The Sign Said "CAMINO CERRADO"
Villa de Leyva
Departamento de Boyacá
República de Colombia
Noviembre 10, 2008
The sign said "CAMINO CERRADO."
Somewhere along the highway from Tunja to Villa de Leyva, the sign was unmistakable: "Camino Cerrado - Road Closed." The detour arrow pointed to the right, toward a one-lane gravel road straight up into the mountains called La Cordillera Oriental.
Covering more than 1,100,000 sq km, (425,000 sq mi) Colombia is equivalent in size to the combined areas of California and Florida (or France, Spain and Portugal). Colombia is the fourth largest country in South America after Brazil, Argentina and Peru.
Eastern Colombia is mostly a vast plain, much of it jungle, with rivers forming the Oronoco and Amazon basins. Western Colombia is mountainous with three parallel north-south chains: Cordillera Occidental (western), Cordillera Central and Cordillera Oriental (eastern). My travel companions, Luisa and Luis, and I were driving up into a rural agricultural section of the Eastern Chain.
The road was narrow. The pace was slow. Oncoming trucks were a challenge. We stopped on occasion to find someone, a farmer, a worker, anyone to point the way at a fork in the road. All the while we followed the ridgeline up and up, and finally over the crest, always mindful that the highway was off to the left. Finally, after an hour, the main road reappeared.
Luis is an excellent driver; Luisa and I helped him as much as we could. Our priority was a safe passage through the mountains on a road built for burros and carts. But in addition to my vigilance, I did manage to take a peek or two at the scenery. In a word, splendid. I vowed to return.
I met Letty at La Española Hotel Boutique in Villa de Leyva. She is a friend of the owner and each evening she came over for a chat. I mentioned my desire to hire a driver and see the mountains again. (Louisa and Luis had returned to Bogotá.) Letty agreed to be my guide and companion through the mountains the next day.
This time the drive was tranquil, breezy and beautiful.
The Spanish language has many words for "beautiful." Bello, hermoso, guapo, lindo, and bonito. Then there are words with a Latin feel. Precioso, magnífico, maravilloso, espléndido, vistoso, augusto, sublime, and soberbio. My favorite is estupendo. Surely I made the correct decision to traverse the gravel road again. Estupendo!
Even at this late date in the fall, the hills and mountains are a green carpet, a green carpet that covers crops of potatoes and onions. The stone outcrops and the sheer cliffs are gray, gold and deep red. I remind myself that I am not only driving across the Cordillera Oriental, but I am also savoring the northernmost spur of the Andes.
Our morning sojourn ends in the valley at Tunja, a city of 150,000 and the capital of the Boyacá Department. The broad, busy central square is surrounded by colonial pastel architecture and churches. We take a well-earned café con leche, and then find the Casa del Fundador Suárez Rendón and the Casa de Don Juan de Vargas, two elegant mansions with unusual artwork and ceilings.
After our colonial stroll, we drive east to a lakeside restaurant on La Laguna de Tota. We have the place to ourselves so three charming young ladies flutter about and serve us a delicious, leisurely lunch. The location is vistoso and precioso.
At the end of the day, the drive back, through Tunja and along the main road to Villa de Leyva is smooth and uneventful. If the scenery along this route is not "estupendo," it certainly is "soberbio y augusto."
I am fortunate to be here in Boyacá. The scenery is sublime. The food is splendid. The Colombians I have met are enchanting and felicitous.
Is it a sign of good luck when the road ahead is closed?