Villa de Leyva is a small town a few hours away from Bogota. Although Villa de Leyva is only a few hours by bus from Bogota, it has a fantasy-like ability to transport you to a different time and place. A time and place where cowboys roamed the open highland valley. Where horsemen rule, and the open night sky amphitheatre of the stars is your ceiling when you rest your weary head. The wind blows dust around your herd, as you wrangle them through the wind blown land.
Of course in the reality that is 21st century Villa de Leyva doesn’t include cattle wrangling, nor sleeping by a campfire under the starry night. This does not stop the mystique, however, from hanging over the cobblestone streets and dry wind-blown surroundings. If you use a little imagination you can picture the horses around town being the only form of transport. The beat up cars and taxis, which are already out of place, disappearing from the town that seems like it would be more comfortable in 1912 than 2012.
The town itself is nestled into the side of the wide valley, as if it were trying to hide from the daily wind that barrages this part of the country. The giant square in the center of town is Colombia’s largest town square, and also home to it’s kite flying festival. Every year the Festival de las Cometas takes over the town square with hundreds of colourful kites combing the clouds. The colours dotting the otherwise chromatic background would be quite the sight.
Colombia’s largest town square.
My favourite part of visiting this cowboyesque town was to pretend being a cowboy myself. One day a group of us from the hostel decided to rent some horses, put on our stirrups, and buy some aguardiente. Since we were missing the stirrups, we decided to go without. I know the picture of a horseman without stirrups is like a fisherman without a vest, but somehow we survived.
The sunset from my hostel in Villa de Leyva.
On said morning off we went to the stables to select our horses and prepare ourselves for the adventure ahead. Of course no day on horseback in Colombia is complete without the national alcohol of choice, aguardiente. Not wanting to seem like complete gringos, we headed to the closest store and purchased two 1L juice boxes of the anice flavoured liquor for our trip.
Colombia being Colombia means that horses were not bred for a man my size. I’m approximately double the standard height and weight of the average Colombian, which makes not only daily life a challenge (and myself an oddity,) but finding a horse that doesn’t break in half when I mount it a challenge as well. Since I couldn’t find a horse that fit me, I went with the next best thing: a horse that didn’t fit me.
My first trip in Colombia by horseback was on a horse called Pan Duro (Hard Bread). The horse for this trip had a much less exciting name: Juan. There’s nothing wrong with the name Juan, but when you’re used to riding Hard Bread, it’s difficult to go back. Needless to say, Juan and I set off into the vast landscape that surrounds Villa de Leyva with my co-cowboys and cowgirls.
Me, Juan, and the horizon.
With aguardiente and reins in hand we set off for the horizon. And by horizon, I mean a vague place in the distance that our guide would take us to. This general sense of freedom is a grand sensation. It’s truly a freeing experience to have the opportunity to explore from the perch of a saddle (bike saddle included.) To have a day ahead of you, and the ability to roam is truly a sense of freedom. Add on top of this amazing scenery and some compatriots and you are nearly guaranteed a great time.
A Guadiesque house near Villa de Leyva.
The ensuing journey around Villa de Leyva was filled with galloping, swimming, strange architecture, and did I mention the sweeping landscape? Although we couldn’t change the fact that we were in the 21st century I’m sure that the inhabitants of centuries gone by could have just as easily enjoyed such a day. Makes you wonder sometimes if we’ve maybe sped up our lives to a level where we no longer appreciate the simple pleasures. For now, I’m glad that places like Villa de Leyva still exist so we can slow down to this pace, if only for a day or two.