Wade Shepard has been traveling the world perpetually for over 12 years. He travels with his family, and keeps busy with a number of websites and magazines about Vagabonding, such as Vagabond Journey. Please enjoy this week-in-the-life of Wade and his family in Colombia.
Day 1 – Thursday
7:00 — “Wake up daddy, wake up daddy,” the kid wakes me up singing. I do as commanded.
7:05 — I roll myself around to sitting position, look around the room, think of the plan for the day: leaving Bogota, going somewhere else.
8:15 — “Where are we going?”
8:30 — “Medellin is nine hours away,” the wife proclaims, “Tunja is four hours.” The first proposition meant settling for a while in Colombia’s second largest city, the second meant visiting a few pueblos and then the beach.
9:30 — At the bus station Petra and I go shopping for the best priced bus ticket. We find it, buy, then get on the bus. We leave Bogota.
12:30 — Petra wakes up from her nap. She takes out a couple Playmobil guys. We sing a Dora the Explorer song. She chills for the rest of the ride.
13:30 — We eat a grocery bag full of semi-soggy tomato and cheese sandwiches that I made the night before. Three full bellies for $3.
14:00 — We arrive in Tunja, then get on a bus to Villa de Leyva.
15:00 — We begin looking for a hotel. Our criteria: a double room with two beds, a bathroom, and, hopefully, a window. A kitchen would push the deal over the top. I want to pay between $10 and $20 a night for this, and book the room for at least a week.
“100,000 pesos,” the first hotel said. Over $60. No way. “60,000 pesos,” said another. Over $35. No way. Villa de Leyva proved to live up to its rep as a tourist town: expensive. But it is a developed tourist town, and one that I know has hundreds upon hundreds of empty rooms Sunday through Thursday. There was plenty of room to haggle for a week’s stay.
An hour and a dozens of hotels later, we land a place which meets more than our criteria: two beds, a private bathroom, hot water, cable TV, and a kitchen for $19. This is more than what we like to pay for a room, but acceptable in a very much gentrified Colombian tourist town.
18:00 — We find a great deli and eat truly excellent $2 sandwiches.
22:00 — I study a little Spanish, do exercises, go to sleep.
Day 2 – Friday
8:00 — Walking out of town and finding trails up the mountains proves easy. We walk up near the top of a ridge and peered out over Villa de Leyva.
12:00 — We find a good restaurant with a set lunch menu. We eat big portions of soup, chicken, rice, and salad.
13:00 — It is time for me to find and internet connection and go back to work. There is no WIFI in my hotel, so I first look for cafes with WIFI, then, failing in this search, look for an internet cafe. The first three would not let me hook up my own laptop, the fourth has a great docking station. Finding a mobile office, I settle into this town.
16:00 — I stop working, pick up some eggs, bread, cheese, and carrots, return to the hotel.
18:00 — I make dinner.
20:00 — I go back to work, knocking out a blog post, a travel guide, and work on my book a little.
22:00 — I exercise and go to bed.
Day 3- Saturday
8:00 — It is market day in Villa de Leyva. We walk through the stalls looking at what is for sale. Vendors step in our way pointing out some truly ugly clothing that speak keenly of 1980. I take some photos, try out my video camera spy sunglasses “in the field.” Everyone seems to be drinking Poker beer as they sell their wares, old ladies included.
13:00 — I go to the internet cafe, plug in, and get to work. I finish blogging about Iceland and get started on Colombia.
18:00 — We go to the sandwich shop, which continues to be amazing.
Day 4- Sunday
9:00 — It is Sunday and everyone is out in the the Plaza Mayor. Dozens of kites are flying in the air, kids are running all around, old people are sitting on benches in front of shops drinking Poker beer. In fact, almost everyone is drinking beer in a very relaxed, watching-the-day-go-by sort of way. I walk around behind my daughter, who is rampaging, attacking the little kids with the kites. We meet a family from Bogota who has a kid who is around Petra’s age. The kids join arms and stomp across the cobblestone plaza together.
10:00 — I go to work in the hotel. I write about how I will now be distributing my magazine, Vagabond Explorer, free of charge rather than for the $5 cover fee I was charging.
12:00 — Lunch at the good restaurant.
13:00 — We walk around town, enjoying the day like everyone else who are still out in the streets, drinking beer.
14:00 — We wander to the outskirts of town, peer into the windows of some countryside pubs where the party seems to have been going on since the evening before. Men are stumbling around completely drunk, a table of bottles crashes to the floor, some are singing songs and patting each other on the back. They look at my family and I as though we are too strange to be true, and continue on in song.
15:00 — We find a trail that flanks a stream and we take it up into the mountains.
17:00 — Returning to town we pick up some food for dinner.
19:00 — I rework some articles that were previously published in print for some travel websites, add a little to a book, and organize travelogue entries for the next day.
22:00 — Exercises then sleep.
Day 5- Monday
7:00 — I jump out of bed, throw the laptop into a day pack, and head off to find a cafe to work in. None of them are open yet so I just walk a few laps around town.
8:00 — I find a cafe that has the cheapest coffee in town. I sit in front of a window and look out over the Plaza Mayor. The town is waking up, and people are doing their day’s first walk through the big empty plaza that serves as the town’s center. The morning light is reflecting orange off a menagerie of cobblestones. It is difficult to break my daydream and return to the wicked glare of the laptop.
10:30 — I get a travelogue entry finished and add to a couple more. I then go to the internet cafe to publish. I do a little coding, end up sitting in there for a couple of hours.
13:00 — The guy running the internet cafe throws me out. He says he wants to go eat lunch and he is closing down. Good thing, I probably would have spent the rest of the day in there.
16:00 — I go back to the plaza and pick up a beer from one of its shops. I sit on a bench and drink it slowly, looking over the plaza and out beyond, in awe of the mountains that rise and the sky the falls in the distance.
16:30 — A girl plops down next to me with intention. She is licking an ice cream cone. An awkward I-know-one-of-us-is-going-to-start-a-conversation moment passes, then she compliments me the tattooing that covers my arms, hands, and neck. I say thank you and ask her if she has any. She says that she does and then makes to show me. She starts to take off her jacket and lower her shirt but then gets a little self conscious and starts talking about something else again. She says she likes adventure sports, that she tried to join the military but then didn’t because they wouldn’t let her go out on the front lines because she is a woman. The conversation turns back to tattooing, and she pulls down her shirt to show me the art which covers her back. I ask her what she is doing tonight to keep the conversation going. She says nothing, smiles, then seemingly pauses for me to ask her out. Shit, this was not my intention. “The sky is really beautiful,” is the first thing that comes to my lips in an attempt to save myself. Dumb, yes, but dumb is better than divorced.
15:30 — After talking about nearly everything I could think of about Colombia, I say farewell to the girl on the bench and return to the hotel.
17:30 — Dinner: seven eggs, cheese, carrots, bread. A $4 meal for three people.
19:00 — I work a little more.
22:00 — Exercise, sleep.
Day 6- Tuesday
8:00 — My family and I are walking down the side of the road leading out of Villa de Leyva. We are going to an ostrich farm which lays 7km out of town. I don’t like bothering with public transport for any distance under 10km, so we walk.
9:30 — We arrive at the ostrich farm. Walking into it Petra is cranky. “I don’t want to see the things,” she yells. By “things” she means ostriches. She only knows them by their Spanish name — Avestruces — and, apparently, finds this word too difficult to pronounce in a fit of rage. But her foul mood soon wares off when she sees the “things” for the first time. Laughing and giggling, she pets the ostriches. One shits on my boots. Another eats the shit. Petra continues to laugh, sticking her hand out for them to snap at, and when they do she pulls it back with a shriek, just to stick it out and bait the beasties yet again.
12:00 — Rain. We sit under an eave at the ostrich farm hoping for the rain to stop. Its intensity decreases a little, and we begin walking back to town.
13:30 — Back in town we go to our good lunch restaurant. Upon paying I se the ledger where the restaurant keeps track of its sales. It becomes apparent that there is a dual pricing system for foreigners and locals. Annoyed, I comment on it to the waitress, and she stoutly holds that the tourist price is the real price. It is, for me. I pay and get up, vowing not to return. The difference in price is not much, but it is enough to make me feel like an ass to go back there.
15:00 — A couple laps around town and then we return to the hotel.
16:00 — We watch a little TV, I copy down phrases in Spanish that I did not previously know.
18:00 — I do a little work.
20:00 — Dinner: eggs again.
21:00 — Work, exercises, sleep.
Day 7- Wednesday
7:00 — It is time to decide on a new destination. We pick Mongui, a village in the highlands.
8:00 — I go back to the little cafe on the plaza, order a coffee with milk, take my usual chair by the window, and work.
9:30 — Back to the internet cafe, publish a travelogue entry, copy some web pages about Colombian geography and economics into a word doc, email some of the Vagabond Explorer writers and get to work on vol. 2.
13:00 — Petra goes to day care. We return to Latin America for the sole purpose that she can continue learning Spanish, and I know that this is not going to happen unless she has a lot of contact with kids her age here. We now need to throw her to the wolves: full immersion Spanish or bust.
14:00 — The family and I walk around town for a while, I take some photos of the building materials used to make the houses here.
18:00 — Dinner time: eggs and rice.
20:00 — I do a little more work, make a cup of coffee, exercise, watch a movie with my wife, and then go to sleep.
Wade and the family are currently in Chiapas, Mexico, and are headed for either China or Malaysia soon. Wade is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey Travel, and Vagabond Explorer Magazine, which can be downloaded for free. He also publishes daily articles about life on the road, travel tips, and current events on his Travelogue.