Tobia is best known for its ‘deportes extremos’ or extreme sports. Grade 3 plus rafting down the aptly named Rio Negro, a death slide or ‘canopy’ between dual mountains two hundred metres above the roaring river below, abseiling down a small waterfall, and, an unlikely addition to such a list, cockfighting. But there is more to Tobia than just sports, extreme or otherwise.
Canopy, rafting and abseiling are all imported. Two Italians set up the canopy over a decade ago and the soft screams of the pulley on the rope and the more strident screams of the person dangling from it can be faintly heard up high in the distance most weekend afternoons. It’s strangely peaceful, especially when sat far below on terra firma supping a beer.
But the cockfighting is not imported and whilst it is not exactly opera or ballet and perhaps not everybody’s cup of tea, it is nevertheless indicative of how Tobia has not lost its roots, not been spoiled by adventure tourism. It is still just a beautiful town in the country upholding its traditions. It seems to have benefited from the Bogotanos coming to the town at the weekends, particularly on the long ‘puente’ weekends, but not been corrupted by it.
And it is very beautiful, especially the dirt track leading to the town, some 20 minutes off the main La Vega to Villeta highway. Tobia straddles two rivers – the Tobia and the Negro – and the hypnotic babble of both can be heard throughout the town, mixed with the sweet ubiquitous smell of panela. This community is one of the country’s biggest producers of the unrefined sugar that is widely used for teas, cakes, juices and various sweetstuffs.
And the source is not far away. For those who prefer less extreme exercise, a short walk – albeit steep and quite strenuous – up the hill behind the San Juanito campsite leads to fields of tall sugar cane, and there’ll always be a passerby happy to machete a little off for you and strip it to the point where you can suck the fresh sugar out. With the track being steep, if you continue walking you’ll soon be looking down upon the town and its river nestled in the valley below and surrounded by lush green mountains. It is a beautiful view, especially when the sun is shining, as it invariably is in the afternoon. This is complemented by the cooling evening rain, which usually only lasts about half an hour and explains why such a hot, sunny place is also so lush and green. If you think the climb up the track is difficult, spare a thought for the local children: most do this walk everyday, to and from the school, which is situated at the very top, some 45 minutes at a brisk pace.
A far easier and flatter walk can be found by following the disused train track, hence the flatness. It’s been twenty five years since a train passed through here, but the path formed by the track is not overgrown, as it is maintained for the abseiling, the waterfall for which can be found at the end of the track. If the locals are to be believed, this train used to go to Mexico. Perhaps, perhaps not, but it definitely went somewhere, carrying people and panela. The derelict station now has trees growing through the roof and there is an eerie, historical beauty about the old tunnels, too. The water dripping down the insides reacts with the stone and solidifies into twisted vertical cables of salt and mineral.
And if you like eerie beauty, there is the cemetery. Straddling a steep hill, overlooking the town, and housed in tall purposefully-planted palms, the devotedly maintained cemetery commands a powerful presence in the area, and with its flowers and its palms and its lush greenery seems to conjure a strong sense of life rather than death.
If I have been vague with locations and directions, it is because there is no need to be specific. This is a small town of less than a thousand inhabitants, any of which will be happy to point you in the right direction. For Tobianos are very warm, open and accommodating, just like their home town.
Tobia is nestled along the main Bogotá to Villeta road, 2 hours from Bogotá. There is regular bus service along the Calle 80 to the town of La Vega, Cundinamarca. From La Vega, Tobia can accessible in rural collectives or by taxi.