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As has been well documented on this blog, I’ve visited several rather similar Colombian towns — pueblos — over the last few years. Now, some cynical types might say that all Colombian towns are pretty much the same, in a mediocre sense, apart from a small number of exceptional ones. I, of course, wouldn’t go along with that.
Putting God in His place
Nonetheless, having been to so many, particularly in the Andean region, that I don’t always remember one over the other or that I forget specific attractions is surely understandable and forgivable, isn’t it?
This doesn’t mean I didn’t/don’t like them. One could say it’s akin to mixing up lookalike siblings. They have unique traits that set them apart but on first appearance or recalling the individuals from memory it can be hard to tell the difference. This is usually “corrected” through further engagement or by delving deeper into the memory bank.
Some places, though, just like people, stand out more so than others. They are, for good or for bad, more easily remembered.
San Luis de Gaceno, in the hot, low-lying lands in the south of the Boyacá department, is in that category. Its setting alone, which you can get an idea of via this YouTube Shorts video, https://www.youtube.com/shorts/v_NToHlkGcQ, should ensure that.
Yet, Colombia has many quaint towns surrounded by stunning landscapes. Indeed, while the natural beauty around San Luis de Gaceno competes with the best of them, architecturally speaking, it’s in the lower leagues.
That building blandness aside, it is often the quirkier aspects of a person or a place that linger. With San Luis de Gaceno, for me anyway, two such quirks have stuck in the mind.
‘This parish peculiarity could be a sign that Sanluiseños like to, um, think outside the main square.’
The first, more obvious one, conspicuous by its absence, is the fact that the town’s main square is devoid of a landmark Catholic church, nay any religious building. This goes against not just the Colombian but also the Latin American standard.
It does have a Catholic church — and, lest one be accused of bias, places of worship for some other denominations — but it’s simply the case that it’s not located on the main square.
I heard it said that the locals loved their faith so much that they wanted the church to have a standalone spot, which it does. It’s on a knoll just off the main road.
Whatever the reason, this parish peculiarity could be a sign that Sanluiseños, the demonym for the locals, like to, um, think outside the main square, so to put it.
‘Their chickens and rivers run free’
The other “major” anomaly that I observed — or didn’t observe, as it was — is that the town has no fried/roast chicken restaurant, asadero de pollo as they’re called in these parts. Or if there is one, it’s well hidden, which would be a feat in itself. These are the eateries, after all, with lines of chickens slowly spit-roasting away for all to see. They’re ubiquitous in Colombia. Well, I had thought they were.
It’s not, it must be noted, that I needed one during my stay — in heat in excess of 30 degrees Celsius I tend not to have cravings for roasted or fried chicken. It’s just that in many Colombian towns there’s nearly no other option when it comes to eating out. So the lack of one was a mild surprise.
One thing I do like to have, regardless of the weather, is a cup of quality, unsweetened coffee.
As I’ve detailed before, it can be next to impossible to find such a “treat” in small-town Colombia. Yet, once again, San Luis de Gaceno bucks the trend.
In the couple of panaderías I frequented, the coffee served up merited more than a pass mark. And I am a fairly tough grader when it comes to my brew.
Throw in the town’s closeness to fluvial freshness — with some serene spots along the river great for cooling off — and a comfortable en suite hotel room for 20,000 pesos per night and it’s easy to see why San Luis de Gaceno, as a place to unwind if nothing else, has much going for it.
This is not to mention the quite spectacular scenery en route from Bogotá. It makes the five-hour journey that little bit less taxing. (This is, by the way, on the same road, just a little further south, as Santa María, which I visited and wrote about previously.)
Indeed, if the work and visa gods permit me to stay in Colombia beyond November, I may go back to San Luis de Gaceno to enjoy a longer stint than the rather rushed two nights I had there.
That would be a rarity for me — a return to a town I’ve already visited. It’s as good as an endorsement that Wrong Way can give.
Listen to Wrong Way’s Colombia Cast podcast here.