With great sadness we said farewell to the Ricaurte family and and the city of Bucaramanga, and headed into the massive green depths of Chicamocha Canyon on a spectacular drive to the small colonial town of Barichara. The road plunges down to the bottom of the canyon before climbing a hair-raising hairpin-turn road, but this doesn’t slow down the fearless drivers who pass the slower moving trucks (and timid us) around blind curves. We stopped at a headlight decorated shrine to those who may have been a bit too bold on a road that has little room for error. From here, we had panoramic views across the broad mesas and the beginning of the Andean mountain range. Back on the road to Barichara, we climbed out of the canyon and had a drive that was much more tranquilo but no less beautiful. We spent most of the day on the road winding through small towns surrounded by mountainsides of either deep greens fields or bright orange exposed earth.
Arriving in the late afternoon, we strolled the old streets of the colonial town of Barichara that were paved with the amber colored stones mined near the town and lined with immaculate whitewashed houses with colorful trim. Chris and I were both a little under the weather as we were fighting colds that had been plaguing us for the last couple of days. With all of the news about the gripa porcina (swine flu) we felt a little self-conscious as we hacked and coughed walking around the town, but no one seemed particularly afraid of us. It was the perfect relaxing little town to spend a day wandering the streets and recuperating from our lingering illness.
Our next stop was the national monument and gorgeous town of Villa de Leyva. Founded in 1572, the town has been preserved almost exactly as it was originally built. The region is a popular getaway from nearby Bogotá, filled with a great variety of restaurants and craft shops. After we parked the car, we felt like we stepped back in time wandering the cobblestone streets. This is the town where I began my love affair with a typical South American food, the arepa. Arepas are patties made from cornmeal that are grilled, fried, or baked in a wood-fired clay oven. Arepas vary in their preparation depending on the region of Colombia, but the variety around Bogotá, arepa chocolo, is my favorite. This moist version of arepa is made from roughly ground sweet corn and is filled with a white farmers cheese. It tastes like the perfect mix between a corn muffin and a grilled cheese sandwich. Chris and I spent part of the day dreaming of starting our own Colombian-style restaurant chain in the U.S., thinking of how we could introduce North America to arepas and some of the other tasty food we have discovered on our journey. I will definitely be keeping my eyes peeled for more arepas as we continue on towards Bogotá, where we will be staying with more of the Ricaurte family.