After turning 30, I had a sudden desire to shift around many things in my life and dive into new experiences. My writing was really picking up, I was ready to let go of some responsibilities at work, and I’d caught the travel bug, hard. I was also recently engaged to my partner of 6 years, the father of my children, the man I knew I was going to spend the rest of my life with, even if we never decided to make things legal. Luckily he had other plans.
As fate would have it, my cousin got engaged to his fiance the same night me and my partner were engaged. And a few months later, we got a save the date for their wedding… in Colombia, in a tiny town named Villa de Leyva. My heart leapt with joy. I was ready to book all four of our flights so we could spend a weekend in a new country with my extensive family. My fiance, in a surprisingly sensible moment, slowed me down. Given that I was going to be working in a different city during the summer, he reasoned that it would be better if I took the trip alone, especially since I still had never taken a solo trip. It could be one last hurrah before our own marriage.
And with that, our plan was settled. He would officially win the father of the year award and care for his kids while I spent my summer away for work and play. I couldn’t wait for July to come.
Late one night in early July, I made my way to Miami airport for my trip. With just my passport and backpack in tow, I boarded my flight on Viva Air (Colombia’s answer to Spirit Airlines) and landed in Medellin in a few hours. I had such romantic notions of a whirlwind adventure involving sleeping in airports and catching random flights… then I tried to sleep on some airport benches for a couple of hours before my connecting flight. Let me tell you, my 30 year old hips were not ready for that night. After a fitful 3 hour nap, I made it to my gate and boarded my next plane, catching a few more minutes of sleep on the way to Bogota.
Once in Bogota, things got complicated. You see, through the incredible network of my dad’s new wife, tias in Colombia, and Whatsapp, I was connected with a ride to Villa de Leyva. However, we’d never met in person and I had trouble describing where I was in a newly renovated airport. After an hour of texts, calls, and near misses, we finally met. He was an incredibly kind older gentleman who took me to his home first so I could eat a home cooked breakfast of arepas de choclo, scrambled eggs, and hot chocolate. Once finished, we hopped back in his car and raced across the Colombian highways towards Villa de Leyva (a nearly 4 hour drive).
The heart of Colombia was like nothing I was expecting. With rolling hills, cows and sheep along the roads, and farm houses dotting the skyline, I was reminded of the Scottish hills I’d seen just a year prior. And though summer was in full swing in the Northern Hemisphere, the Southern Hemisphere was just hitting fall. We stopped for tamales made of sweet corn and cheese, more hot chocolate, and an extra serving of fresh cheese. By the end of our snack, I was so full. I immediately fell asleep in the car during the last stretch of the drive (bad etiquette, I know).
We finally made it to Villa de Leyva with less than an hour to spare before the ceremony. I thanked Hernando for his kindness and met my father at the hotel. He helped me check into my room where I quickly showered and dolled myself up in a black velvet dress I’d only worn once before. Together with my father and his wife, we took a shuttle to the small church, bouncing over the cobblestone along the way.
Villa de Leyva is a sleepy, touristic town, a vestige of colonialism in many ways. The entire town is comprised of white washed buildings and Spanish roof tiles. Once the shuttle dropped us off at the Plaza Mayor, we posed for some pictures and sat in a wooden pew. The ceremony was a traditional Catholic one with a bilingual twist. My uncle, a deacon, gave the homily. Though I myself am not religious, nor was I raised Catholic, I was sucked into the beauty of the rituals and the ornate altar. In my evangelical upbringing, I was raised to praise through song and dance and speaking in tongues. In this church, I found worship through the ornate sculptures and tradition. As the ceremony ended, we made our way back to the church doors, packets of confetti in hand, ready to send off the bride and groom. They hopped into a 1940s car and road around the Plaza. Nearby, a folklorico group was warming up for a performance. The shuttle came to take us back to the hotel.
Due to my quick change for the wedding, I didn’t get much time to explore El Duruelo, a sprawling campus of rooms, spas, and naturaleza. We trekked up to the courtyard where we were greeted by cocktails and, to everyone’s surprise, an incredible Cuban band playing classic chachacha, son, salsa, and bolero songs. I took a moment to slip away with a cocktail and basque in the sunset views from the bar’s balcony. I was enchanted by Cuban music swirling against Colombian mountains, a perfect blending of cultures perfectly encapsulating my cousin’s marriage. My cousin Elaine soon found me and we welcomed the newly married couple as they took an impromptu first dance near the fountain. We then took our seats in the dining room where we were served course after course of delicious Colombian delicacies. I was able to connect deeply with my father’s wife; we bonded over family loss and new love, and college (her daughter attends the rival to my alma mater).
Soon, plates were cleared, more wine was drunk, and we all found ourselves dancing. The band was replaced with a DJ who’s playlist spanned from 80s salsa to swing music to top 40 hits from around the world. After a few hours of dancing, I slipped away, exhausted from travel and fun. I kept a window open, the fall breeze keeping me cool as I drifted into a deep sleep.
I awoke just after sunrise, and after dressing for the day, took some time to read on my room’s patio. My father happened to pass by, and we decided to head up to the restaurant for a light breakfast before heading to the town for some souvenir shopping. We walked into town from the hotel, popping into side shops. I purchased a hand knitted sweater for my daughter (which she loves). This area of Colombia is known for its wool, and many shops held beautiful knitwears.
After an afternoon of shopping, we made our way back to the hotel where we lunched poolside with family. After bidding our farewells, we met with a family friend who gave us a ride back to Bogota so we could make our flights in the morning. We made several stops along roadside restaurants, mostly to ensure we didn’t violate the pico y placa laws (to curb air pollution and traffic, Bogota has strict laws on when citizens can leave and reenter the city). I spent the night in a modern apartment, sad I wasn’t able to extend my trip.
In the morning, I was given a ride to the airport by another friend from the Whatsapp network. I spent my afternoon layover getting caught up with work and talking to family. Not before long, I was back in Miami, back to the real world, but somewhere in the distance, I could feel Cuban rhythms and Colombian meals calling my name.