Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Hanging out in Boyaca County


Monday morning came around and I was up early as per usual ready to leave. I then realised two things.

One: I didn't know where I wanted to go

Two: I only had one clean T shirt

On Tuesday morning I left San Gill knowing where I wanted to go and with clean t shirts in my bag. It was a 4.5 hour bus ride to the city of Tunja and most of the time was spent going uphill. From the bus station it was only a 4 block walk to the main square and the cheap hotel on its corner but it was steeply uphill. Tunja is also 2800m above sea level, 1800m higher than San Gill, so the “short walk” took a little longer than I had thought. The hotel was good, at 25,000 pesos a night it was also cheap and the location was great.

The large main square was colonial in architecture on three sides, on the 4th side someone decided in the late 60's that a 5 storey concrete office block was what the square really needed...twat! I wandered around the streets just off the square for a while and when I reappeared onto the square a gust of wind sent a cold shiver down my spine. It's cold in the mountains but my smile was keeping me warm.

Following a night's sleep spent under the blankets (which alone was worth coming here for) I spent the morning bimbling around the streets. Tunja is a mix of old, modern and falling down. I went into a couple of very small museums both of which were originally houses of the city's founding fathers. The furniture was all original but the most impressive thing to see were the painted ceilings.

On my second and last night in Tunja I came across a great little “old skool” bar...it's just a shame I couldn't smoke in it!!

Thursday morning came around and after a great coffee in the nearby café I joyfully walked downhill to the bus station.

The bus ride to Sogamoso was only 80kms long and it was good to go somewhere that wasn't in my guide book. It was several blocks from the bus station to the main square and I found a great little hotel just over halfway for only 20,000 pesos a night with cable tv! The town is busy without much for the tourist to do. It is however a good place to base yourself as there are several places no more than an hours bus ride away that make for good day trips.

Day trip number one:

15kms away is the small mountain village of Mongui. It's off the beaten track (i.e. there's no backpacking hostel in town) and remains a unspoilt working village. The bus pulled into the main square whilst low flying clouds obscured the mountains. The 1st thing I saw was a tv production unit occupying the place with their trucks and buses...bastards, talk about ruining my pano shots.

I wandered across the square, my nose leading me to the coffee shop. After breakfast I bimbled around the village and it was prettier than Barichara. On the other side of the steep and imposing mountain ridge lies a beautiful canyon. If the sky had been blue I might of even tried to get there. As it was, after a few hours the low lying clouds decided to go on a diet. I went back to the coffee shop and watched the rain pour down. Realizing that the rain was going to be here for a good few hours I decided to call it a day. I was back in Sogamoso just after midday and by 3pm the rain had stopped.

Day trip number two:

Looking in the little tourist map/leaflet I had picked up in Tunja I decided to visit the small village of Iza. Getting of the bus in the main square I knew that an hour's walking around would be more than enough...I was right!

Six kilometres away was another village called Firavitoba so I started to walk there. The road was flat and quiet and the views of the countryside were lush and green. Halfway there I came to a junction in the road and saw a hoarding advertising the touristy delights of a place called Pesca, 10kms away...mmm, why not?

I hanged out for 20 minutes leaning against the railings of the small bridge, watching the fast flowing stream travel across the landscape. The bus arrived and by the time I got to Pesca the rain was falling hard.

The main square was impressive and the roads leading off it were steep. Five minutes later my battery ran out of juice and I was left wondering why I hadn't charged it the night before.

Day trip number three:

An hour or so away from Sogamoso is Lake Tota, at 3000m above sea level its the highest natural lake in the country. I took the bus that went the long way round via the village of Tota. The road was steep, twisty and bouncy in places but the views more than made up for it.

Arriving in the small village of Tota I didn't bother to get off the bus as there really wasn't anything for the tourist to see. So instead I carried on to La Playa Blanca. Getting off at the entrance it was a 10 minute walk down a dirt road to the lake shore, the restaurant, camping ground and the white sands of the beach.

It was cold, the water was freezing and yet the children were happily splashing around. I chilled out for an hour, taking pictures and walking along the lake shore path before finishing off a portion of trifle.

Back on the road I started walking towards the town of Aquitania. 50 metres down the road a car pulled up and offered my a lift. The young couple from Bogotá were having a long weekend in the area and during the 40 minutes it took to drive to Aquitania they let me know a few cool places to hang out further south.

The village of Aquitania wasn't much to sing and dance about but it did have buses back to Sogamoso.

The next day I packed up my things and jumped onto a bus leaving Sogamoso behind.

My next destination was Villa De Leyva and after a quick change of buses in Tunja it was up and over the mountains. Villa de Leyva became a national monument back in the mid 50's and the centre of town is basically untouched by modern development (imagine a little village in the west country where every building is graded one listed and you'll get the idea).

Walking out of the bus station I saw a nice looking hostel with a 1st floor terrace. Being the lazy git that I am I stayed there. Dropping the bags in my room I went for a wander around the small village. The sky was blue, the mountains green and all the houses were white.

It was a Monday evening and the village was quiet, well apart from the dog next door that always tired to bite me every time I went past...I'm getting better at stone throwing these days!

The next morning I was up early (I have no idea why) and I was out of the door by 7am. I headed straight to the large cobbled main square which thankfully was mostly empty of people. So I was therefore able top take a few pano shots without “ghosts” of people.

After a few hours and a lazy breakfast I found myself walking out of the village along a dirt road towards the mountain ridge. Instead of stopping when the road became a path I carried on through the trees and into a canyon. The path became more rocky and muddy and the going got more vertical. The views back to Villa De Leyva were great and the quietness of the area with only the sounds of the cascading water chilled me out. After climbing/walking up the canyon for another 30 minutes it levelled out. Walking along the path which was also the course of the stream in places, the small pass between two ridges soon petered out and I was treated to fantastic views of the valley and the mountains in the distance. I carried on for a few more hours, wandering around flirting between the differing goat paths.

In the end I made my own path down the side of the ridge and carried on into the small village of Sachica. I thankfully sat in the main square under the shade of a tree and enjoyed the bottle of cold water from the nearby shop. Following the rest I bimbled around the village for about 20 minutes before getting the bus back to the hostel.

The next day I thought that I would visit the nearby archaeological attraction of “El Infiernito”. It was a relaxing walk along a dirt road for just over an hour, the road meandered around the occasional homestead and the views in the valley floor were great. I arrived there with a few beads of sweat on my forehead only to discover that it was shut...bugger!!

So I carried on and about ½ a mile later the track rejoined the main road. Sitting in the shade of a tree I waited for a bus to come and take me to the village of Santa Sofia. The village was on the other side of the valley and the road was twisty and the driver was relying on God for his safe arrival. The village itself wasn't really worth going to but you would have to go there to find it out.

The morning came around and the walk to the bus station was the easiest one so far. 30 minutes later I was on a small bus heading to the town of Chiquinquira. This town wasn't that far away and by 10am I was dumping my bags in the hotel next to the bus station.

The town is famous for this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_the_Rosary_of_Chiquinquir%C3%A1

The main square was a slow 15 minute walk from the hotel and the closer I got the more catholic tourist tat was on sale. Not being a catholic (any more) I was able to ignore these earthly delights????

The following morning I was off again on the road, this time heading for the town of Zipaquira. The slow bus took about two hours to get there and then it was only stopping on the main highway. For some reason, despite the plethora of buses and taxis heading to the centre of town I walk the mile instead....

Arriving in the centre of town I turned a corner and saw a skanky haired whitey going into a bike shop. I thought to myself I know that comb shy gringo and it turns out that it was the guy I had met in Antigua back at the start of December. Cass was still on the bike heading south and when he mentioned that it had taken us both the same amount of time to get here realized that I really am a slow traveller. We chatted for a while then he got back on his bike and I went and got a room for the night.

The town of Zipaquira is famous for the Salt Cathedral and after a few hours walking around the town I headed up the hill, the steps were not knee friendly!

The actual cathedral is underground, 180m deep in a salt mine and despite what I thought the rock was black and not white!

Read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salt_Cathedral

It was a Friday evening and the main square was surrounded on all sides by bars, cafés and restaurants. I didn't get an early night.

The following morning I was up early and got the bus to Bogotá which was just over an hour away

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