After Manizales we headed north, out of coffee country and into the Boyaca Region of Colombia. To get there we had to spend one night in Bogota.
With only one morning in the Capital we had just enough time to visit the famous Museo de Oro (Gold Museum), which showcased all the gold trinkets created by many of the country’s indigenous societies. The museum spanned several stories with case after case of beautifully crafted gold ornaments, vases, jewelry, headpieces and anything else used in daily life. Some societies even crafted their fishing hooks out of gold. It’s amazing that all these artifacts didn’t disappear from history when the Spanish arrived.
We also had a quick visit to the National Police museum, which proudly displayed photos of all the Cartel and FARC members the police had killed or captured over the past few decades. They even displayed the clothes Pablo Escobar was wearing the day he was shot. And just in case we needed a clearer picture of that day’s event, they included a piece of wood that was stained with his blood. Creepy!
After a brief glimpse of Bogota we took a bus a few hours north to Villa de Leyva, a beautifully preserved colonial village. We spent our time there mostly walking around the countryside. One day, after a couple hours of walking, we found ourselves at El Fosil, a dinosaur museum in the middle of no where. The museum displayed the fossil of a huge marine dinosaur, along with tons of sea shell fossils which suggests this whole region used to be an ocean.
We continued walking and a couple miles later found ourselves at an ostrich farm. Intrigued, we asked for a tour. Before our guide let us play with the ostriches she asked that we watch a short video about the place first. The main premise of the video was to convey how majestic and special these animals are, with interesting facts about their size and behaviors. The screen showed images of fertilized eggs warming in incubators, tiny baby ostrich heads poking out of porcelain eggs, and care-givers cleaning and nurturing newborn babies. It all seemed so innocent and sweet.
Suddenly, huge slabs of meat fillets sizzling on a barbecue and restaurant patrons shoving ostrich meat into their mouths displayed before us while the narrator explained how delicious they tasted. Ben and I just smiled at one another. But our smirks turned into full blown laughter when scenes of ostrich-leather wallets, purses and boots came to view. I mean, what kind of place is this? What kind of place lovingly brings ostriches into the world and then encourages their slaughter for the sake of a pretty pair of boots? How the irony was totally lost on our guide was beyond me.
After the video we went outside and fed the ostriches. At the end of the tour our guide walked us into a creepy ‘gift shop’, where all their ostrich products were for sale. Even the oil from the eyeballs was up for purchase. We quickly said “no gracias” and headed back to town, completing what must surely be the most random day we’ve had thus far.
Right now we are just north of Villa de Leyva, staying on a farm called Finca San Pedro. The farm is owned by a man named Juan and his mother and the land has been in the family for 5 generations. Juan is very passionate about the natural landscape here and convinced us to do a day hike to see the areas páramo.
A páramo is an unusual eco-system that is only found in the high mountains of South and Central America. The Colombian Andes has 60% of the world’s páramos, which provide a huge service to the people here. The plants actually absorb rainwater from their leaves which flows down into the soil. From there the water flows together to form small rivers which turn into huge rivers and lakes as they descend down the mountains. These lakes and rivers are the main water source for many small towns and cities in this region, making this ecosystem invaluable.
With Juan’s declaration that the nearby Páramo de Oceta is considered the most beautiful páramo in the world, we quickly agreed and set off the next day. Ben, myself and our new English amigo Patrick met our guide Maria in a nearby village called Monqui, the starting point of our hike.
As we ascended, it got very cold and windy and began to rain. With memories of my experience on Santa Isabel still fresh in my mind, I was determined to have a great experience no matter how extreme the weather conditions. This was in fact the most beautiful páramo in the world and I wasn’t going to spend it sulking. Luckily the weather didn’t completely turn on us and we were able to get some incredible views. Walking down into the valley we were almost speechless from both its beauty and abnormality. It felt like we were in middle-earth.
As the rainy mist continued into the afternoon, Maria reminded us this was a great thing. After being absorbed by all the plants around us and filtered through the soil, this mist is what supplies water to so many communities around here. It’s really incredible when you think about it that way.
After 8 strenuous hours of hiking we rounded back down to Monqui, said goodbye to Maria, and caught the bus back to Finca San Pedro. I’m not a páramo expert, but I have to agree with Juan’s assessment. I can’t imagine any other páramo being more beautiful than Páramo de Oceta.
We felt exhausted yet satisfied when we got back and spent the evening watching a movie with Juan and another volunteer. Even though we all just met, as we sat in the living room, wrapped in blankets, eating pizza and watching a movie, I got that warm and cozy feeling you get when you’re with family. Finca San Pedro is not a place you forget easily. But with only a couple weeks left in Colombia we are moving on tomorrow. We are continuing North and will begin completing the circle we’ve made thus far since leaving Cartagena.
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