Today’s walk to the thermal pools.

Villa de Leyva has a number of worthwhile destinations scattered in the surrounding countryside, one of which is a set of “aguas termales“ or thermal pools.

The flustered girl in the tourist information center told us it would take about an hour and a half to walk there, a good distance for today‘s perfect weather, warm without being hot, a nice breeze, bright blue sky with occasional big fluffy white clouds to alleviate the chances of sunburn.

People were a little surprised we wanted to walk instead of taking a bus or taxi, but we enjoyed the views over this high altitude valley in the Eastern Range of the Andes (the town is 2,144 meters above sea level). The geography is dramatic here, with dark lurking hills on the far side of the valley, striped with erosion gullies that I’m sure could swallow entire towns.

There wasn’t much traffic on the road, mostly either minibuses blasting past and barely breaking for epic pothole zones, or larger trucks chugging past with their hold-your-breath hugs of black exhaust.

After just long enough to doubt we were on the right track, we found the large brick archway which stands self-consciously at the entrance to the area, immaculate bricks looking for something to do while the actual signage is a weathered wooden plank falling apart and barely visible nailed to a tree.

A cleaner sign read “private property, no trespassing, armed guards.” We’ll just ignore that one.

There is another out-of-place little house next to the pools, with a couple changing alcoves whose curtains blow straight up in the wind, and an area that I’m guessing serves cold drinks during High Season, or at least in some developer’s dreams of the future. Today there was a sign saying temporarily closed for remodeling. There was no one there, just us and two dogs sleeping in the shade.

Better to see sulfur than smell it I suppose.

There were three pools, two of which were murky soup of mushy algae, so we enjoyed the third one, with its pleasantly bubbling center, pleasantly geological sulfur smell, and pleasantly warm temperature. Quite a pleasant place, really. And my skin feels remarkably smooth tonight.

On the path back we approached an epic old man, who I immediately adored until he said “don’t you have any money to give me?” Then at the highway another random guy making a phone call told us we owed him a 5,000 peso ($2.75) entrance fee each. My guard up, I asked for a receipt, which he laughed at, and told him we had no way of knowing he was legit, given that there was no signage of any sort, he had no badge, and could give us no receipt.

In the end my trust (in him and/or in karma) and inability to walk away from authoritative-looking people (he had a hat that said Colombia on it) won out and I handed him 10,000 pesos. Whatever. Share some with grandpa.

The walk back of course went faster (anyone understand why that is?) and soon we were back in Villa de Leyva, sporting slight hedges of sunburn and prodigious appetites. We tried a typical-looking place first, but the smell of death and chicken-only menu dissuaded K, and I am glad because we ended up at a fantastic little family place. It was so good I had nearly finished my meal, again, before it occurred to me to share it with you, and since I have discovered that food is serious business in blogging, I’ll leave that for another day, after I have a chance to go back and eat there again.

Thank you for being my excuse to have another lamb wrap.