One of Mongui’s claim to fame is the manufacturing of soccer balls. They advertise hand sewn leather ones, but we’ve had to search hard to find one. Most are formed synthetic, or even foam. All are colorful and I’d guess there are at least a dozen shops selling them, and an unknown number of manufacturers. It’s said 80% of the population is somehow involved in the industry, producing 300k balls a year.
After a not-too-long bus ride from Tunja, we arrived in the village of Mongui. Population 5000 or so, it’s nestled in a beautiful green valley where the small family farmer still rules.
Everyone seems to have a cow or two in their yard, with horses & sheep rounding out the barnyards. Several times we’ve seen a cow being “escorted” through town.
Dave had read that a person can only make a cell phone call to phones with the same carrier. That explains the “Minutos” (minutes) vendors on the streets on Tunja, and in smaller neighbohood stores elsewhere. This fella will have 3-4 phones in his lap – 1 for each carrier-and you can use one for a fee to call someone you otherwise couldn’t reach with your phone.
Speaking of neighborhood stores, they’re everywhere! No more that a ground floor room that opens up to the street , they’re a bit of a gathering place. They’ll have a beverage cooler, a big snack selection ( chips, candy…), maybe a small selection of hot food, and a few chairs squeezed in. In smaller towns there is at least one, often several, in a block. Darn handy.
We spent 2 nights here as it was mid-point to our next destination – Mongui. Tunja is a good sized town – population just shy of 200k – and the capital of the Boyaca region. Just a few tourist sites to see and none that really interested us much. Our little hotel was only 2 blocks from the center plaza so we walked there our first evening. It was beautifully lit for Christmas. Good thing I took these photos, as the next day, Jan. 2, we saw workers dismantling the displays.
As we’re both volunteer firemen in our community, Dave was on a mission to visit whatever fire stations we could locate. He found Tunja’s not far from us. It was one of three of their stations, and they were more than generous in showing us all of their equipment and gear. No one spoke English but we had a few fire department related photos of ourselves, so they figured it out. It was a surprise that a city this size had a volunteer department, though it appeared they had some permanent staff. It does make sense when you note they have no wooden structures – only brick, block, or stone.
We’re off to Tunja on New Year’s Day, less than an hour bus ride from Villa de Leyva. The holiday changed the “departure every 15 minutes” to every 45 minutes, so we chatted as best we could with the others waiting. Dave and I agree that the feature that stands out most for us is the friendliness and openness of the Colombian people. For example, these two gentlemen (below) were also waiting for the bus to Tunja – they didn’t know each other. As they were helping us understand the change in schedule, the one on the right offered us beers!! We declined, so he offered us some clear liquid – liquor maybe? He also offered beer (Joker brand) to the 2nd guy – who accepted. Yup – strangers sharing beer at the bus station. When the bus arrived, they rode shotgun and their conversation got louder as the trip progressed and the beers ran out! Like I said, open containers – even in the front seat of a public bus. Maybe this story should have the “that’s different” headline. Either way open, friendly people.
From what I can tell, Colombians grow everything, as is witnessed by the weekly farmers market in Villa de Leyva.
Every Colombian we talked to about our visit put this town at the top of the must see-list, so we did. It’s best described as a Levenworth WA or Mackinaw Island – on steroids. Here’s how the guidebook sells it:
“One of the most beautiful colonial villages in Colombia…was declared a national monument in 1954. This photogenic village has been preserved in its entirety with cobblestone roads (streets) and whitewashed buildings.”
And these aren’t small cobblestones – see below. No rollerblading or high heals.
Locals also note that the town is pursuing World Heritage Site designation, and prohibiting vehicles in the city core. Traffic was an issue with one wide lane being shared by 2-way traffic and pedestrians.
Dave and I have spent the last four days in Villa de Leyva, which is a 2.5 hour bus ride north of Bogota. So I have posting catch-up to do! Meanwhile, here are some scenes from New Year’s Eve.
In the far right corner a band blared, and there was an awesome ballon release where individuals released large glowing balloons – surreal.
We can’t watch or even listen to the game, but do enjoy the 15 minute YouTube of the highlights.