With trepidation, I headed to Bogotá. Not only was the temperature going to plummet but having left Reid behind, I was going to have to make new friends.
It was a fairly antisocial start as this was my first long-distance bus and 18 hours travel overnight really took it out of me. Upon arrival in the capital, I crawled my way through the beautiful Museo del Oro (Gold Museum), sleepily admiring the historical artefacts and gazing absently into the eyes of many intricately designed warrior figurines. The gamer in me couldn’t be tucked away for too long however, as, on the top floor were some traditional indigenous board games, begging to be played. Fortuitously, my eye was caught by a friendly looking paisa (person from NW Colombia) and he suggested we try and learn something from their ancestors. Settling into what proved to be a rather difficult and ironically named game of ‘Triqui’, we battled out Eng v Col as the day dimmed and the museum began to shut down around us. A gruelling twenty minutes later and I bowed down to his Triqui superiority. The blow was sweetened by a surprise gift; it turned out my game companion was a children’s author and he sent me on my way with my ‘first Colombian book’ – El Arriero Vicente, no doubt he thought my Spanish needed improvement…
Alone in the city, I decided to cram my weekend in Bogotá with free tours. It is hands down the best way to understand and appreciate a place whilst meeting new people.
I therefore got an early night, waking refreshed and inspired for the city’s free walking and graffiti tour – a casual 6 hours and 11km of walking Bogotá’s streets. Santiago was an inspiring guide, effortlessly portraying the history, difficulty and culture of Colombia in his animated story-telling. No question was prohibited and we ended the tour feeling much more informed, armed with political anecdotes and the taste of the illegal chicha drink fresh on our lips.
The graffiti tour was equally fascinating. Even that morning on the way there, I had unknowingly witnessed the turbulent relationship between the city and its government when it came to street art. At each corner there were groups of people slathering large amounts of white, grey and black paint across the walls, burying the artists’ message under a fresh lick of blank canvas. During the tour we learnt that graffiti in Bogotá is loaded with political comment and depictions of social injustice but not any old art can be painted anywhere by anyone. The artist needs permission from the owner of the wall before painting and there are people around the world who have come to Bogotá, fallen in love with the city and sought permission to leave an impression of their time here. I’ve included just a few of these images at the bottom of this post.
The day was rounded-off in quiet reflection with new found British friends over the traditional ‘chocolate con queso’ or, hot chocolate with a large chunk of cheese posited at its centre. Perhaps not advisable for those with a high cholesterol but an enjoyable twist on a warming drink all the same!
My third tour of the city was Bogotá bike tours – tactfully chosen on a Sunday as its when the city closes some of its main roads to become a ciclovía (cycle highway). Many people have commented on the dangers I face when cycling in London and Bogotá was no exception…even with some main roads shut. All the same, it was great to be back on two wheels, exploring pockets of the capital I wouldn’t have had the confidence to see on foot (to quote our guide, ‘this area is safe but er, don’t stop pedalling’.) The tour was great due to the variety it involved – by the end of the day, I’d visited a coffee factory, admired Botero art and colonial architecture, sampled local fruit and discovered I was terrible at the local game tejo – a gunpowder filled target at which you throw rocks.
It was a cosy last in the girls dorm room, swapping stories, scoffing snacks and sitting by the fire. Bogotá really was a fleeting stop as Avianca pilots were on strike and, for my sins, I had decided to play safe by leaving early and catching the ten hour bus instead of risking a short flight, potentially wrought with delay. Wiping the sleep from my eyes, I left Bogotá with mixed emotion, uncertain if it was me or the city that wasn’t quite the right fit for the other. All the same, with my breakfast still digesting, I was on the road again, traversing through mountains, excited to be reunited with Reid in Medellin, the intriguing city that people can’t seem to stop talking about.
Seconds to make count
Make sure you have all useful things with you when getting on a long-haul bus – they can be cold and although they do have food/toilet breaks, loo roll, snacks and anti-bac gel are invaluable.
Uber is active in Bogotá (and a third of the local taxi price) but it’s illegal so they’ll want you to sit in the front and lie appropriately if stopped 🙂
Be aware of changing climates – put on sun-cream or take a raincoat as required…
If you get a sim card in Colombia, it needs to be registered, get them to help you do that in the shop otherwise it will stop working in two weeks.
Hostel: Mucicology, Duration: 1 night
Hostel: El Yarumo, Duration: 1 night
Hostel: Hostel Botanico, Duration: 1 night