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@wwaycorrigan

[For an audio version of this blog story click here.]

One criticism often levelled at Colombia’s tourism industry is that compared to other countries in the region such as Argentina, Chile and Peru, it’s quite underdeveloped.

Fruit for thought: The Tierra Negra-Nuevo Colón-Turmequé road is a ready-made tourist route.

Now also known as ‘The Wrong Way Corrigan Way’!

While this can be seen as a bit unfair considering the myriad problems the country has had to deal with, it’s not like the rest of Latin America has been a bastion of bliss and stability during global tourism’s golden age, one that is surely ending.

Terra firma
Nonetheless, Colombia’s internal conflict and notorious drug cartels gave it an especially sanguinary international reputation, keeping mass tourism in check.

It’s really only in the last decade or so that it has become something of a must-visit destination. The firm-hand tactics of President Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010) played their part in this. State security forces, by fair means or foul, took control of greater parts of the national territory from insurgents. With that, locals and outsiders alike truly began to discover the country’s many natural wonders.

In this light, Colombia is playing catch-up with more established tourism destinations in South America. For sure, some of its cities and regions are now relatively well-equipped in this regard. Many others, however, be it through indifference, ignorance or inadequate investment — or a mixture of all three — are not quite tourist-ready.

For me, this is often a bonus. I tend not to be a big fan of locations that are holiday hotspots. I largely subscribe to the idea, mentioned in a previous post, that ‘tourism’s greatest cancer is tourism’.

Thankfully, owing to its size and numerous beauty spots, Colombia has plenty of places to visit that aren’t on the main tourist drag yet are worth visiting.

Indeed, never mind the country at large, one could spend years just travelling around the Boyacá and Cundinamarca departments and rarely be disappointed with what’s on offer (“seasickness”, by which I mean a longing for the sea, might be an issue for some).

‘Unashamedly, I showed Eve-like traits in resisting temptation. We are talking about sinless pears here, not sinful apples.’

Over the last few years, I’ve done just that, visiting various Boyacá and Cundinamarca towns. And as long as north Bogotá remains my base and my budget remains tight — the former is most likely to change before the latter — I’ll continue with such travels.

Top of the apples and pears
For my latest escapade, Boyacá’s Nuevo Colón was the initial focus. A misunderstanding meant that I’d arrived at Bogotá’s northern bus terminal over two hours early for the next direct service to the town.

Rather than wait, and with approval for such a move from the ticket-counter guy, I opted to take a then-departing bus to Tierra Negra. A quick check on Google Maps told me it was only 10 km from Nuevo Colón, so I figured I could walk it if needs be. And that’s what I ended up doing, even though buses do run between the towns.

The fact that it’s mostly a gentle downhill route in a fresh enough region climate-wise — made fresher the day I got there by overcast conditions; I was effectively walking through clouds for the first few kilometres — meant it was quite a pleasant wander.

Spontaneous as it was, the 70-minute brisk walk on a traffic-light country lane turned out to be a nice counterbalance to the two-hour bus spin to Tierra Negra. While I do like to wander around regardless, actually having a necessary destination to reach makes it more purposeful.

From a tourist perspective, Nuevo Colón’s main attraction is El Ojo de Agua, a nature reserve that ranges from 2,500 to 2,780 metres above sea level with a 2.8 km walkway to trek. From its chief lookout spot, there’s a nice view of both Nuevo Colón and nearby Turmequé — more on that town shortly.

That bit of tourism infrastructure aside, the main industry around Nuevo Colón is fruit. A welcome-to sign runs with the tagline ‘Colombia’s fruit city’, while in the main square another sign labels it ‘the apple village’.

Alongside apples, pears, peaches and plums are the chief fruits grown here.

On the trek up to the entrance to El Ojo de Agua, orchards are omnipresent and, as luck would have it, my visit coincided with pear-picking season. Unashamedly, I showed Eve-like traits in resisting temptation. We are talking about sinless pears here, not sinful apples.

Tejo light
Orchards also line large sections of the back-road route to Nuevo Colón’s southern neighbour, Turmequé.

Turmequé: Tejo town, so they say!

Turmequé: Tejo town, so they say!

While both towns lie at similar altitudes — around 2,500 metres — and it’s a mere six-kilometre walk compared to the 10 kilometres between Tierra Negra and Nuevo Colón, the trek is more taxing.

This is because the road descends a few hundred metres into a valley before ascending again to Turmequé. One was practically forced into, um, “borrowing” a few refreshing plump pears along the way.

Turmequé is known as the ‘world capital of tejo’, (tejo being Colombia’s national sport, a game where you throw metal weights at a clay-filled, metre-squared board, in which are gunpowder-filled paper pouches.

Thus, I was expecting every second establishment in the town to have tejo courts. However, to my somewhat pleasant surprise, this wasn’t the case at all. I say pleasant surprise because I have to be in the mood for tejo; I’m usually not. It takes a bit of effort to play, even if it is virtually obligatory to drink beer whilst participating in it.

I had thought, as the “gringo” — I’m not a gringo! — about town, I’d be pestered to play. But no. There wasn’t a word of it.

Country roads: Wandering the hills around Turmequé.

Country roads: Wandering the hills around Turmequé.

So, reputed world capital of tejo Turmequé may be, it strangely doesn’t appear to be that popular in the town. Perhaps I happened to visit during tejo off-season. Those gunpowder-filled paper pouches aren’t like pears you know, they don’t grow on trees. (I must say, I was loath to enquire for fear of being, um, thrown into a game.)

Tejo travails or lack thereof aside, the town itself is par for the course, in a good sense that is. While it doesn’t have an advertised attraction in the way that Nuevo Colón has El Ojo de Agua, there are still plenty of quiet country lanes to wander about.

The dirt-track road to the town of Úmbita winds up a few hundred metres to give rewarding views of the surrounding countryside.

The Turmequé townsfolk, as is the case for most Boyacá towns, are friendly but not overbearingly so. What’s more, a few establishments actually know how to make decent, unsweetened coffee. Ditto for Nuevo Colón. The standard of a town’s coffee can make or break it as a go-to destination!

While this part of Boyacá may not prioritise tourism, by happenstance I wandered across a readymade three-town tourist trek: Tierra Negra-Nuevo Colón-Turmequé. A Boyacá fruit route.

Henceforth it shall be called ‘The Wrong Way Corrigan Way’!

*As for accommodation, at 50,000 COP per night, the only hotel in Nuevo Colón is on the pricier side of things for such a small town. However, rooms at 30,000 COP per night, with decent WiFi, are available above the veterinary shop on the main square. Ask for Nancy, the live-in administrator.

In Turmequé, the colonial Hotel Casa Grande — with courtyard, of course — next to the church on the main square caters for all budgets, from what amounts to a honeymoon suite at 120,000 COP per night to a far more affordable standard room at 30,000 COP. With the mild-mannered and somewhat odd ‘Sí señor’, ‘Tranquilo’ Alfonso as caretaker and its old-world style, there’s something quite beguiling about Hotel Casa Grande!
__________________________________________________________
Listen to The Corrigan Cast podcast here.

Facebook: Wrong Way Corrigan — The Blog & IQuiz “The Bogotá Pub Quiz”.

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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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