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@wwaycorrigan

[Listen to an audio version of this blog entry here.]

On occasions, according to some mental health experts, it can be good to just do nothing. Or the very bare minimum in any case.

Indeed, the deft Dutch have a term for it: niksen, which literally means ‘to do nothing’. Or, in practice, at least doing a very basic action that serves no real purpose and is not at all taxing.

Easygoing El Peñón. But is Topaipí tops?

Head-to-head: El Peñón (bottom) has a nicer setting but is Topaipí a livelier town?

Something may come of nothing
I, however, like to think that I don’t enjoy doing absolutely nothing. Generally, during my waking hours, I want to be as productive as possible. Or at least feel like I’m being productive.

Yet, on deeper reflection, in the right place and time, I do actually engage in “nothingness” and like to do so. For example, I enjoy simply lying in the sun, particularly if it’s in a secluded spot, away from fellow human beings and annoying animals — the latter referring to, for the most part, delirious dogs and irritating insects, be they bloodsuckers or otherwise.

Finding such places is the difficult part, regardless of where one is really. (Although, on a recent visit to the small town of San Luis de Gaceno in Colombia’s Boyacá department I did happen upon an isolated sandy shore of a gently flowing river. It came close to being perfect in this imperfect world of ours — perfect for my needs at the time, that is.)

I found no such spots around El Peñón in the Cundinamarca department. They may exist considering the town’s relative closeness to the Río Negro with plenty of uninhabited land about but my rather aimless wanderings didn’t uncover them.

‘It must have one of the lowest ratios of tiendas per capita in the country.’

Nonetheless, the very town itself could be considered a place for some mild niksen. Unlike other similar-sized places I’ve visited in Colombia, not every second house is a beer-selling tienda. A few panaderías fill this “void” but, based on my not-very-scientific observations, it must have one of the lowest ratios of tiendas per capita in the country.

Thus, it seems to move to a very easygoing beat. Heck, it doesn’t even have one of those ‘Yo amo — with “amo”, “love”, represented by a heart — (insert name of town)’ signs in human-sized letters on its main square. Perhaps it shows the townspeople’s confidence in what they have. It certainly marks the place out considering the mushrooming of these rather flashy signs in Colombia of late. Budgetary issues might be more of a reason for its absence, though.

Easygoing El Peñón. But is Topaipí tops?

From whence Wrong Way came: A view of El Peñón as seen from the road to Topaipí.

If a “What to do in El Peñón and its surrounds” brochure was released, outside of walking around and just taking in its rather impressive setting, I’m not sure what else could be included.

But, somewhat aimlessly wandering is, in a way, one of my favourite forms of niksen.

Topaipí, tienda town
It was, after all, an unplanned 18-kilometre descend-ascend trek on a sporadically paved road that took me from El Peñón to Topaipí, the latter with its “Yo amo Topaipí” sign on proud display in front of the church on its quaint main square.

Arriving in the early afternoon on a Saturday, in contrast to El Peñón, Topaipí was heaving. Well, heaving in so far as a small town deep in the countryside can be heaving.

There, nearly every townhouse appears to be a sit-in tienda.

It might have just been simply down to timing but Topaipí seemed to be the wilder sibling of El Peñón. I did only spend a few hours there so further research is required.

The error in undertaking such an impromptu stroll was that I got to the town after the last bus back had left.

Whilst weighing up my return options a few drinks were had — for rehydration purposes solely — in one of the aforementioned tiendas in the company of some curious locals, all of whom were small-scale coffee farmers.

With the evening drawing in, the thoughts of walking back didn’t fill me with excitement. A motorbike taxi was arranged. At 30,000 pesos it was 1,000 pesos more than the bus ticket from Bogotá to El Peñón. Oh well.

Bogotá's Donde Rincón tienda expands to Pacho!

Home from home. Mr & Mrs Rincón in their new tienda in Pacho.

The atmosphere did seem a little livelier in El Peñón on Sunday but with a rendezvous in Pacho, I couldn’t stay another night to see how things would develop. (That meet-up was with the owners of my local establishment in Bogotá. They’ve left their tienda in the capital in the hands of their daughter and have opened one in Pacho, on Calle 8 #9-24 to be precise. Do drop in and say hello if you happen to be in the town!)

As for El Peñón, as an exercise in niksen, it can be said that it served that purpose on a number of levels. One big pull factor for that what-to-do brochure.
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Listen to Wrong Way’s Colombia Cast podcast here.

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La vida en Colombia desde la perspectiva de un periodista y locutor irlandés, quien ha vivido en el país desde 2011. El blog explora temas sociales y culturales, interacción con los nativos, viajes, actualidades y mucho más. Escucha su podcast acá: https://anchor.fm/brendan-corrigan.

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