29
Sep-2014

Bogota – checking out the Colombian capital

Thursday, 25th September
We opted for eggs for breakfast this morning to use up the cheese and butter we had bought, and feeling like we could handle a egg breakfast after all the eggs we were subjected to in Costa Rica. After checking out of the hostel we caught a cab to the Northern Bus Terminal (Terminal de la Norte) for 12,000 pesos and found our way to the bus ticket counters. The bus stations here are huge as this is the way most people get around the country. We travelled with the ‘Bolivariana’ bus line today and paid 110,000 pesos for both of us to get to Bogota. This bus was the best yet; comfortable, not too cold and with free wifi (we didn’t really need this but we had to keep Sarah informed of when we would arrived in Bogota as they were picking us up). The bus left at 9am and the ride out of Medellin was beautiful as we wound our way up the roads out of the valley towards Bogota. The journey took around 11 hours in the end, advertised as a 9 hour ride, due to road works and slow moving traffic as we got close to Bogota. Medellin is 1,500m above sea level and during the bus ride we dropped back down to sea level at a town called Honda before climbing again, winding out way up to Bogota, at around 2,600m.

Medellin to Bogota

View out of the bus window on the journey from Medellin to Bogota

Medellin to Bogota

Busing through Honda on the way to Bogota from Medellin

Kirsty has a friend in Bogota who has offered to put us up for a few days and they were kind enough to offer to pick us up from the bus terminal also. We felt bad though as the bus was so late in arriving but after seeing the queue for the taxis we were thankful that they had offered to pick us up. There must have been over a hundred people in the taxi line and it wasn’t moving that quickly. Sarah and Jose Luis drove us back to their apartment in the ‘El Nogal’ suburb of Bogota and after dropping our stuff on the floor, having a cup of tea and slice of cake, we headed out to give their pug, Nicole, a walk and to check out the local neighbourhood. It’s a nice part of town they live in and there’s clearly a lot to do around about. I think we will be enjoying our time here in Bogota. It’s always nice staying with people you know as it takes the pressure off knowing what to check out and you also get an insiders view of the city. Important in a place that you can’t really walk around everywhere for fear of strolling into the wrong neighbourhood. Not that we really do that but it’s nice to go with the flow and just follow for a few days. I will also need to get onto Copa Ailines to get our money back for the flight to Quito, Ecuador.

Friday, 26th September
We had a great nights sleep courtesy of Sarah and Jose Luis’s new fold-out sofa-bed. We didn’t know what we would do today, staying with people makes you a bit lazy in seeing what there is to do in a city. Also, Bogota being a capital city meant that we knew there would be plenty around to do. As it turns out though Jose Luis had planned our day for us and would be our tour guide for the day. Not only that but he cooked us breakfast to start off the day. Once we were fed and juiced we walked out the apartment into a lovely sunny Bogota day. We caught a taxi to the financial district where we started off trying our hand at getting our ticket refunded at the Copa Airlines office. This turned out unsuccessful as we were told in no uncertain terms that as the ticket was paid for in US dollars and the currency in Colombia is pesos they could not refund the ticket. This of course made no sense as the ticket was paid for on a credit card in Australian dollars and we have all heard of exchange rates. Anyway, we weren’t going to get anywhere with this lady so we gave up and went about our sight-seeing day instead. She did say, helpfully, that we could refund the ticket in Quito, Ecuador, where the currency is dollars. Since the ticket is for a flight form Bogota to Quito this wasn’t exactly helpful. We’ll try again at a different office on Monday as the airline staff in Panama City were adamant that we could get a refund in Bogota so we will pursue this, otherwise just use the flight to get us to Quito in relative luxury.

Near this district is the city’s bullfighting ring which has been closed for a while and hasn’t hosted a bull-fight for about 10 years. It’s an impressive structure and, despite the gruesome use of the site, is an interesting place to see. There is a protest outside nowadays against bull-fighting to prevent it being used for the ‘sport’ anymore. We then walked down towards to the downtown area and along a large pedestrianised street ‘Carrera Septima’ where there was lots of hustle and bustle. Being Friday today, there were lots of workers getting around and those not working going about their day. We passed by a place grilling meat in the window in the style of the flat-lands. There was a large conical grill covered with spikes over a large wood fire. All around this conical grill, were various cuts of meat hung on the spikes, roasting away. Jose Luis ordered us a ‘snack’ as it was nearly lunchtime. It turned out that this would do for lunch as it was more than a snack. We had beef, pork and capybara (the largest rodent in the world and tasty) with an arepa, potato and plantain. It was absolutely delicious, defiantly a food highlight of the trip. We ate lunch on bench, with plastic gloves ripping apart the meat.

After this we went for a walking tour around the downtown area which would take in various sights including:

  • Plazoleta del Rosario
  • Edificio Murillo Torro
  • Palacio de Justica
  • Plaza de Bolivar
  • Palacio Llevano
  • Capitolio Nacional
  • Edificios Presidencia
  • Edificio Nuevo Congreso
  • Museo Botero
  • Casa de Moneda (the mint)

It was so nice to have Jose Luis showing us around, he certainly knows a lot about the history of Colombia and Bogota. We had various stops for drinks and snacks along the way including a Colombian coffee (strong), a traditional Bogota dish of hot chocolate, cheese and bread, and a cup of tea with cake. We walked around all day and started to head back around 6pm to meet Sarah back at the apartment as she had been working all day. For dinner we went our around the corner from their apartment to a place called ‘Nick’s’.

Carrera Septima

Carrera Septima, Bogota

Plaza de Bolívar

Posing in Plaza de Bolívar, Bogota

Saturday, 27th September
Breakfast today was a feast of egg, yuca bread, chocolate filled baguette and hot chocolate. They sure do like chocolate here. With breakfast out of the way we decided to take a drive to the Laguna de Guatavita, which many people believed was ‘El Dorado’, a source of gold. Lake Guatavita was reputedly one of the sacred lakes of the Muisca (an indigenous people of the central highlands of present-day Colombia), and a ritual conducted there is widely thought to be the basis for the legend of El Dorado, “the golden one”. The legend says the lake is where the Muisca celebrated a ritual in which the Zipa (named “El Dorado” by the Conquistadores) was covered in gold dust, then venturing out into the water on a ceremonial raft made of rushes, he dived into the waters, washing off the gold. Afterward, trinkets, jewellery, and other precious offerings were thrown into the waters by worshipers. The drive up to the lake was nice, the countryside was very European with rolling hills divided into fields for agricultural and grazing all around. We passed by a reservoir that serves as Bogota’s main water source and when it was created flooded the valley containing the town Guatavita, which was relocated to higher ground. For some reason we couldn’t drive through this town so we had to go around which meant climbing even higher but getting even better views of the surrounding land.

Laguna de Guatavita

Jose Luis’s ride on the way to Laguna de Guatavita

Laguna de Guatavita

View on the way to Laguna de Guatavita

We arrived there around 12 noon and in the rain so rather than go into the park we opted to have lunch at a nearby place we had passed on the way up to the lake. We all had delicious meals, I had a dish called ‘Pollo Chichi’ which was basically chopped up chicken cooked in a sauce of honey, brown sugar and tamarind. Jose Luis had some local trout and Kirsty and Sarah both had a hearty soup (Ajiaco de Pollo). We then drove back up to the park entrance, by now the rain had ceased. Our entrance ticket also included a guided tour of the lake which gave us some background into the importance of this area to the indigenous people and how the legend of ‘El Dorado’ came into being. The lake sits at around 3000m above sea level so there was a fair climb up to the lookout point. Bogota is at around 2600m and we had driven maybe another couple of hundred meters up so had another couple of hundred to walk. There is uncertainty about how the lake was formed, it looks like a volcanic crater filled with water, being circular in shape, but apparently this is not the case. A meterioate was another hypothesis also debunked. Every expedition to find gold has cost more than the gold they found and whilst some objects have been found, nothing like the quantity that was thought has been recovered. The weather was looking rather grey by now so with the tour out of the way we walked down to where we could catch a bus back to the car park of the lake. Whilst waiting for the bus we tried some local snacks, a local tamale cooked over charcoals and a sugar-cane based drink with a local spirit thrown in for good measure.

Laguna de Guatavita

Walking up to Laguna de Guatavita

Laguna de Guatavita

Laguna de Guatavita

The drive back to Bogota took us through some other small towns which were nice to see from the car. It is interesting to see these kind of towns which we normally see in hot climates, in the cold. It is pretty chilly where we are now and around the lake we were all fairly cold. In these towns the men wear a local poncho-type clothing to keep warm and most of the older folk wear hats. The drive took around two hours to get back to the apartment, having to go through the traffic of Bogota which as you can imagine is fairly busy. They have rules here about when you can drive based on what number your car number plate ends in (odd or even). This is called road space rationing. We had arranged to meet another couple we met on the tour for dinner so after a quick rest we headed out to the ‘T-Zone’, an area close to the apartment packed with shops, restaurants and bars. We found a restaurant called’1492’ which served up South American food and we got some plates to share whilst chatting over drinks. We didn’t get back until well after 1am so it was a long day, starting around 6:30am.

Sunday, 28th September
After the late night, well late relative to our recent behaviour, we had a sleep-in and decided to head out for brunch to a place called ‘Las Cazuelas de la Abuela’ (meaning ‘pots of the grandmother’, I think) and I tried the Medellin speciality that I didn’t have time for when we were there. ‘Bandeja Paises’ is a dish that farmers used to eat before a whole day of working and you can see why when you get it. It consist of beans, chicharones (fried pork belly, skin on), chorizo, egg, rice, arepa and plantain. It was delicious and to go with it I had a ‘Cola y Pola’, a drink made from half and half Colombiana soft drink and Aguila beer. Kirsty opted for the soup she had the other day, Ajiaco de Pollo. We then headed downtown to go up the Colpatria tower to get a view of Bogota from about 200m up. It was a great way to see the city and you really can see the sprawl from up there. The city is kind of hemmed in by the mountains and hills but you can see that towards the south the habitation is creeping up and over the hills as the city expands. We then picked up Nicole (Sarah and Jose Luis’s pug) from their apartment then hit a local market of locally made products in an area called Usaquen. The market was similar to one you might find back home but with a Latin American flavour. Being a sunday, there were loads of people wandering around and it was nice to do something that felt typically ’sunday’; walking around a market trying things and drinking a coffee. This is something we’ve missed since we’ve been away. This area used to be a standalone town but got swallowed up as Bogaota grew. Nowadays it is an upmarket area and you can see this clearly with the types of hotels, restaurants and cafes around. On the way back to the car (Jose Luis paid a guy to watch over his car, this isn’t an official thing just what people do here), we grabbed an Argentinian empanada (spinach and ricotta) before heading back to the apartment in El Nogal. We were all fairly tired and didn’t head out for dinner tonight. Jose Luis whipped up some patacones (chopped, smashed and fried plantains – delicious) with chorizo whilst we played a game of Colombian Monopoly. I think we all thought this might not be a long game but in true Monopoly fashion it lasted over three hours with Kirsty emerging the winner. That took us to bedtime. 

Colpatria Tower

The view from the Colpatria Tower in Bogota. Bull-fighting ring in the foreground.

Museo de Botero

Nicole losing to Kirsty at Monopoly, Colombian Edition

Monday, 29th September
After breakfasting on some cornflakes and a cup of tea we headed out to visit Copa Airlines once again. We went to an office close by and once again were told we couldn’t get a refund as the ticket was paid for in US Dollars. We had thought this might be the case so had a back-up plan. We opted to change the flight for no cost to Friday, leaving Bogota a bit earlier than planned but still giving us time to explore a local town called Villa de Leyva to the north. As it turns out, despite the extra cost, we aren’t that disappointed with this result as we are really enjoying this region of Colombia and have heard great things about this small colonial town. It also means we don’t have to make the 3-4 day trip down to Quito by bus. A direct bus would take 32 hours but we would have most likely split the journey up into three days of ten hour bus trips. Either way not that fun. Once we had our flight sorted we went to a Juan Valdez Cafe with wifi to organise some accommodation in Quito for when we arrive and look into exit tickets out of Euacdor, not wanting to get caught out at the airport again. We think we’ll book a refundable flight online through Expedia that have a 24 hour cancellation policy then once we are in Quito, cancel it.

On the way back to the apartment we stopped at a place to pick up some soup for lunch. Kirsty and I shared a Sopa de Lentejas (lentil and chorizo soup) which was delicious. With the soup finished we then decided to go and see another view of Bogota, this time from Monserrate, a mountain that overlooks the city. We got there by catching a taxi to the foot of the hill and going the rest of the way by cable car, rising to 3,152 metres above sea level. The cable car was a large one that could fit up to 20 or so people comfortably. At the top of the mountain there is a church that was built in the 17th century. We stayed up there for around an hour surveying the city of Bogota below us and wandering around the church and other buildings (there is a market and cafes, predictably). We then caught the cable car down to the base from where we tried to get a taxi for a reasonable price back to the ‘El Nogal’ suburb and the apartment after picking up some groceries to cook dinner as a sign of our appreciation to Sarah and Jose Luis for their hospitality. It was nice to cook in a kitchen without five other people trying to cook at the same time as is the case in hostels. We also made the decision that night to head to Villa de Leyva, a colonial town about 150km north of Bogota tomorrow for a couple of nights to see another side of Colombia. We were excited by the prospect of leaving most of our luggage with Sarah and Jose Luis and travelling light.

Monserrate

Our transport up to Cerro de Monserrate

Monserrate

Posing with Bogota in the background. Cerro de Monserrate.

 

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  1. Beaumont avenue /

    Glad to hear from you. You’ve been busy in the last week or so. Off to rhodes tomorrow! It has gone cold here with rain and wind. Real autumn.

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