At the end of day, the sun paints a mango sky over the flat lands of the llanos, or eastern plains of Colombia. As dusk falls, the birds and wildlife silhouette against the now-indigo heaven. The water of a pond splashes with the retreat of a babilla. How do you enter this world of the llanos that few travelers ever visit? The gateway is Villavicencio, just on the other side of the Cordillera Oriental, two hours from BogotÃ¡.
The highway from the nationâ€™s capital to Villavicencio is quite an exhilarating experience in and of itself. The 86-kilometer (52-mi) superhighway climbs out of BogotÃ¡ to an altitude of over 3,100 meters (10,168 ft). It then plunges down over 50 bridges and through five tunnels to Villavicencio at 467 meters (1,532 ft) altitudeâ€”a descent of almost 2,600 meters (8,530 ft). TÃºnel de BoquerÃ³n, the second tunnel, is 2.4 kilometers (1.5 mi) long, and the last one, TÃºnel de Buenavista, is over 4.5 kilometers (2.7 mi) long.
Once arriving in Villavicencio, you have entered what villavos (residents of Villavicencio) call the Territorio de Paz, or Territory of Peace. On the banks of the RÃo GuatiquÃa, it is the most important cultural and commercial center of the Colombian llanos. Villavicencio is a town of simple pleasures and complex history. Many of the men wear traditional llanero clothing: a poncho folded over one shoulder, hat and boots. You have come to Colombiaâ€™s version of the wild west, right down to the rodeos.
(Altitude: 465 m /1,525 ft, Population: 275,511, City Code: 8)
Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...