and Guane.

Guane, Colombia.
Barichara

Barichara, Colombia.
Barichara

Sarah spent our first morning in town recovering from the previous days 24hr bug at the cozy family run Bacaregua Hostel, while Matt ventured out to check out town. Solely sniffing out craft beer, Matt enters a local restaurant, only to find the place deserted other than a single inhabitant sitting at an outdoor table engrossed in his laptop. Realising this was the French chain smoking owner, directions were given to the next corner where a handful of locals were sat drinking inside a local tienda (off license/corner store).

Corner store drinking with the locals.  San Gil, Colombia.
Where the locals go to get away from their wives, the local corner store!

Taking precedence from the locals, a beer was cracked and the conversation ensued. Trying hard in his shitty Spanish Matt soon realised he’s not the only pasty skinned gringo within the confines of the shop. Having sat down to a Finnish guy who’d spent the last eight years living in Colombia, he whiled away the time emersing himself in a time held tradition of blowing the froth off a beer or two whilst conversing over daily events before the hombres have the beckoning call back to significant others…sounds like any other culture right?

Corner store drinking with the locals and this Finnish guy.  San Gil, Colombia.
Matt enjoyed a few corner store brews with new found Finnish and Colombia friends

Only this time it wasn’t the pub. As the sun goes down San Gil brings out a load of alternative characters that soon become tediously hard to manage, so Matt decided to call it quits and come back to the comforting bed where  Sarah has managed to control her bowel movements.

Bacaregua Hostel.  San Gil, Colombia
Bacaregua Hostel, not a bad place to be if you’re feeling ill, they’ll make you feel right at home

We woke early the next morning and took a short stroll to the local bus station for the COP4,400 (about £1.15 each) to the village of Barichara. A scenic drive up the hills surrouding town was spent watching local men board the bus in cowboy hats greetings everybody in turn, with one man even throwing out an

Ay Caramba!

for the Bart Simpson fans. If you’re after cobbled streets, whitewashed buildings with low sloping red tiled roofs and a village feel look no further. The wooden windows and doorways are painted in an array of greens, blues and yellows and the the place has a great laid back feel. The sound of cicadas chirping dominated the small main square, which has free WiFi if you’ve failed to look up the walking directions beforehand, which we had.

Start of the Camino Real.   Barichara, Colombia.
Start of the Camino Real in Barichara

Camino Real, Barichara to Guane, near San Gil
Walking the Camino Real from Barichara to Guane

As mentioned, laidback is the way to go here, and having arrived at 10am we found there was almost no cafes open for our morning caffeine fix. Lethargically we headed uphill to where the walk starts and eventually stumbled upon BaricharaVive on Carrera 8, serving up real coffee and a cheap filling breakfast of arepas con queso. With the caffeine fix solved we continued uphill past the flashy new looking local tuk tuks, all shiny white, red, yellow or black.

Colombian tuk tuk.  Barichara, Colombia.
Shiny new tuk tuk, Barichara

Barichara, San Gil, Colombia
Church at Barichara

Passing the small church at the top of the hill, we started the hot walk along the cobbled path in the footsteps of many who’d come before us. Happy we’d opted out of the adventure sports, we enjoyed the solitude, only passing four people and a goat herder the entire time.

Goat Herder.  Camino Real, Colombia.
Goat herd on the Camino Real from Barichara to Guane

Camino Real, Colombia.
Goats are still herded by locals along the Camino Real

Selling hand carved walking sticks which we opted not to buy, we were instead encouraged by the herder to take a few snaps. After an hour and a half of walking, we arrived in the smaller village of Guane, where oddly a full sized basketball court dominates the small main square.

The main plaza dominating basketball court, Guane, near San Gil
Guane’s main square with the basketball court taking up most of the space

Still nothing much was happening when we arrived, though eventually a handful of small artisan stores slowly began opening just before 2pm after the daily siesta. One took our fancy where we both managed to snap up a cheap pair of shoes, Matt’s made of local goat skin and Sarah’s an eclectic woven fabric….for COP48000 for both (about £12.50) we thought it was quite the bargain.

Camino Real, Barichara to Guane, near San Gil
Camino Real from Barichara to Guane

The local specialty of Guane is goats milk products, known locally as leche de cabara. Ricuras del Campo Aprisco ‘El Cucal’, a small corner store off the main plaza, sells great products and we picked up a nectarine and another unidentified fruit flavoured yoghurt for a liquid lunch.

Drinking Goats Milk. Guane, Colombia.
Leche de cabara (goats milk) liquid yoghurt lunch

While checking out the church on the main square the local drunk tried to drag Sarah inside by her arm to see St Lucia at the back. Pretending we didn’t speak Spanish (a tactic that’s worked time and again) we escaped and left him to hassle the local family in front of us instead. Half an hour later we found him passed out on the pavement out front, giving us a chance to check out the interior undisturbed. The place was a perfect candidate for a Grand Designs makeover, with towering stone walls, large high windows, plenty of natural light and several small rooms that would be perfect to convert into bathrooms, kitchens etc, shame it wasn’t for sale!

Church at Guane, near San Gil
Guane church

Waiting at a small rotunda for the 2pm bus back to San Gil we were soon offered our pick of some boiled eggs and potatoes straight out of the saucepan by a lovely local lady waiting with her family. To wash it down we were then handed a little plastic cup each of Leche de Cabra with liquor, a strong tasting, eggnog style drink which even the kids were drinking, how could we say no!

Guane, near San Gil
Guane

Our arrive in the small university town of Tunja was less than ceremonial, being dropped off late at night in the middle of an intersection and pointed up the highway towards the centre of town…which also happened to be the way the bus continued on…but for some reason he couldn’t take us there. Refusing to pay for a taxi we made a defiant 30 min trek uphill with all our bags to the main plaza.

Tunja, Colombia.
Tunja

Camino Real, Colombia.
Tunja

With Matt hunting out a hotel and some cheap streetside pizza, Sarah had a chat with local florist Nector, simply because he was interested in where we were from. Ending up at Hotel Americana (COP50,000 for a double room), the big courtyards/atriums filled with plants, tables and couches gave us a better alternative than to chill in the room with the thick plastic sheets on the bed, a Colombian health requirement (whilst there is a cotton sheet over the plastic one, you still feel like a kid who’s going to piss the bed).

Tunja, Colombia.
Tunja

When it comes to architectural style, Tunja itself is consistent in being inconsistent, with Moorish looking buildings propped up by something that looks like it’s out of a western film. The big highlight here is the richly red and gold decorated interior of the Santo Domingo church, yet after two attempts we still couldn’t get in and just managed to catch the cathedral before it also closed.  With a Moorish style ceiling to the left of the alter facing off against a large gold almost Hindu style piece to the right, it’s worth a visit if you’re in town and interested in architectural styles.

Tunja, Colombia.
The many architectural styles are Tunja

A cheap breakfast in a quaint atmosphere can be had for around £1.50 each at the small Amasijos cafe. With great service, ceramic coffee mugs and an interior that makes you feel like you could be in a small French or Italian village, we’d highly recommend it! ?

Tunja, Colombia.
Budget prices for fancy service

Camino Real, Colombia.
Amasijos cafe in Tunja

Handing over COP6,500 each for a collectivo to Villa del Leyva, we boarded the shiny white van before Matt slammed the door a little too hard, propting the driver to let out a dramatic cry of

‘Oh my god!’

Turns out it we were sitting in his brand new Iveco van, imported from Italy only a few months ago, which he was obiviously very protective and proud of (you don’t seen many Iveco’s in this part of the world). Unsure where to head for a room we settled instead for a tasty and filling bowl of local Ajiaco, a Colombian soup made of chicken, three types of potato, a local herb, corn and garnished with a side of fresh avocado. While Sarah walked town looking for a cheap room Matt stayed with the bags in the plaza, one of South America’s biggest town square.

Villa De Leyva, Colombia.
Main square in Villa de Leyve, one of South America’s largest

It wasn’t long before he was approached by local hippy Felipe and his girlfriend Lara, who lived on a small farm about 15 mins drive from town, where they offered us a room. Happy to escape the tourist trap that is Villa del Leyve we grabbed some fresh fruit and veg for dinner along with a bottle of rum, which Sarah took all of two ‘sober’ minutes to smash on the pavement.

Villa de Leyva, Colombia.
Locals hanging out in Villa del Leyve

Villa De Leyva, Colombia.
Villa del Leyve

With Felipe and Matt standing in back of pickup with the wind in their hair, Sarah and Lara sat inside listening to the taxi driver play  Enrique Iglesias on repeat. Thunder and pissing rain arrived luckily just as we did, and we all settled into a cozy chilled out night with new friends…or did we??

Funji Villa de Leyva, Colombia.
Free mushrooms in Villa del Leyve! But what kind of mushrooms….

The above photo could have gone one of two ways…either we took a trip down the rabbit hole of magic mushroom wonder, or we whipped up a mean wild mushroom risotto, sipped on wine and talked about art and politics all night…we’ll let you decide!

The house out in the sticks.  Villa De Leyva. Colombia
The little farmhouse out in the sticks, Villa del Leyve

Either way the following morning after sharing breakfast with our new friends, we made the 3km walk down dirt roads to the corner store where a taxi soon picked us up and took us back to the bus station. Our collectivo left for Tunja straight away, and Colombian bus efficiency saw a connecting bus to Bogota also departing almost immediately.

Hanging out at teh farmhouse with some random locals.  Villa De Leyva, Colombia.
Hanging with new friends in their little farmhouse outside Villa del Leyve 

With Matt being told he had enough time to use the bathroom he jumped off only for Sarah to have to adamantly demand, along with a friendly old local guy, that the driver stop driving, something he didn’t do until we were practically on the main road. Coming out of the loo Matt jumps on wrong bus, gets confused when he can’t find Sarah, then had to sprint down to the main road to get on the correct bus before the drive left for Bogota without him.

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