Villa de Leiva, an overlander's oasis

Villa de Leiva, an overlander's oasis
 The biggest cobble stone plaza in South America

The biggest cobble stone plaza in South America

Looking back now, Villa De Leiva was for me the highest point of the trip. It’s interesting to note that I was blessed to be aware of it at the time because I had been overtaken by a powerful feeling of exhaustion and general overstimulation, diagnosed by my good friend John as being the definition of ‘travel weary’. Overwhelmed as I was, I was relieved to hear that there was a direct source for my feelings of instability. Villa de Leiva helped me open my eyes and realize what was happening. I had a moment of clarity one day walking through the streets and remember thinking, 'this town is beautiful and I should be enjoying this more than I am right now.’ Also, ‘If I hadn’t been traveling for the last two and a half years and had just arrived here, I would most certainly be blown away.’ Such is Villa de Leiva. A haven in the middle of nowhere. A time capsule isolated just enough from civilization, maintaining its beauty and heritage with as much thanks to the people as to the surround mountains and terrain which work so efficiently to preserve.

 Enjoying a cappuccino with John and Mandi

Enjoying a cappuccino with John and Mandi

 Matty busking in one of the many picturesque streets of Villa de Leiva

Matty busking in one of the many picturesque streets of Villa de Leiva

After spending time in Barichara and the picture perfect town of Cocuy, I wasn’t ready to give up my experiences in these towns for another one. We’d been so far and seen so much, also after so much time camping and staying in small towns or what I refer to as the country, I was ready for some larger town experience, I.e. good wifi, vegetarian restaurants, and just options in general. Villa De Leiva is just the right balance of the two. Small enough to feel like country but big enough to have just the right amount of options. Aesthetically pleasing is a gross understatement.

 We couldn't get enough of Villa de Leiva

We couldn't get enough of Villa de Leiva

Every street you look down is a pristine view from a Garcia Marquez novel. The central square puts all others to shame and boast its pride to the open sky in a bold display of genuine humility and pure old fashion taste. The mountains surround the town and cradle it in their loving arms and valleys. They also have the uncanny ability of blocking the outside world and maintaining your focus on the here and now. Villa de Leiva soothed my weariness when I needed it most. I’ll be forever grateful for that. This sums up Colombia in general, as the whole country was incredibly beautiful and gracious to us during our entire 3 month stay.

We had been talking about taking a month off and renting an apartment, parking the van and just chilling out for a bit, as we had 3 months in Colombia. As much as we needed it, I’m glad we didn’t. Colombia was so nice everywhere you go is stunning and leaves you with a lasting impression. I truly loved it, and would love to have seen every nook and cranny. What a great dream and logistically, an ambitious undertaking to see every square inch of Colombia but I digress.

 A great group of friends. From left to right, local traveler, Santiago(MI Refugio), John and Mandi(USA), Barbara and Mark(Swiss couple), Diana and Lucia(Mi Refugio), Ingrid, Matty, and Julie and Marcus(Brit couple)

A great group of friends. From left to right, local traveler, Santiago(MI Refugio), John and Mandi(USA), Barbara and Mark(Swiss couple), Diana and Lucia(Mi Refugio), Ingrid, Matty, and Julie and Marcus(Brit couple)

Something that happened in Villa De Leiva had happen in other places but not as profoundly and sincerely in my opinion, as it did there. We had been staying at El Refugio, run by a lovely Colombian couple. With an excellent space for overlanders, people kept arriving and we’d all meet and exchange knowledge. At this time there were two couples who made their way to El Refugio by separate routes, coming from the South. We, the North Americans had started in the North and were making our way south, were impressed and intrigued by these travelers and it became a meeting of the minds and a great exchange of valuable information.

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The first couple had arrived in a blue Iveco. Hailing from England, they were the first overlanding brits we’d met. Older than us respectively, and far well traveled, left me without any obvious purpose or intent, feeling like a novice with my 2+1/2 years traveling through the Americas. I was truly impressed, and hope I didn’t come off as an overconfident smart Alec which I’m almost certain I did. The next were a couple in the most lavish and astounding rig we’ve seen to date, while still remaining somewhat compact. A customized Man truck, built and designed by the two who revealed themselves to be Swiss. It was Mark’s unique and philosophical approach to traveling that struck me, as well as his wife’s boundless display of radiating love and positive energy that made me feel a certain kindred towards them. They also afforded me a certain amount of respect that I greatly appreciated, bringing me up to their level so to speak. It’s worth noting that they had also made the best cup of coffee that anyone had made us yet coming out of their own rig. An espresso, to be precise. One for everyone. As well as sharing some lovely meals, and excellent conversation with these now legendary travelers, we all sat down one morning before parting ways and had an Overlanding summit. Everyone brought their maps and notes and traded ideas, experiences, and ins and outs of our individual routes.

 Overlanders celebration at El Refugio

Overlanders celebration at El Refugio

It was great time and a pinnacle point in my overlanding life. It brought me a renewed excitement to travel on, and see what comes next. It reminded me of what we’d seen and done, strengthening me with what had already been accomplished. We celebrated that night with a delectable spread of wine and cheese, and said goodbye to Mark and Deborah in the morning as they headed out.
After some more laxed days, we decided to make our way out of the campsite before we were blocked in by the road crew who were rebuilding the road outside, and would be essentially cutting of the vehicle access for an undisclosed amount of time. We spent the night just up the block, close to the French bakery where we had coffee and a croissant before leaving in the morning. John and Mandi, as well as Tuck’s truck, decided to stay and hold out until the road was rebuilt, not that either of them would have been stopped by anything with the vehicles they were driving.

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We said goodbye to Villa De Leyva. There were some sites to see on the way before leaving the area. They were the fossil, the clay house, and the exxo-hommo Church. We, the good travelers that we are, decided to see them all. The fossil was a magnificent display, as well as a jaw dropping look into the past. A juvenile Kronosaurus on display exactly where they found him, largely intact and a significant enough find to have built the museum around it, protecting it from the elements. The Kronosaurus was in the giant range of dinosaurs and they said an adult Kronosaurus would grow up to three times the size of the juvenile.

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The clay house was unusual, but really neat at the same time. I was impressed, it looked like a warm and fun place to live, a brilliant idea to build it and then charge an entry fee for visitors. Genius.

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Last was was the Exxo-hommo church which I’d like to briefly expand on. This church was a catholic church built on a foundation of fossils, some millions of years old. I found it interesting and a great contradiction theoretically, although reflecting on it now I imagine the Dominican friars didn’t have the capacity to accurately carbon date the fossils in order for anyone to justifiably argue the history of the earth or mankind to begin with. But like they say, only time will tell, and the irony made itself known to me almost immediately. I wonder what the old friars would have thought when the truth was revealed to them, if they would have plastered over the fossils or accepted it as fact and adjusted their belief systems accordingly.  Having never seen anything like it I blissfully marveled in my ignorance, paid my respects, and we were on our way.