22nd – 29th August: From San Gil we continued to follow the Cordillera Oriental of the Colombian Andes, into the department of Boyaca. Winding our way up and down valleys, along and over ridges, through towns and villages, we gradually climbed from 1,100m above sea level up to 2,400m, before descending to a lowly 2,100m.
Our destination, Villa de Leyva, is boasted to be the most beautiful pueblo in all of Colombia – a bold claim indeed, although perhaps justified. There is certainly something special about the colonial town set in a high altitude valley. Every way you look there are stunning vistas of expansive skies and dramatic mountains with the clouds skidding along the dark ridges. The fascinating landscape changes from day to day, and perched at the top of town, camping out in the garden at Hostel Renacer it proved very difficult to drag ourselves away…
Road block just outside Socorro - we were waiting for 45mins while the trucks tried to right the overturned lorry. At least it gave us a break from the climbing!
We stopped for elevenses in Barbosa and found a throng of people beside this little stall selling empanadas - very similar to a Cornish pasty, deep-fried and with the added bonus of a boiled egg inside! Delicious. The ones we had here were seriously good, the best we've tried so far - and we've sinked a lot of empanadas. Washed down with a thick milk and oat drink, and plenty of banter from the eccentric vendor we set off with renewed vigour back into the mountains.
The rainbow after the storm - main plaza Moniquira. We hit two brief but brutal thunder storms on the way to Villa de Leyva. The first threw hailstones the size of peanuts at us out on the road. Luckily during the second we were safely stowed in a bar, and could simply order a beer and wait for the rainbow to appear!
By the time the storm was over (and after a couple of beers) it was too late to carry on pedaling so we decided to stay in Moniquira. Little did we know that the department of Boyaca regional school sport championships were underway and there was no room at the inn anywhere in town. Fortunately Lady Luck was smiling upon us that night, and the lovely Martha offered us a place to stay in her house. It turned out perfectly, she happened to be good friends with Miguel-Angel - bicycle enthusiast and cousin of Alonso who we stayed with in San Gil! We had a wonderful evening with the family and felt truly fortunate to have run into such a cyclist friendly bunch!
A roadblock of a different kind lay in wait the following day as we set off on the back road to Villa de Leyva. This one took a fraction of the time to clear!
A 15 mile climb lay ahead from 1,700m above sea level up to 2,400m.
Typical - you see no traffic for an hour, then two vehicles come along at once. Luckily Ned kept his distance!
There really was very little traffic on this section.
Traveling in style!
From orange and banana groves we climbed and climbed until we were surrounded by pines and eucalyptus trees.
Up to the pueblo of Santa Sofia. In the main plaza we were lured into a bakery by the smell of freshly baked bread, a common and very welcome aroma on every street in Colombia!
Life on the square in Santa Sofia
Just a mile or so short of Villa de Leyva, our bicycles stopped to admire the view!
The imposing, impressive plaza in Villa de Leyva - it's 120m x 120m, the largest in any town in South America. We arrived on a Thursday and the emptiness was a little eerie. The stunning vista of the ridge behind with the expanse of sky all around adds to the effect.
At the weekend the town filled with people, and the plaza too. Luckily for the orchestra poised for their outdoor concert the ominous rainclouds held back their cargo and everyone stayed dry. The plaza is so large, and windy, that people come and fly their kites there!
The buzzing Saturday market. These huge witches' couldrons filled with soup were kept bubbling all day.
Another ominous bank of cloud that passed us by, but gave the valley below a soaking.
Sunday morning - the padres on their way to preach.
Taking a tramp - this track is definitely not for our bikes!
Villa de Leyva from up on the ridge - you can make out the huge plaza way down below.
On our mini-hike we found this perfect swimming hole. Ned took the lead and we spent many happy minutes climbing the rock and plopping off into the freezing water!
Henry and his bike shop. During the ride from San Gil Ned noticed a disturbing crunching noise coming from his back wheel. We thought it was the bearings in the hub that had gone, but alas the problem was not so easily resolved. The freewheel mechanism needed replacing, and although Henry tried valiently to find the right part for the job he couldn't. So, off we trot Bogota-bound, hoping that the bike will make it the last 100 miles or so.
Truthful sentiments at the Botanical Garden just outside town.