The great state of Boyaca lies on the Cordillera Oriental, the easternmost of Colombia’s mountain ranges which enter the country at its southern border as one massive chain known as the Andes, and after splitting into three separate ranges, gradually climb down to meet the sea down by the beach. After leaving Villa de Leyva, we have headed roughly northeast to visit the area surrounding the town of Duitama.
In Duitama we are staying with our friend Oscar and his girlfriend Laura. Oscar is an encyclopedia of Colombian history, geography and folklore. He knows practically every road, city and point of interest that lies between Cabo de la Vela and Ipiales; and from Bahia Solano to Leticia. In short, Oscar is just the sort of person we have been wanting to hang out with on this journey. His travel anecdotes are worthy of their own blog; a big popular blog.
We started the day by visiting the town of Paipa known through Colombia for its natural hot springs. The town itself is not much to look at, the reason thousands of Colombians visit this town every year is to soak in boiling water that smells like rotten eggs. Mary insists that it is therapeutic, but at 74 degrees celsius, I’d rather sit back and take pictures of the mud-covered tourists lying about. Paipa has a lot of places to spend the night, most of which have water pumped in from the hot springs to attract those in need of a hot, smelly pampering.
Across windy mountain roads we sped from Paipa to Tibasosa, a cute little town just east of Duitama. Tibasosa is remarkable because of its cleanliness and well preserved colonial center. The church at the main square is very pretty and the benches in the park out front are perfect for a long day reading a good book. Oscar claims that the reason this town is so well maintained is that for most of the last 40 years its mayors ave been of the female persuasion. Read: more apt to keep a clean house and less likely to “misplace” the town’s funds. Tibasosa is good for a stroll or a meal any day of the week, but if quiet little towns are not your thing, check it out on Sunday afternoon when the Bogotanos or “Rolos” as they are known locally, take over every open table in town for the ubiquitous, multi-coursed family lunch.
Tibasosa lies on the road to Sogamoso, a large town that takes its name from the Muisca sun-deiy its first Spanish settlers worked tirelessly to replace with the more widely known, Jesus [Hey-Sues]. Nowadays Sogamoso is the gateway to the more charming small towns that surround it like, Iza and Firavitoba. Otherwise, “famoso” Sogamoso is a perfect place to practice the national pass time of tossing back a few “Aguilas” with the boys.
The most beautiful place we visited today was the Laguna de Tota, a cool mountain lake that can be smelled before it is seen as a result of the vast onion fields that crowd its shores. The fragrance is almost as delicious as the view. Dark green stems surrounded by the black earth, surrounding the lake which in turn is surrounded by vast green mountains. An utterly surrounding experience!The specialty is fresh locally caught trout with caramelized onions cooked slowly over wood. Drool people! The onion capital of Colombia sends out a hundred fully loaded trucks from its lakeside fields each day to Bogota, Cali and even Cartagena. This beautiful area even offers a white sand beach for sun-deprived Scandinavians brave enough to test its chilly waters. It is just a 40-minute bus ride from Sogamoso up a newly paved road.
It was dark by the time we headed back to Duitama. The onion and cattle trucks sped unsafely down the two lane highway passing horse-drawn carts and cyclists by swinging into oncoming traffic around blind turns: yes, driving in Colombia is C.R.A.Z.Y. Stop signs are routinely ignored, vehicles will turn from any lane in any direction and the general understanding is that when it comes to car crashes, dead men don’t sue. It is no wonder then that truck and bus drivers, the “Transporteros”, take divine protection very seriously in this region. The whole month of July is dedicated to religious festivals in honor of the Virgen del Carmen, protector of all truck and bus drivers in Colombia. Boyaca is alive with the sound of fireworks, church bells and religious processions. Every weekend one or more towns in Boyaca is converted into a truck and bus parking lot by hundreds of drivers wishing to have their rigs (and themselves) blessed by the local priest; this divine protection is believed to be more effective than seat-belts, speed-limits and low blood alcohol levels combined. Last weekend the truckers took over Duitama, and tomorrow they will congregate in Paipa for an afternoon of blessings, fireworks and binge-drinking in honor of their beloved Virgin.
And now, I must get to bed because soon the rockets will be bursting in air in time with the tolling bells that announce first mass and last call. Buenas noches!