We shipped Amelia, our truck, from Panama to Cartagena Colombia and had to fly ourselves. The airfare was $350 direct…or we could fly to Bogota first and then fly Bogota to Cartagena for $250…we took the Bogota Bonus!
It was going to be difficult to fit Bogota into our itinerary. It’s in the middle of the country and a long distance from our planned north south route. The Argentine man who shared our shipping container told us about the Viva Colombia Airline fare which allowed us to spend three nights and two days in Bogota, just enough to get a taste of Colombia’s capital city. With a population of 7.8 million and at an elevation of 8,660 ft. the city can take your breath away, literally.
The cable car that whisked us up to a high promontory above the city gave us a bird’s eye view of this expansive Colombian city. The downtown skyline was surprisingly small but the spread of the city was enormous. We stayed in the historic center called La Candelaria which was colorful to say the least. A twisted conglomerate of streets and callejons (alleys) revealed a patchwork of shops, bars and restaurants with a menagerie of people, mostly young students with a gritty hipster kind of look. The street art was a mixture of graffiti which gave way to high art in an unusual mixture of seediness and sophistication.
Bogota has a checkered history which includes horrendous events usually followed by long periods of tranquility. In 1948 a popular leader was assassinated causing an uprising which left 136 buildings burnt to the ground and 2,500 people dead. Again in 1985 a group of revolutionary guerrillas invaded the Palace of Justice taking over 300 civilians hostage. One day later 115 people were dead including 11 Supreme Court judges. In the past couple of decades however progressive efforts by successive mayors have ushered in great advances including a 70% decline in the murder rate. A recent mayor instituted “CicloRuta bike lanes” where every Sunday 300 kilometers of city streets are closed to motorized traffic and open only to bicycles, pedestrians, skateboards and other non-motorized traffic only. We were lucky to be there on Sunday to experience this great family affair which is punctuated by street vendors selling anything and everything, kind of like a giant yard sale. One young man had built a saxophone out of bamboo.
There is no shortage of “must see” places in Bogota and we chose just a few including the Museo Botero featuring Colombian artist Fernando Botero whose paintings and sculptures feature everything fat including people, animals, hands, famous figures and even Jesus and devils all in what has been coined “monumental” figures. The Museo Del Oro (museum of gold) features an enormous collection of pre-Hispanic gold artifacts that is amazing in its scope and these are the things that the Spanish did not steel, melt down and send back to Spain. We also toured the Quinta de Bolivar, the historic although short term home and gardens of Simon Bolivar.
At first the grittiness of the city was a bit off-putting but after a day of roaming around we felt comfortable in most settings. We’re happy to have been able to sample this great city with all of its eclectic people in bohemian street-scapes and delicious Colombian cuisine.