June 16, 2014
At a staggering 2,697 meters high lies a beautiful village adorned with cobbled streets and an ancient history that puts you back in time. Monguí is a small pueblo of roughly 6,000 residents located 15 kilometers east of my hostel in Sogamoso. Our bus ride took us to this charmingly remote place tucked away behind the mountains.
Founded in 1601, Monguí melds its beautiful surroundings with colonial architecture to form a picturesque landscape. Known for being one of the most beautiful villages in Colombia, Monguí still remains a hidden treasure to tourists, a destination that only receives an average of 25 visitors a year.
Hundred-year-old cobblestone roads spread like veins throughout the town from the central plaza. The dominant structure towering the plaza is the Basilica of Our Lady of Monguí, a very rustic church built approximately 100 years after its founding. The architect Martín Caballero decided to construct the church from three neglected ships which today serve as a historical and national monument. The construction of the church was made possible by a bridge known as the Calicanto Bridge. Cemented by a mixture of clay, lime, and bull’s blood, this bridge allowed for the transportation of stones to create the church and the rest of the buildings in town.
Influenced by Spanish and indigenous architecture, the simplicity of these colonial buildings create a surprisingly aesthetic atmosphere. Although most properties do not exceed two stories, many have touches of red and gold with green doors and windows accompanied with white balconies to accentuate the exterior of the house.
Monguí has a history of craftsmanship which makes this town a major cultural attraction. A tradition that dates back to the 1930's, up to 20 stores around the plaza manufacture their own soccer balls. As one of the important sources of employment in Monguí, the industry boasts an average of 30,000 fútbols a month. In fact, this town used to supply 25% of the national demand at its peak. For a town secluded from huge industry, that is an impressive output. Although fútbols are seldom made of leather these days, many of the shops in Monguí admire this increasingly obsolete form of craftsmanship. The majority of their work today is with synthetic PVC. As a devoted soccer fan, I purchased a few leather fútbols as souvenirs.
This tradition started with two brothers, Froilan and Ladino Manuel Aguedelo, who taught peasants in the countryside how to assemble and commercialize the fútbols as a source of employment. As a result, the art transmitted to their children and grandchildren and continue to this day.
Oliga and Isabella
Situated at a high altitude, the average temperature is a chilly 12°C or 53°F. Despite the cold temperatures, the people in Monguí have such warmth toward foreigners. Donna and I wandered the streets to capture some photographs when a mother and daughter spotted us near the plaza. Oliga and Isabella own a plot of land just outside the city where they tend to dozens of sheep, a few cows, one donkey, and three dogs. They showed us little known secrets of Monguí and were quite patient with my limited Spanish speaking ability at the time. It allowed me to open up to them more and worry less about making mistakes.
When we arrived to their finca, they welcomed us into their home as if we were family. It was a two-room home made of earth with very basic utilities. From my understanding, Oliga and Isabella live alone on the outskirts of the city with only a brief mention of an older son who grew up and moved away. Oliga offered us so much when they had so little: popcorn, coffee, and fruit. She even offered to let us stay the night with them. For awhile, we spent time talking to them about Monguí and anything that sparked our curiosity. We were mutually interested in what each other had to say about our lives.
Afterwards, they fed the sheep and showed us a panoramic view of the town. It was beautiful how the colonial architecture of Monguí compliments the landscape surrounding it. At the end of the day, we promised to return and visit them before we continued our adventure.
We traveled back to Monguí a few weeks later to deliver pictures to Oliga and Isabella. Before the hike to their finca, I visited one of the football factories to purchase a handmade fútbol as a souvenir. Donna and I were very excited to surprise them with a gift. They were touched by the gesture, giving us both a hug. Saying goodbye to Oliga and Isabella was tough but hopefully that photograph will help them remember us. Some day, we hope to return to this lovely town in Boyacá.
It is not always easy to describe such a unique place, but Monguí is a well-kept secret that allowed me to disconnect myself momentarily from an otherwise restless world. For those of you who want to visit this enchanting town and escape the stresses of life, Monguí will welcome you with open arms and warm hearts.