Saturday, October 24, 2015

Villa de Leyva, Colombia

It is against our nature to retrace our tracks and go backwards, but we had made up our minds that we were not going to miss out on anything just because of a little bad luck... So we headed backwards to the much heralded town of Villa de Leyva. What we did not know before arriving and driving down the narrow streets, was that the annual kite festival was going on this particular weekend, and man do Colombians love their kites. Folks from all over the country have fled here to get hammered, chow down on huge plates of meat, and fly kites until 3am. Doesn't sound bad to us. For the most part, Villa de Leyva is the kind of town that could make you quit your job, sell everything and move to it. Good food around every corner, clean, friendly people, low prices, beautiful buildings and scenery, not too touristy and a seemingly endless amount of activities in the region. We settled into our campsite at a beautiful hostel a mile or so outside of town. This place had it going on, so with yet another picturesque colonial town and a steller place to hang out, we knew right away that this place was going to be good to us.

Largest square in South America pre fiesta
Kite flying is also a big spectator sport here
Great textile stores everywhere!
Camping at a hostel, we brought along our own living room and bedroom... The best! :)

The next few days we alternated between hanging out at the hostal catching up on computer "work" and cooking in between taking random adventures. The first couple nights we found ourselves strolling into town and watching the kites fly high in the sky and trying not to get in the way of the stumbling drunk Colombian festival goers. We hadn't seen a party like this since New Orleans, and although it was quite entertaining, it was also a bit much for us. One of the main problems with this street party being the lack of public bathrooms coupled with cheap beer in abundance... you really had to watch your step for streams of pee running down the cobblestone streets! Blah! Fortunately in parts of the huge town plaza there was the much welcomed relief of watching the traditional song and dance performances in the background of about 100 kites in the sky! Drunk people tend to stay away from is area cause not only do you occasionally get wacked in the head by a falling kite, but ducking under and around all the strings takes a bit of agility and awareness!

The camera only captures a few, but you get the point!
How they don't all get tangled is a mystery!
Colombia or Busch Gardens??
This picture is blurry, but shows this grill master actually stepping into his meat oven to cut us a hunk o beef!
Street chorizo!? You best know Chris is gonna stop for some!

Straight away after arriving in Villa de Leyva we met a really nice couple from New York who were on a Colombian vacation and we all immediately clicked. We meet a lot of great people while travleing, but not all of them are as cool as these two... bring on the random adventures and campfires full of laughs! We had all been interested in a nearby town called Raquira, which is the pottery capitol of Colombia, the name itself even means "city of pots" in the old language of Chibcha. We grabbed a taxi with Michael and Diane and headed that way. We were dropped off on the main street, sporting shop after shop of tourist trap crap mixed in with a bunch of pottery. We were turned off immediately by this, having expected a quiant artisanal environment, what we first saw was far from that. Luckily, our New Yorker friends were like minded and not ready to settle for the lame spectacle before us... we needed to see where the heck all this pottery was made!! It was time to get off the tourist track and get some behind the scenes action going on. We wandered onto the side streets, asking around until we got the answer we wanted, followed by a ride up the hill to a huge pottery factory. We strolled inside the huge sheet metal building asking a few people if it was ok to look around. Everyone was so friendly, and we started a self led tour and picture taking fest. Soon a very wonderful man named Jose came up to us and took it upon himself to show us around the entire factory. From the piles of dirt to the final products, he gave us demonstrations of each step and explanations of everything! The casual tour ended with a walk up the hill for a trip to a seperate and much smaller pottery shop to meet his wife who happened to be making piggy banks. She had made molds out of styrofoam boxes and plastic bottles. Before we departed, Jose insisted we take a souvenir, so he ducked into a trailer next to the ceremic cemetary and came back happily holding a troll dog bank for Mallary. Not sure why he picked this particular item or where this large creepy ceramic is going to fit into our car or our life of driving on bumpy dirt roads... But for now, we couldn't tell Jose that we had no need for the troll, so we guess he will ride with us as a reminder of a really unexpectedly fun day!

West Virginia homestead or pottery factory?
Raw materials
This whole process took less then five minutes!
Do we have space in the car babe?!?
Fire it up!
24 hour oven
Piggy bank in the making
Oink oink
Pottery graveyard
This troll-dog is definitely not a best seller
Chris beginning his love hate relationship with trolldog while him and Michael wait on the ladies!

After seeing the real deal as far as pottery goes, we were a bit more inclined to check out the various pottery offered in the insane tourist shops. The prices were so incredibly cheap that we just had to help ourselves to 75cent coffee mugs and jewelry holders, trying hard to remember that pottery is probably the least practical thing we should buy right now!! After a bit the guys were getting hungry and bored of perusing the shops, meaning it was time to go. On the way to the ceramic town we drove through one of Colombias most famous meat towns, Sutamarachan. We jumped into a cab and found ourselves being whisked around by Frederico, a young and comical driver who found great pleasure in partaking in our adventures. When we told him about the sausage mission, he enthusiastically took us to the best outdoor roadside restaurant in town. There were no menus at this joint, and we found ourselves unsure of what to order. We scanned the huge grill full of various meats, our senses overwhelmed with the sight and smell. Our driver/self proclaimed tour guide came to the rescue, he told us to take our seats, then barked out some random commands to the server. Two minutes later, a heaping plate of delicious meats for four sat in front of us begging to be devoured. Next, an epic chow down of sausage accompanied by our lovely trolldog mascot... Yum!

Chris was officially able to stop thinking about Arbys for a day!
The troll dog has already grown on us!

Satisfied, we slumped back into the taxi, fighting off a protein coma while listening to our drivers eclectic music collection and slightly X rated jokes. The plan was to head back to the hostal, but Frederico being the best damn taxi driver ever, convinced us to make one last stop. A bit skeptical, we walked past several tourist trap vendors and through the turnstiles of a small building. Inside lay the intact fossils of a Kronosaurus, found in this exact place by a farmer in 1977. As Frederico liked to say, it was "SUPER-BUENO". This entire valley used to be underwater in the Mesozoic and Cretaceous Eras, and now has a huge number of fossils spread all over it, they are so abundant that some stones with fossils are actually used as parts of sidewalks. The Kronosarus was really impressive, especially since it was found literally right here, and the building was made around it!! The additional fossils displayed at the tiny museum were also cool and sparked our interest in seeking out one of our own the rest of our time in the formally-underwater land we were in!

To stay on track with our unintentional trend of uber touristy activities, we booked a nighttime horse back riding tour into the desert for some star gazing. Do we need to bring flashlights? We asked. "No those will be provided." What do you know, the six of us tourists show up at dusk and find out no flashlights are provided, nor were any instructions on how to actually ride a horse! On the way to the desert, everything was great... The horses were relaxed, walking slowly, and there was still a bit of dusky light to kinda see where the heck we were going. The stars were out and it seemed like the most magical movie-like experience ever, minus the fact that the horses are dodgeing frequent holes with the two lights used by the guides and each person relaying a "watch the hole on the left" message back. Still, it seemed like the horses were doing well with their night vision... until one of the horses tripped and collapsed down onto its front knees. It was a small miracle, but the woman riding that horse managed to stay in the saddle despite gravity's attempts to harm her. After that, each person held on tight to the reins expecting at any moment for another horse to trip. After a short star gazing break, we hopped back on the horses to head home. This is where things got hairier! We had thought we had the whole riding a horse thing down, but that was back when the horses were merely following each other slowly... now the horses were definitely in a hurry to get home, and we had no idea how to make these 1,000 pound animals beneath us wait for the rest of the group! Mallary hollered out "someone stop my horse, he isn't listening!!" Thank goodness that Diane was an experienced rider, because she was the one to come to Mallary's rescue, lead the horse back, and instruct her on how to actually stop the damn thing from running off!! It turns out that riding in the pitch black is a completley different thing than riding in even a little bit of light! As if this alone wasn't a thrill enough, we came to a point in the road where we had to be led across a little ledge inches from a washed out gully. The first time called for the guides to lead us across one horse at a time, but when they realized that this route back was full of collapsed roads, they figured we could manage the rest on our own!!! Holy crap!!!! The stars and the peaceful night atmosphere were nice, but after we made it back, we all laughed and chatted around the fire about the real highlight: making it back in one piece! Turns out that the memory of a thrilling and scary ride is better than just your average romantic ride under the stars any day!!! Needless to say, that was enough horseback riding for us for a while! Shout out to Diane for being our real guide on that trip, what would we have done without her!!!

Smiling = pre horses tripping and ledge walks
Clint, I mean Chris, on his horse!
Constellation apps are the best!

We woke up the next day with one last thing to do in the area, walk on a narrow ridge with certain death on either side, the Paso de Angel. We pulled up at the start of the ridge stretching out about a mile or so long, and dividing two canyons like a thin spine. The highlight is a small section that is only a foot wide, and if thats not enough, one side of the wall has eroded away just a foot or two down, seriously reducing the structural integrity of the Paso de Angel. This would definitely never be allowed in the US!!! After braving the pass and posing for a few pictures that our moms will be sure to love, we wandered down the ridgeline and took a steep path down into one of the canyons. After seeing the fossils from this area, we were determined to find some of our own... yes corny, but we had heard it was possible with some luck. We chipped away at some of the flaking walls, but apparently luck wasn't on our side because we left empty handed!

A classic pose that makes moms thrilled about their kids' picture choices
Fossil hunting
The village muscle: This lady and her puppies watched our car while we were gone
As usual, it was hard to tear ourselves away from such a lovely place, but it was time to go... Otherwise we are taking a huge risk in Colombia...
So true!