Oh Bogota. You were memorable but not entirely for the right reasons.
Now is probably a good time to mention that it is only recently that Wade and I both realized that we just aren’t city people. In fact, it was during our time in Bogota that this became most apparent. We much prefer the relaxed vibe of countryside towns and coastal areas during our travels, however many cities are a necessary means to an end. They often provide all of the essential ingredients for travel: transport, accommodation and large shops for any necessities. South America in particular, has some wonderful cities renowned for their cultural and historical significance, which are built around large plazas always bordered by a church or cathedral. Sounds beautiful, doesn’t it? Having said all of that, I’m sorry Bogota but you just didn’t cut it for us.
From the outside, Bogota has many things going for it. There is a great nightlife, a good variety of cuisines both local and international and plenty of interesting street markets and museums. On our first afternoon in Bogota we drank warm liquor filled tea at the street markets while watching a guinea pig race where by-standers bet on which bowl they thought the guinea pig would run into. It was hilarious and according to my five minutes of observation, I can conclude that:
a) guinea pigs prefer orange and red coloured bowls
b) 75% of the time they went to the bowls on their right and
c) guinea pig races are the Melbourne Cup of the future
That’s just my hot tip for anyone ever thinking of getting involved in illegal guinea pig races. You heard it here first!
The Gold Museum in Bogota ,“Museo De Oro” is the largest collection of pre-hispanic gold in the world. It is probably one of the most interesting museums we have visited so far during our trip with an incredible display of not only gold but also pottery, stone and shell artefacts all from early Colombian societies before the Spanish landed in South America. We spent hours walking through all the rooms looking at rows upon rows of ancient gold jewellery and ornaments.
There was also an awesome piece based on the legend of El Dorado. Although this piece is estimated to be over 1000 years old, it was only discovered some 30 years ago by local Colombian farmers!
The intricate gold and copper ornament shows the raft that the local Shaman used to paddle onto the middle of a lake, with his body coated in gold dust and offer up gold to the Gods by throwing it into the lake. Stories of this ritual led to belief in the legendary city of El Dorado, a city filled with gold.
As time went on, the stories evolved and the legendary city became an entire empire. The Spanish conquistadors searched for many years for El Dorado but the legendary city was never found. Some stories suggest that the city of El Dorado may have in fact been modern day Cusco where the Incas had so much gold that the city once glowed, but none of this has ever been confirmed.
Bogota was meeting my expectations by this stage and (other than my second pair of Havi’s for this trip snapping!) we were both enjoying a rare sunny day for our first full day there.
It only took until around 3pm for our opinions to be tarnished when we witnessed a bag snatch on a main pedestrian street in an otherwise safe and populated area. The two offenders were tackled to the ground by Police, beaten to a pulp before being taken away in handcuffs covered in blood! When the owners of the bag were handed their bag back by the Police, they took it casually, without so much as a thank you let alone a police report and continued along their way.
The following day we were sitting around the hostel when a young Spanish couple who had taken the hostel owners’ dog for a walk, came back in tears and yelling for help. During their walk in the surrounding streets, they were approached by two men with guns. Their immediate reaction was to run however the guy tripped over in his haste and shattered his entire collar bone. They managed to get away from the attackers but were shaken up and had some costly hospital bills coming their way.
Hanna arrived in Bogota that afternoon and we decided to see if the city could improve on it’s currently failing first impression by doing what the city does best… Party time! I had read about a tour that one of the local hostels run where they organize a bus to a popular nightclub a good drive out of the city in a place called Chia. The nightclub is called “Andres Carne De Res” and is described by Lonely Planet simply as “a party in a piñata”! It was absolute mayhem amongst the rich and famous youth of Bogota and without a doubt exceeded every expectation we had!
I wish we had taken a camera to have photo evidence of this place but we don’t like carrying it on us at night so left it at the hostel. The cost of the night included transport to the club, unlimited Cuba Libres on the bus as well as the club cover charge. After dinner and a few beers, the bus left Bogota at 11pm to head out to the suburb of Chia, 40 minutes away.
We lost Hanna before we even entered the front door and it wasn’t until four hours later that we saw anyone from our bus again! This place was HUGE! The weekend capacity is 2000 people and there are around 6 different areas all joined by a maze of corridors and different split levels. The walls are decorated with everything from a swinging manikin arm that points to the toilets, to a series of clown faces plastered on the walls with eyes that appear to follow you. The atmosphere was intoxicating and apparently due to the exorbitant prices for entry, food and drinks it retains a high standard of clientele both local and international… and of course just a few daggy backpackers on the weekends!
Add to this the fact that the “usual” style of drinking at this club is to simply order a bottle of the local spirit and either pre reserve and pay for a table or just walk around with your bottle of rum and two glasses all night! When I felt the apparently ridiculous need to mix my rum with a coke, my order was greeted with confusion and almost reluctance for me to offend their drinking culture with my mixer! I was however eventually brought my Coke and charged the offensive price of $7 for a tiny bottle that I then had to jam into my back pocket so Wade and I could continue to shuffle through the club with the crowd of inebriated bodies around us.
Wade and I spent the next four hours swigging rum on the rocks and weaving our way through the many rooms of the club, sometimes looking for Hanna and other times just practicing our Spanish with locals or chatting to other gringos who were equally impressed/intoxicated by this unique place.
When the club closed our group from the bus re-gathered at the front door, all clearly having enjoyed the local drinking style and jumped back on the bus with grand plans for after parties and underground clubs near our hostel. It had been an awesome night so far and we were all keen to kick on.
We caught a taxi to within one street of the hostel and parted ways with a young guy who wanted to hit the hay. Less than five minutes later we ran into this same guy who had just been held up at knife point and asked for his wallet. When he only produced a measly $10 from his pocket - courtesy of the drink prices at Andres - the attackers also demanded his leather jacket! The poor guy was clearly shaken and left shaking in the freezing cold Bogota night air. We all decided to take his experience as a good reminder of where we were and parted ways with our new friends as the sun rose over Bogota.
Being the third relatively serious incident of crime that we had witnessed in two days, our opinion of Bogota was severely marred. We don’t like to feel unsafe in place where the language and culture barrier are already enough to deal with. We made a conscious decision to leave Bogota as soon as we recovered from our impending hangovers!
None of us felt like facing the world on Sunday so we had a lazy day at the hostel. We each crawled out of our rooms only for the essentials such as coffee, random conversation with the young Canadian hostel owner or to eat pizza from the shop next door before again retreating to our blackened room and the comfort of a bed.
On our last day we did the obligatory trip up Monserrate from where there are awesome views of this enormous city. The mountain rises 3152m above sea level and is adorned with a large cathedral overlooking the city below.
Photo: The view from Monserrat (L) and the cathedral (R)
We caught the metro cable up and then strolled the winding path back down passing all of the poor suckers panting their way uphill as they chose to do the trip in reverse! The cold air mixed with the 2500m altitude in Bogota makes for one hell of a walk uphill and we were glad we chose to only walk down!
After a few photos in the main plaza back in central Bogota, we wandered around the Fernando Botero Museum before checking out the Presidential Palace and the heavily armed guards surrounding it. That night, we stuck to our plan and headed back to the bus station for yet another overnight bus.
Photo: The main cathedral on Plaza de Armas (L) and the guards at the Presidential Palace (R)
Once again both Wade and I, and Hanna were on the same track with our next destination so we decided to stick together for another week or so as we head to Medellin, the city once ruled by cocaine King Pin Pablo Escobar. We’ve heard great things about Medellin and the weather should be around 10 degrees warmer than here so we are all looking forward to the change. Hopefully our next city break will provide another great insight into the wonderful country that Colombia is!
Enthusiastic but Useless Traveler.