A Taste of Bogota

Leaving Chicaque Natural Park

On Sunday morning, we loaded our gear onto one of those little electric carts that had brought us down three weeks earlier and a driver took us on the steep climb back, back up to the entrance. (It wasn’t until days later that we realized we’d left behind our water filter that we used to help make questionable tap water potable.) There we met up with a shuttle driver who happened to be the uncle of one of our students, to drive us into Bogota. The student himself also came along, and we were glad for the opportunity to spend some time with him and encourage him to continue in theatre — he shows real talent in that field.

In Bogota, they dropped us at a hostel we’d booked and we said our goodbyes. Then we were ready for two days and three nights in the city — our first time to be outside the park in three weeks — before flying off to Spain and then Morocco.

But first Bogota

The hostel, called Mandala Hostel, caters to yoga enthusiasts, which is why it caught Kimberly’s eye. It offers classes at times, though it didn’t while we were there. And there’s a little geodesic dome on the rooftop which serves as a yoga studio, and is accessible to all guests. In the hallway was a gong that guests traditionally strike upon arrival. Just because.

The hostel was located in a decent, rather quiet neighborhood. The only drawback to the place (well, aside from the fact that we had to buzz the doorbell every time we came in rather than having a key or code) was that, contrary to what we were led to expect, we did not have access to a kitchen. The only kitchen was closet-tiny, and was used only by staff cooks to prepare meals that could be served to guests. Breakfast was included free, and was not bad. Lunch and dinner had to be purchased — also not bad, and quite reasonably priced. But we prefer to cook our own food. There was at least a microwave we could use, as well as a pot for heating water, but we had no refrigerator we could avail ourselves of.

There was a pretty good place to shop for food only about two blocks away, which was quite a stroke of luck. In the countries we’ve visited, we’ve found that American-style supermarkets are quite rare. Most people buy most of their food from street vendors, and other items from specialty stores. We were pleasantly surprised to find it well stocked with a wide variety of vegetarian options. We hadn’t seen veggie burgers in stores since we left the states back in November, 4 months earlier. We also noticed that the milk is not refrigerated in these parts but sits on the shelves in boxes and bags.

After we got settled in we took a hike of about 2.5 miles to a mall in quest of a few items we needed, including reading glasses. It’s ironic that in the U.S. we almost never hit the mall, but on this trip we’ve malled several times, because it’s often the only way to find some of the things we need — or have convinced ourselves we need. It was a contemporary American-style mall, but we still pretty much struck out. The walk back, however, was interesting, as we had occasion to witness some of the buskers that often perform between green lights at busy intersections in Latin American countries. These include jugglers, acrobats, and other assorted circus type performers.

Additionally, we enjoyed a most memorable meal, one of our rare times to eat out. As evening approached and we made our way home, we decided to try having dinner in a restaurant rather than taking the time to go shopping and then nuke whatever we’d bought. And we stumbled upon an excellent establishment at which to execute our plans: a restaurant that specialized in dishes made from/ incorporating plantains. Literally everything on the menu.

Our choice was easy because there was only one vegetarian entre offered. It was a little casserole made from corn, mushrooms, cheese and — of course — lots of plantains. And there was an appetizer with some kind of crisp plantain chips and a dip made cream cheese and something or other. It was all absolutely scrumptious. And the tab only came to 30,000 pesos, otherwise known as about $7.50. For both of us. We decided we would not be at all opposed to returning to this location at some point in the future.

The city itself was neither particularly exciting nor particularly disturbing. Bogota, the capital of Colombia, has a population of about 8 million, roughly the same as New York City, though it doesn’t feel that big. We’d been hearing that it’s a violent and dangerous place, especially at night. (These rumors come from the United States, where gun massacres are a daily occurrence and a violent mob recently tried to overthrow the government.) But we never got any such indication — not from our own experience, not from the people living there, and not from anyone we know who’s actually spent time there. All the first-hand accounts we’ve heard have been rather positive. (Bogota was indeed among the world’s most dangerous cities 20 or 30 years ago, but the crime rates have plummeted drastically since then.)

Funicular to Monserrate

On Monday we took our grand tour of the city, heading to the downtown-ish area with a surprisingly community vibe, with street vendors and men playing chess. Kimberly who is adamantly plays to Pokémon Go couldn’t pass up some Pokémon socks. One street we sauntered down had a disproportionate number of men and found ourselves wondering if there was some kind of conference or convention going on. Then we headed to a neighborhood called La Candelaria, the historic district reputed to be colorful and quaint and worth dropping in. We found it to be a bit of a letdown overall. But on the way there, we passed some incredibly impressive graffiti, which is one of the things Bogota is distinguished for. You’ll find some masterful graffiti in any city, but Bogota seems to be the Olympic champion.

The highlight of this part of town is reportedly the Museum Of Gold (Museo de Oro), which houses an astounding collection of thousands of gold artifacts, dating back to ancient times. Unfortunately, it’s closed on Mondays, the one day we had free. So naturally we decided not to go.

But also nearby was Monserrate, a mountain 10,341 feet high. It has been a popular destination for centuries — not only for tourists, but for pilgrims of various stripes. There’s even a church up on the peak, built in the Seventeenth Century; and the thought of the labor and ingenuity required to lug materials up that high, especially back then, is absolutely mind-blowing.

One option for ascending to the summit (assuming that you’re not game for making a pilgrimage via shoe leather express) is the aerial tramway, know as the teleferico. This is a series of conveyances that look like ski lifts. We witnessed them in operation a few weeks ago when passing through on a bus, and thought it would be really cool to take a ride in that manner. Unfortunately, the teleferico was not in operation on this day. So we decided not to do that, either.

That left the other option — the funicular, a very steep cable car up the side of that mountain. So we hopped aboard and scooted up, and got the best view of the city to be had anywhere except from an airplane. Well, it could have been better — it was quite hazy on this day. Still, that gloriously immense Monopoly board of the city loomed below us for many miles. There were restaurants up at the top, rather elegant with a splendid view. Had it been a clear day, we even might have considered splurging for a meal. But we didn’t this time.

Time to leave Bogota

On Tuesday, March 29th, we checked out of our room. But were able to hang out in the common room at the hostel until the evening, because our flight was an evening departure, an overnighter to Madrid. When we caught a cab (a rather tiny one that we we squeezed into along with our backpacks) to the airport, we paid the driver with a relatively large bill because we had no smaller ones. Then we had to wait while the poor fellow solicited change from some of the other drivers gathered at the entrance. He finally succeeded in his mission, and we gave him a healthy tip for his trouble, including all the coins we’d accumulated in a little box. The coins must have weighed a pound, yet were worth only about 50 cents in U.S. money, so they hardly were worth lugging around.

Inside the airport, we had plenty of time to get some work done on our laptop, etc. while waiting for our plane. Which is what we planned to do. Instead they closed the terminal where our plane was scheduled to board and we were stuck in limbo while we waited for them to announce a new gate. Alas, we did not get to lounge in the deluxe chairs we had our hearts set on.

Still having some Colombian pesos left, we decided to take turns exploring the terminal for anything we might want to spend it on. Dennis had no trouble finding the perfect thing: his customary daily cup of decaf (which he normally makes himself). Kimberly also zeroed in on something that really called her name: a little pocket notebook with a rather artistic design on the cover. That still left about 2000 pesos, but hey, we hope to be returning to Colombia in the not too distant future.

Then we boarded the plane and found that the seats were rather comfortable. The passengers were somewhat less so. The fellow sitting next to Kimberly insisted on commandeering the armrest and spilled his Coke — mostly on himself, but a little on her as well. There were outlets for our gadgets, and we managed to score a passable vegetarian meal (we hadn’t been aware that meals were included in the ticket price, so hadn’t reserved one, but they scrounged up a couple for us anyway.) Then we settled in for a few hours’ sleep as we headed across the Big Pond to a new country on another continent.

March 27-29, 2022

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