Ponchos. You just can’t get away from them in the Andes. I’d always associated them with the higher Andean countries further south, like Ecuador and Peru, but it turns out they’re all the rage here in Colombia. At least in the mountains north of Bogotá in the district of Boyaca. In the beautiful and relaxed colonial town of Villa de Leyva, just a few hours by bus from Bogotá, people are wearing them, and shops are selling them. But try to get a vegetable on your plate and you’ll really struggle. Keeping warm seems a higher priority than maintaining a balanced diet.
The Andes split in two in Colombia as they descend to the Caribbean coast and I’m following the Eastern Range. The mountains may not be as spectacular as further south, but there’s plenty to see, travelling is easy, the people are friendly and the climate is milder. Villa de Leyva is an attractive colonial town with one of the biggest squares in the Americas. I spent several days here just wandering the cobbled streets soaking up the atmosphere and looking in vain for a vegetable.
There are lots of sights around town too and I took a local bus out to the Convento del Santo Ecce Homo, a Dominican monastery founded 400 years ago. By chance it happened to be the day of the monastery’s festival and so on the walk up I joined the procession. On the way back I stopped off at the Fossil Museum, which is famous for a 120 million year old 7 metre long kronosaurus fossil, along with hundreds of other smaller ones too.
My next stop heading north was Sogamoso. Here I spent a day at Lago de Tota which has a beach, Playa Blanca, one of the highest in the world at 3015m. It’s a nice place to relax, but the water was not exactly tropical. I had a nice lunch in the restaurant right on the beach, steak and all kinds of carbohydrates. I also struck lucky with half a slice of tomato and a limp lettuce leaf.
The next day I had a demanding trek through the Páramo de Oceta. A Páramo is a geographical area over 3000m with lakes and grassy plains and, as I discovered, often very wet. I took a bus to the village of Mongui where I met my guide, Juan, who’s descended from the local Muisca people. It was a hard climb, gaining 1000m in 3 hours and the wind and rain were strong. There is a viewpoint where you can see a lake, but the clouds were rolling in obscuring everything that day. We did see the unique plants, though, the so called frailejones.
I’ll be heading north soon on my way to the coast and the altitude will drop, so ponchos will become rarer no doubt. I’m just hoping that vegetables will become more abundant. In fact, you see them in markets, it’s just that restaurants seem to think it would offend your carnivorous sensibilities to serve them up. The big question, though, is if will I be able to avoid the temptation of buying a poncho later in my trip. And would I actually wear it?