January 29th, 2018
Day breaks and I awake, like a clockwork, convincing myself that I must still be exhausted, but my body inexorably comes into focus and becomes alert within some ten minutes, so that by 6:15 am I am writing at my desk, a notion that would be unthinkable back home.
Today we plan on traveling to Santa Sofia – or somewhere close to town, in any case. The day starts much later than it should have, but then my friends got up late, moved to their new hotel next door, ate breakfast, and by the time we reached the bus station it was just after noon.
Leaving our respective hotels finally, we don’t get very far, as we encounter a wizened lottery ticket seller leaving by a side door from the Finca Molino del Balcon that we were so entranced by from the exterior yesterday. He calls to the owner, then escorts us through the small door, a veritable portal into a wild alternative universe in Villa de Leyva.
Domesticated and exotic birds wander the expansive terrain, squawking wildly, from conventional geese to a preening flamingo, tropical fowl and more. In a large caged area, an extensive collection of orchids, behind lock and key to avoid potential theft. On the far end, trees with root systems weaving above ground, flanking a small pond wrapping around a miniature island with a stone dinosaur towering through the tropical foliage.
The water concentrates into a channel that runs below the old house, providing the power to grind grain using the mills the owner shows us inside the house. The house, as the rest of the property, is fairly unkempt, although not far from its original state. Vania crows on about how the property is poorly maintained and that she would never allow it to come to such ruin, although no one has seen the inside of her house to know how good her own domestic skills really are. Below the house, a narrow recessed terrace with potted plants looks over the channel as it disappears into the ground.
Disheveled and unusual props are scattered through the property, from an almost life-size puppet of an older man to a miniature village and a gigantic papier-mâché butterfly set on the bed of a semi. The property has been used as the set for a number of films, and is also rented out for social events. From the fringes of the property, the town’s terracotta rooftops are visible over the property’s wall. Ancient cars disintegrate in the grass amidst the flocks of quacking geese.
The owner tells us that the property has been in his family since the arrival of the Spanish some 500 years ago. I can only imagine that his vision of what is appropriate for local landed gentry would contrast wildly with a lot of the wealthier locals who are more conscious of their property values and ability to earn income on their properties.
At the bus station somewhat of a comedy arises, whereby Vania can’t decide whether she wants to go to Santa Sofia or not, driven by constantly varying impulses. Suddenly, it turns out that she has forgotten her cell phone charger in the cafe I just had a coffee in, driving her to rush off with Roger in a panic. Meanwhile, a young, brusque Dutchman from Utrecht has decided to join the small group of foreigners looking to explore the countryside by camioneta, in his particular case for the purpose of climbing up to the Paso del Angel, which lies above Santa Sofia. He is traveling for a longer period of time in South America, and embodies a degree of drive inversely proportional to a capacity for introspection.
En route to Santa Sofia, the bus rises gradually through the verdant hills, small farm plots, grazing cattle, thickets of trees, and the green hilltops rising above as we weave towards the small town.
Santa Sofia is not much of a destination, small and modest, although its beauty is established by the verdant hills that rise above and the lush valley that drops below the town. My friends need to take a washroom break. I decide not to trek up to the Paso del Angel due to sufficient time prior to the last bus returning to Villa de Leyva.
Children play on the central plaza with its trimmed bushes lining the stone walkways leading towards the fountain at the centre of the plaza. The yellow and brown cathedral lies at the far end, built in a style identical to most other town cathedrals in the region. The plaza’s dramatic beauty is heightened by the Canary Island date palms broad textured girth and crest of thick virile fronds. Up the steep alley to the plaza above, a modernist concoction of church dominates, its circumference built from semi-elliptical naves that protrude from the structure.
My friends are loath to climb higher, but precisely above the modernist church, spectacular views are offered of the town and its environment. Flowers abound in this small-town setting, featuring brilliant mauves, yellows and oranges erupting from bushes and vines flowing over walls. Even here, offices and vehicles are festooned with campaign posters for the upcoming Senate and Congress elections aimed at achieving as much visual traction as possible.
My friends are also loath to climb to the back of the town, precisely one block away, where great views are offered of the local retirement home, police station, and the green valley below. The narrow road arcs around the back of the town, towards a quaint and slightly dilapidated graveyard on the flank of a hill.
Again in Villa de Leyva, we decide to eat a good early dinner at a reasonable price, in this case at the pollo asado place that Roger discovered yesterday evening when he was hunting for us. Walking up Carrera 9 towards the Plaza Mayor, it appears that the initial blocks further south from the plaza are still populated by inexpensive local businesses, alluring in their authenticity. But the Asadero Brasa Roja is somewhat of a disappointment: although the grilled chicken meal is inexpensive, the food is mediocre in flavour, and the chicken pieces utterly inconsistent in size. The obligatory dog begging for scraps is happy, however.
Happily, neither of us has to wander far to our respective hotels, which are next door to each other. We arrange to meet in an hour to head to the plaza to take in some live music, being sure to give the cafe Jay and company would be hanging out in on the plaza a wide berth to not waste the evening on another drunken episode.
But the larger issue is that the plaza area is just dead tonight. Restaurants that were packed with live music on Saturday evening are now virtually empty or altogether closed, not to speak of the possibility of any live music. How disappointing!
We sit on a bench in the corner of the plaza, somewhat fearful of being discovered, but life this evening is a shadow of its weekend self. We discuss the places we have seen and enjoyed, and the idea of settling down somewhere, attempting to understand the viability of our respective choices, or perhaps acknowledging that none of our choices may be very realistic.