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Since I first came to know a few years back of the various Irishmen who played significant roles in modern Colombia’s history, the town of Paipa came into my sight.
That’s because the main park/square of the somewhat popular tourist spot is named after Dublin-born James Rooke — well they’ve Hispanicised the name to Jaime Rook, but we won’t castigate them for that. The park is also home to a bust in his honour, in need of a power wash and lick of paint as it is.
Irish, English or Colombian?
Coronel Rooke fought and died here in the wars of independence against the Spanish.
How ‘Irish’ he felt is open to debate. As the story goes, when he lost his arm in battle he shouted, ‘Viva la patria’ (‘Live the homeland’). When asked if that was Ireland or England, he is alleged to have responded, ‘The country that will bury me.’ Now as far as I’m aware, although I’ve been unable to get it confirmed, he’s buried in Colombia.
That aside, considering Paipa is less than a three-hour drive from the north of Bogotá, it falls inside my ‘short escape from the madness of the metropolis’ category.
It’s not quite the “pueblito” I was expecting — it’s a decent enough sized town. Yet it’s still far more chilled-out than midweek Bogotá (OK, that’s not too hard to achieve, in fairness).
Like other lake-side towns I’ve visited through the years — Queenstown in New Zealand and Chile’s Pucón spring (no pun intended!) to mind — it seems to have a very pleasant vibe to it. The man-made Lake Sochagota’s tranquillity appears to exert a calming influence on the locals. (It might be slightly different at the weekend when more visitors are about, but the locals say it doesn’t change that much.)
For those, like myself, who like to do their own thing, a stroll around the lake, with a 1.6-kilometre surface area, is a nice way to take it in and get some light exercise in the process.
If you’re up for something a little more taxing, great views of the town, lake and surrounding countryside can be got by trekking up the hills to the north, behind the church on the main square.
Kayaking and other activities on the lake are also an option, but for my short stay on a tight budget, I gave them a miss.
Hot springs are another popular attraction that I left out — we’ve experienced our fair share of them.
From a culinary perspective, Paipa is known for its dairy-related products, particularly cheese.
In this regard, the cazuela Paipana is worth a try to kick-start your day. It’s basically a super-charged changua, packed with almojábanas (a rather delicious-when-just-baked type of cheesy bread made from corn flour, another favourite in these parts) and decent offerings of quality cheese.
Speaking to some other Colombians, Paipa has a bit of a reputation for being costly in terms of accommodation. For sure, there are a number of relatively expensive, ‘fancy’ hotels overlooking the lake, but budget lodgings can be found as well.
The respectable Canada Hotel has single rooms from 20.000 pesos per night. It’s not gold standard, but it more than adequately does the job.*
All told, and not that I’m making any connection with James Rooke, but if Paipa was to be my last Bogotá escape before I potentially have to leave the country (very much alive, though, I hope), it’s not a bad one to go out on.
*Canada Hotel is on Carrera 20 #23-61, just a few blocks away from Parque Jaime Rook. The friendly owner Adelaida can be contacted on +573138314483.
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