Firecrackers exploded outside my hotel room window at 5am each morning. Fifteen minutes later bells in the nearby church tower would ring so loudly that ripples formed on the water in the bottle beside my bed. It was the price I paid for arriving at Villa de Leyva during a week-long festival honoring the Virgen de Carmen.
Villa de Leyva was founded over four hundred years ago, and – thanks in part to the Colombian government’s decision to make it a National Monument back in 1954 – the small mountain town’s colonial architecture has been extremely well preserved. The touristy-but-authentic feel reminded me of Cusco, Peru.
On my second night in Villa de Leyva I sat at an outdoor café overlooking the main square and wrote this note:
Continuous fireworks. A shrill whine, a series of rapid flashing crackles, and finally a sharp percussive pop I feel in my chest. A Colombian couple is making out at the table next to me. The lights of the old colonial church blur into the lights of small carnival rides. A mechanical bull, a carousel, inflatable playrooms, giddy punch-drunk children running on cobblestone streets. Everyone friendly, a group of teenagers sees my tripod and points out a photo opportunity – a full moon rising behind the church. “Mira, la luna!” Would I really be back in the United States in less than two weeks?
The act of purchasing my Bogota-to-Denver plane ticket had flipped some sort of mental switch. I became even more contemplative, reflective, and introverted than usual. Five days passed like one. I climbed to a viewpoint on a mountainside next to town. I walked a few miles to the El Fósil museum, which has the world’s most complete Kronosaurus skeleton (a 120-million-year-old marine dinosaur, preserved in the same place it was discovered by a local farmer in 1977), and then to the Estación Astronómica Muisca (also called El Infiernito), the ruins of a pre-Colombian astronomical site. I wandered through the Saturday market. I pet dogs. I sat at cafes and people-watched.
Villa de Leyva had been exactly the right fit for my winding-down mood and I was sorry to leave.