Days: 222-224 (2 February 2015 – 4 February 2015)
Total distance travelled: 42,455.3 kilometres (26,369.75 miles)
Our eagerness to see a bit more of Colombia, as well as what is reputedly one of Latin America’s grandest (at least from a size perspective) central plazas, saw us take a small handful of buses to get us to the quiet, cobbled town of Villa de Leyva.
We’d booked a hostel on the far fringes of town, which, despite them offering to reimburse customers for the cost of a taxi to get there (on arrival only), we opted to walk.
A short, rather hot time later, we began to wonder at the wisdom of turning down this option, however we shortly ran into two Canadian men, also headed to the same place doing the same!
Perhaps there was some karma involved in us saving them (our hostel, Casa Viena) the cost, as on arrival, despite having booked all that was available online, in this case a twin, we were offered a matrimonial (double) room!
Once settled, it was a much more pleasant stroll into town (what a difference changing into a pair of shorts and no backpacks makes) for a delicious lunch at a local Comida Tipico, in this case Cream of Chicken Soup and Chicken with Rice.
I note this specifically not only because it was both cheap and delicious, but in a first, at least for us, our soup was garnished not with croutons or the like, but rather with hot chips (or if you prefer, french fries)!
Checking out the main plaza for a second time again gave us a true sense of how vast a space it is, seemingly a touch ridiculous given the size of the town.
As with much of former Spanish America, especially in smaller towns, the plaza does remain the heart, and it was on the fringes we spotted something, or should it be someone, who took our minds immediately back to the historical heart of Bratislava.
The following morning we’d set ourselves a mission, to take a bit of a walk on the wild side, or at least out into the dry scrubby terrain that surrounds the town, and check out possibly Villa de Leyva’s biggest tourist drawcard, ‘El Fosil‘.
We figured we could do it as a bit of a loop, visiting a couple of other sites along the way.
This adventure, quickly became one of those travel misadventures, as along the way we spotted signs for the Parque Arqueologico de Monquira, otherwise known as ‘El Infiernito‘, also our 2nd destination, stating that it was closed each day from noon until 2pm.
No problem we thought, we’ll just walk there first, so on we walked (I should point out that ‘El Fosil‘ was already five and a half kilometres from the main plaza & this was further).
All along the journey, El Infiernito had been well signed, then all of a sudden, when we needed it most, it was as though they’d decided that they’d have a little fun with us.
Turning right where we suspected we needed to, all of a sudden saw us walking several more kilometres along a hot and dusty dirt track… surely this isn’t the way we thought.
So, back at the main road, we continued on for a bit (in fact a lot) further, before eventually, tired and sore, slunk back to El Fosil so that the day wouldn’t be a complete write off.
With Sarah ready to throw in the towel, we opted for a quick bite and a beer at an adjacent pizza shop (yes, almost in the middle of nowhere) where we ran into those Canadian guys from our hostel.
We got talking with them, and also discussing matters with the pizza shop owner who said we could follow the road that ran alongside his property to also reach El Infiernito!
Now, with fresh information, and having rested our weary legs a little, we were in a much better mindset to tackle El Fosil.
So, what exactly is it?
Well this fossil, as you may have already guessed based on its name, are the near complete remains of a Kronosaurus, a type of Plesiosaur from the Cretacious period.
Unearthed by a farmer in 1977, they have essentially left it there and built their museum around the remains.
The museum was also home to many other fossils, mainly shell life from the shallow inland sea that apparently once sat here.
In fact the area appears to be so fossil rich, that there are no apparent problems with farmers using them amongst other rocks as part of their wall construction!
With El Fosil conquered, we set our sights on a second attempt at El Infiernito, armed with our fresh information from our friendly pizza man, as well as earlier confirmation from a random motorcyclist that the dirt track we’d been following, was in fact the correct road, we had a decision to make.
We went with our friendly pizza man, following the dirt track that ran directly beside his property, optimistic (or should that be hopeful) that we’d finally find the place.
His directions too, proved a little vague, but with an the help of a couple more locals, we eventually found it, the Parque Arqueologico de Monquira (El Infiernito).
Apparently at least 2,200 years old, nobody truly knows what it was for, with the two most common assessments seemingly an astrological site or a fertility worship site.
Given the phallic looking nature of the place, I’m inclined to lean towards the latter!
By all accounts, the place was in much better shape, however to try and prevent worship of ‘false’ gods, they (the Spanish authorities) toppled many of the columns, which may have perhaps aided archaeologists discern the true nature of the site…
Not truly sure if it was worth the ordeal that preceded it, we retired for the day, at least we wanted too, but still had quite a walk ahead of us!
By the time we turned in for the night (much later I should add), our meanderings during the day had seen us cover over twenty three kilometres!
It had also meant that we’d had to save one of the other stops we’d pencilled in until the following morning, but that was okay.
A much shorter half hour walk, with no hills to be seen, got us to Casa Terracotta.
This house, described on their own website as both a work of art and the largest piece of pottery in the world, made for a good morning excursion before our long onward journey to follow (we had both a bus back to Bogota to come, followed by an overnight journey to Buga).
The entrance fee lets you freely explore both the interior and exterior of the place, full of nooks and cranny’s, a ridiculous number of bathrooms and bedrooms, and a roof, which despite its shapely curves, is essentially a series of lovely terraces.
Back in town we had time for another filling, cheap and delicious set lunch (although disappointingly our previous dining establishment was closed, so no more soup with fries), before it was time to make tracks and head on towards our next destination.
At least there was the promise of beer waiting at the other end…
* From Bogota, it was necessary to travel first to Tunja ($20,000.00 COP per person), where we then changed for the final leg onwards to Villa de Leyva ($3,500.00 COP per person).
* To see El Fosil cost us $6,000.00 COP per person, and although Parque Arqueologico de Monquira should have cost us the same, perhaps due to the dearth of visitors, the guard only charged us $5,000.00 COP per person!
* Entrance into the Casa Terracotta is $6,000.00 COP per person, which grants you free run of this quirky piece of architecture.