I pull open the curtains from the window of my makeshift office on the third floor to get a sneak peek at the day. The gray sky glares back at me, the promise of rain in its eyes.
Disheartened, I pull the curtains back in place. While the sun shines a lot more now than it did last year, Bogotá’s cold, rainy days always depress me. I make an impulsive decision to escape the city for a couple of days and throw two days’ worth of clothes into my backpack. I say goodbye to my Colombian family and jump in a taxi to Portal de la 80, where buses pass for Villeta.
Since Colombia is so close to the equator, temperature is determined by altitude rather than how far north or south you are. At over 8000 feet, Bogotá is normally pretty chilly. Luckily, there are several pueblos within an hour or two from the capital that are calentico (hot) and provide short-term escapes for city dwellers tired of the cold.
I hand the bus assistant 11,000 pesos for the two-hour drive and settle into the back row. A couple of stops later, an overweight lady stuffs herself into the seat next to me, automatically dominating the armrest and a large chunk of my personal space as well. I shoot her elbow dirty looks and sigh heavily from time to time, which has little effect.
In Villeta, I step off the bus into a humid climate that makes my hair frizz. I walk in random loops around the town, looking for a hotel with a pool – I’m in the mood to splurge a little. I stop at one hospedaje, where an apprehensive older man peers around the door suspiciously. I decide before I even say hello that I won’t be staying here, though for curiosity’s sake I do ask the price of a room – 20,000 pesos.
A couple of blocks over I find Hotel La Embajada (Carrera 7 #6-51), a clean place with a sparkly pool and a low price of 25,000 pesos. I pay for two nights up front and sink onto my temporary bed, mentally planning out the rest of my day.
A stroll through the town leads me to the central park. Instead of a massive church dominating the square typical in most Latin American towns, a modest structure sits in its place, taking up a moderate amount of space on the plaza’s corner. The focal points of Villeta’s park are the massive trees of different varieties that shade the square.
I order a strawberry shake at a restaurant lining the plaza and sit at an outdoor wooden table sheltered by a generous blue umbrella.
I watch a cute stray dog rolling around on his back and slurp the rest of my smoothie. A wander down a couple more side streets and eventually take a seat on a shaded bench near the church, watching kids play futbol as the sun sets.
After a late morning tanning session the next day, I head to El Mana (Calle 6 #6-52), a vegetarian restaurant (shock!) around the corner from my hotel. Unfortunately, the food turned out to be pretty yuck. I feel bad writing this, because I applaud the courage and consciousness of the owner to open up a veggie place in a small town, but the food has a long way to go. On the positive side, they have a lot of organic, vitamin, and integral products that I’m sure aren’t yuck.
For my fellow vegetarians, a better option is the Cuban sandwich shop next to the Centro Comercial Imperio on the main street half a block from the park. Their tasty veg sandwiches are just 4000 pesos.
Another tanning session later and I’m ready for my afternoon caffeine fix. A couple of blocks uphill from El Mana is a trendy-looking café run by what I assume to be a Paisa, revealed by the regional posters and handicrafts on the walls. He makes me an excellent café mocha for 3000 pesos.
I’m officially bored, and it’s only 4 p.m. I make a commitment to head back to Bogotá early the next day and spend the night watching a Colombian telenovela and working through my to-do list.
My efforts to wake up early and head to the bus terminal are unrewarded. I approach the woman working behind the desk and ask her when the bus is expected. She promises she’ll tell me in a second, seemingly overwhelmed by the sheer number of customers occupying the station (about three). I sit on a hard plastic chair and try to practice patience. The minibus finally pulls up almost an hour later. I hand over 11000 pesos for the two-hour drive.
The bus churns to life and rolls out of town. Speeding along the highway, I gaze out the window at the rolling hills, feeling a profound admiration for Colombia. I close my eyes and smile as the sun warms my face. I’m excited to go back home.