The Caribbean coast is my first Colombian love. Beaches, sun, costeños, tropical air, coconuts fresh from the tree. Yet if the coast is vibrant and loud, Boyaca, the department to the east of Bogotá, is soft rolling farmland and ten thousands shades of green. I am learning to love Boyaca and you should too!
All of the animals are fuzzy. On the coast, the chickens do not even have feathers on their necks. In Boyaca, there exist chickens with feathers on their feet! Not to mention fuzzy donkeys, hairy horses and the world’s most adorable little lambs.
The people of Boyaca, known as Boyacenses, are mainly farmers. I have seen fields of potatoes and other staples. In the town of Aquitania, the air smells faintly of green onions. This is only fitting because the plaza boasts a large statue in honour of the onion. Many of the surrounding communities in the Valley of the Sun also pay homage to their crops in the central plaza. During Semana Santa, for a small fee, you can wear traditional campesino garb and pose next to the statues. That beats giant perogies!
I am from Northern Canada. Our rivers and lakes are filled with melted glacier water. We joke that the only way to stay warm while swimming is to jump in, pee to warm up the surrounding water, and then jump out. Yukoners, just not me, still spend all summer paddling in frozen water. It is the same in Boyaca. The Laguna de Tota is freezing, yet Boyacenses are out swimming en masse. Witnessing this natural phenomenon is special.
Sub tropical tundra in the Andes. Need I say more? Perhaps only the fact that it is super easy and reasonably priced for a group of five to contract a guide for personalized (ie. not allowing Anna to get lost forever) 8 hour hike. Juan, the owner of Finca San Pedro, was very helpful in making contact with Diego, our amazing guide and expert in whistle signals.
This ubiquitous corn patty is Colombia’s version of the tortilla. They can be found all over the country, but no region does arepas better than Boyaca. Sweet, filled with cheese and accompanied with hot chocolate, there is nothing better during a long road trip than stopping at one of the roadside stands lining the highway back to Bogotá.
Villa de Leyva is the Cartagena of the Boyacá. It is the most well known pueblo, but the countryside is full of beautiful towns with classic colonial architecture, bougainvillea, and beautiful plazas. Mongui is gorgeous. Iza is the perfect place to buy dessert on the street and spend the afternoon people watching in the plaza.
One of the reasons that our guide, the previously mentioned Diego, was so good at his job was his contagious pride in his department. Every new site in the paramo was greeted with the introduction that “You guys will see. It’s amazing!” Larisa and I took turns asking him about things on the coast to see if he would remain convinced about Boyaca superiority. Mangos? Everywhere in Boyaca. Yuca and ñame? Absolutely exist here. Bananas? Yep. Costeños? His roommate! We thought we had stumped him with a question about beaches. He thought for a moment, and then broke into a grin. Playa Blanca, of course.
This goes well with Boyaca pride, but there are many spots that rightfully deserve superlative treatment. “The World’s Highest Vineyard” The Largest Natural Lake in Colombia” The Most Amazing Paramo in the World” “The Winner of the Winners for the Most Beautiful Pueblo in Boyaca.” “The World’s Largest Underground Cathedral.” The list goes on and it is all worth seeing.
When roads are in good condition, it is possible to arrive in a reasonable amount of time. Basic, yet life changing. Plus, during the bus ride from Bogotá to Villa de Leyva there was a man actually selling contraband watches, supposedly from Venezuela. On the coast, bus goods usually consist of candy, dubious medicine, and giant cookies. I had never before seen anyone with an entire suitcase full of electronics, including iphones, tablets, and perfume, on a bus. Business was booming.
A new agricultural strike began yesterday. Protesting is not a consequence free action. During the last strike, people died and were accused of belong to the FARC. Striking is not rash or foolhardy, but rather a carefully calculated decision of weighing the pros and cons of livelihood versus personal risk. For those who are not familiar with the simmering undercurrents of negative free trade deal impacts, failed government promises and the determination of its people to find a better future, the farms and pueblos of Boyacá can appear sleepy and calm. Yet within those colonial plazas and fields of green onions are people willing to nonviolently demand their rights as Colombian citizens, to live a life of dignity.