Studying abroad is all about embarking on new adventures that challenge you to expand your comfort zone, right? In a small town tucked away in the Andes Mountains, Villa de Leyva, I had such an adventure that broadened not only my horizons, but also my spirituality.
In many Catholic countries around the world, the week leading up to Easter is known as Holy Week and represents a celebration in which believers reflect upon the stages of Jesus Christ’s life–from his birth to his crucifixion and subsequent resurrection. My friend and I decided to spend Semana Santa in Colombia’s interior, staying in the beautiful capital Bogotá, and the idyllic tourist destination Villa de Leyva.
Bogotá was a bustling city, covered with beautiful graffiti and infused with the history of the Colombian people’s fight for political, economic, and social freedom. Upon arriving we participated in a walking tour of the city, that included trying national delicacies such as a corn-based alcohol known as chicha, and visiting the site of El Bogotazo–an event that changed the course of Colombian politics in the 20th century. And of course, we can’t forget about the coffee! From cute little restaurants that sold coffee prepared with the French press method–to people selling cups of tinto in the streets–the wonderful coffee warmed up the chilly days. Bogotá was amazing, to say the least. However, the highlight of my trip was the incomparable town of Villa de Leyva.
I fell in love with Villa de Leyva immediately–just imagine a small colonial town, where horses walk through the cobblestone streets, and women sell beautiful handmade blankets and ponchos in the shops throughout the town’s center. In the main plaza stands a beautiful church with its doors open wide, welcoming worshipers from all over to join in Holy Week festivities. Our hostel was located outside of Villa de Leyva, and offered a spectacular view of the entire town. We visited many tourist attractions, such as the Pozos Azules–extremely blue lakes in the middle of the desert–and la Casa barra, a house completely made out of terra cotta clay. I was enraptured in the charming and beautiful atmosphere of the town, and when our tour guide offered to show us waterfalls seldom visited by tourists, there was no hesitation to continue the adventure.
Unbeknownst to me, these waterfalls were high up in the Andes Mountains, and required a intensive hike to reach them. As we began our hike, I couldn’t help but focus on our ever increasing altitude, and how looking down into the valley over 7,000 feet below made me incredibly dizzy. To be honest, I was terrified. I was shaking, I was sweating. I didn’t want to go on, I wanted to turn back. However, my tour guide took my hand, told me to breathe and focus on the nature around me, and once I did I was overcome with a great sense of serenity and peacefulness. So high up in the mountains, looking over this natural wonder, I felt enveloped in my spirituality, in my religion, and in that moment of calmness I knew that I could continue on. When we finally reached the waterfalls, I knew the journey was worth it. When I put my feet in the water, I felt a sense of renewal and closeness to the earth. And believe me, the incredible metaphor of having this experience during Semana Santa was not lost on me.
An incomparable experience in a beautiful town. I hope to return to Bogotá and Villa de Leyva in the very near future!