At the end of a long winding ride uphill, the sight of Villa de Leyva was a relief from a day of travel. Squat little white houses with red tile roofs scattered across the valley, backdropped by mountains, creates an almost too idyllic scene. Sort of a Colombian replica of the south of France, complete with nascent vineyards and resident fossils. There are no sprawling fields of lavender and sunflowers, but both grow here, so there could be, poppies too, I imagine.
What made it really feel perfect, though, was the cool fresh air after a couple of weeks of sweltering. This was the weather promised in the guide books, though a bit short on the rain. The same blistering drought was happening here, but the altitude alleviated the heat and provoked a breeze.
From the van to a taxi, as usual. The first hostel I went to, The Hostel Everest, I’ll just say, disappointed. I’ll spare details except to say that when the housekeeper runs downstairs to get change for your payment, be very clear about how much you have given her, and maybe even get it in writing. You may save a lot of pain and embarrassment.
After arguing pointlessly in stupidly bad Spanish with the housekeeper, I went to find another hostel. Right next to the plaza I found a nice little hostel, the TinVa, run by a lovely couple. I would stay here 11 days.
I went walking and found the picture perfect town plaza. Every picture of it online looks pretty much the same. and pretty much as it looks. Known as one of the largest plazas in the Americas, what is really remarkable about it is its simplicity. A small unadorned fountain anchors the center, the rest is cobblestones from the squat white buildings on the four sides to the fountain. On one side of the square sits a one story parish church, the rest of the surrounding buildings have tiendas, restaurants and bars. In the evening the bars fill up. and the restaurants try to. The major drink of choice is beer, Joker beer, and there are corners of the ground filled with bottle caps sporting card suits.
On Thursdays and Saturdays there are markets with producers from all over the valley, including organic farmers, some are Europeans who create beers, cheeses, salamis and chocolates.
This place seemingly has it all. But of course it doesn’t. I’ve walked the four corners, and I can see myself getting bored. I hate to admit it, and maybe if I had a group of friends here and a garden, well, maybe.
Okay, the specifics:
It meets be the beauty criteria, for sure. The climate is sort of at it’s hottest right now, and it is quite endurable, and mostly it’s perfect. The cost of living is great at the moment (it may get more expensive as the peso gets stronger). I’m learning the language, poco a poco, and I have some confidence that I’ll do fine at it.
The List (The Sorting Hat, part 2):
- Family and friends. With many affordable flights a day from Bogota, they family is reasonable close. I’ve already met a few fine people here, and went out for beers on the plaza with a fine gentleman who has great stories.
- Affordability. Rents are cheap here, in the $200 to $300 range. Living here for me is quite affordable.
- Legal Status. Legal residency in Colombia is quite manageable.
- People. Yes, I can see having friends easily here.
- Language. My Spanish improves daily. Colombian Spanish is clear, and the people I’ve met are patient.
- Culture. The pace is slow, for sure. But there are movies and music, good food, and Bogota 2 hours away.
- Climate.Somewhere close to perfect, unless snow is important to you, or blazing heat.
- Beauty. Cobblestone streets, white houses with deep wood balconies, overflowing with flowers, and wood shuttered windows shaded by red tile roofs. Oh me, of course I would prefer a bit more vibrancy and variety, but it is beautiful here.
- Access to medical care. Bogota, 2 hours away.
- Terrain. Cobblestones streets, for all of their charm, are a challenge. I see many older people navigating with canes. My host at the hostel says his own arthritic knees have actually improved here due to the exercise. It is a concern.
- Food! When I go to markets as I travel, I find that some of them make me want to stop right there and get a kitchen. I prefer to cook my own food most of the time, and I love a lot of different cuisines, but there must be availability of fresh, local varied ingredients. Yes, this place meets these needs.
- Coffee. Colombia?
- Amenities. Internet, electricity, and the basic necessities. I’m not too fussed by not having access to big box stores, or even variety stores. Yes, more than the basics are here. Obviously good internet!
- Tranquility. Is too much possible? It verges on it. But the weekends are lively.