Two Tiny Towns Stuck in the Past

Trip Start Sep 09, 2006
Trip End Aug 18, 2010

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Flag of Colombia  ,
Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Barichara and Villa de Leyva are two sleepy little towns that we visited on our way down from the coast to Bogota.  The cities have a population of less than 5000 each, and we found them to be quiet retreats away from the big city.  In fact, the name "Barichara" comes from Barachala, a Guane Indian word (the original inhabitants of this territory) which means "a good place for a rest". We thought so too.

It has been said that Barichara and Villa de Leyva are the kind of towns that Hollywood filmmakers dream about.  Spanish colonial settlements of striking beauty, the whitewashed buildings and stone streets look almost as new as the day they were created some 300 years ago.  Virtually no modern architecture exists to this day. 

In fact, when we were in Villa de Leyva, they were in the process of filming a Spanish-language soap opera version of the masked Zorro story, El Zorro (Reeshma kept searching for Antonio Banderas, but couldn´t find him), and had mounted lights and ladders on the plaza's main cathedral for the set.  Amidst watching all the action and admiring the medieval costumes, we spent most of our time in the beautifully restored colonial mansions just off the plaza, sipping coffee and sitting by cozy fireplaces. One of these cafes was at one time owned by the elderly drummer Bill Lynn, who backed up Elvis Presley for 4 years, and spent his retirement playing in his restaurant here in Colombia. Sadly, he passed away fairly recently, in January 2006.

Barichara is also famous for the fact that every year, between March and April, the giant flying ants are out and about after the rains, and get eaten by the Baricharans....hmmm.....that's a little strange.  Hormiga culona or Queen Fatass Ants (the name is enough to make you laugh out loud) are a national delight, and have been eaten for hundreds of years, as a tradition inherited from pre-Colombian cultures, such as the Guane. The ants are harvested for about nine weeks every year, at the time of the rainy season, which is when they make their nuptial flight, the one time per year when they emerge from their dune-like ant hills to seek a mate and form a new colony.  We did see men foraging about in the trees, and didn´t know what they were doing until afterwords.  According to one local man, they supposedly have the consistency of Arequipe (a popular sweetened thick milk pudding like dessert).  Thankfully, although we were there in the middle of ant-eating season, the rains hadn´t descended as yet, and we weren´t witness to the gorging of insects. 

There is a nice hour and a half long walk along an old Spanish trail to the village of Guane, 10km northwest of Barichara.  Apparently, it was built for the German settlers 147 years ago.  You can visit the Museum of Fossils at Guane (entrance 2000 pesos), for an enlightening insight on this area, that once was completely submerged underwater.

- Fatass ants are used as traditional gifts in weddings. They are believed to be everything from a natural form of Viagra to a protein-rich defense against cancer. 
- Ever wonder what might actually be inside that Belgian chocolate you just ingested?  Ants?  Discovery Channel Article, August 2006

- Hotel Aposentos, right on the plaza, is highly recommended.  The owner, Miguel Bermudez Ruiz is extremely friendly, and loves to chat.  Cost:  40000 pesos for a double, including TV, comfy beds, and morning Tinto.
- You´ll have trouble finding any restaurants that stay open for dinner in Barichara.  We spent all three nights eating burgers and fried chicken with plastic gloves on our hands at the Boqueros fast food joint near the square.

Villa de Leyva
- Casa de Don Paulino is a beautiful old home surrounding a courtyard where you can stay for 40000 pesos for a double, TV, and hot shower, including "jugito y tinto" (juice and coffee). 

(View this entry´s Slide Show/Photo Album above)
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Where I stayed
Aposentos Hotel
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