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Published: November 19th 2005
Today I write you from Bogota, Columbia, yes, BOGOTA. I am visiting a friend here. Yes, my travel blog is primarily and usually about Costa Rica but it’s my blog and I’ll write what I %$$#%%# please!
Actually, I figured since I was away from the farm (literally) for a few days, why not write about a different place and then be fresh next time for another entry on Costa Rica? So here goes….
I didn’t know much about Bogota or Columbia in general before visiting here except some of the intimidating things I’ve heard about:
1. 1/3 or more of the country is controlled by so-called “narco-terrorists;”
2. It is the leading producer and exporter of cocaine;
3. It has over 25,000 violent murders a year—more than any other country; and the State Department does not recommend traveling here (http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_941.html)
However, as my friends who know me realize, I have a habit of traveling off the beaten path a bit read Myanmar (Burma), Bosnia, Cambodia, Paraguay, Laos, etc! I’m always very careful and keep myself out of situations that could cause me harm.
Reviewing point #1 above, it is hard to imagine part of my
homeland, the United States, being controlled by rebels! New England controlled by some nutty eco-terrorists from Vermont? The west controlled by gun-toting NRA types from Montana? Florida controlled by Walt Disney (oops, already is!)? I don’t know what the people think of that here, except to say they stay away from the trouble spots.
So, we should focus on the positive. First, I was pleasantly surprised to learn what a beautiful city Bogota is! It has many parks and gardens, all told about three times as big as New York’s Central Park. It is clean. The roads were mostly immaculate, gardens and lawns off highways nicely pruned, and for a city that has succumbed to urban sprawl as much as any, it is fairly well organized.
It is a huge city—bigger than I thought—with over 10 million people living the greater metropolitan area and most residents living in high-rise apartments, just like in New York City. It does suffer from smog problems like Los Angeles however, I didn’t find it to be as constant as LA. In fact, unlike Costa Rica currently, each day of my stay has been almost perfectly sunny, highs in the mid to upper
I should mention it is a city well above sea level, at about 8,000 feet and even I had to acclimatize to the location a bit. This probably isn’t the best city for people with heart problems. However, as mentioned earlier, being so high the temperatures are always moderate as is the humidity. In fact, from what I have read, it pretty much hovers in the mid 60s year around.
It is a very European type of city. It has wide boulevards, ornate buildings, and monuments to many historical figures. The people appear to be European looking somewhat, particularly in their attire: smart, European-looking business suits, classy shoes, coats and so on. These people are right out of Milan or Paris. It was hard to define everyone as Columbian looking. Some looked very European; others definitely had an indigenous look, probably from pre-Columbian times. However, most had dark hair and relatively dark skin as one would expect.
I think after living somewhat “provincially” for a while in Costa Rica, the big city was a welcome change. The area I was staying in was very upscale—it reminded me a lot of Georgetown in Washington, DC (minus “The
Exorcist” of course!)
Bogota also seems to have everything! In the area I was in, there were dozens of fancy restaurants from Mexican to Sushi to Italian and many others. In fact, one restaurant sold crepes and waffles. I definitely need to try it!
On one of my long walks, I came across the most interesting mall (at least to me). When I came upon it, I knew it was a mall as it looked similar to many U.S. malls. However, once inside, I realized it was a mall only for computer stores! There must have been 50 or more computer stores in there selling everything—hardware and software-one could ever need for a computer. Several stores specialized in laptops, other is networking, and so on. I wish I had brought my computer shopping list!
Like New York, Bogota is filled with many yellow taxis. In fact, on many streets you’ll see a lot more taxis than private cars. The taxis here are very small, low to the ground, and their tires are barely bigger than those on my mountain bike! However, they appear to get in and out of Bogota’s smaller streets pretty well.
Horse and rider
Just like in front of the Park Plaza Hotel in NYC!
concerns about touring the city on my own, on my first full day here, I hired a tour guide to show me the main sites. Oscar, the guide, had lived here all his life and new the city from top to bottom. At the top, we went up to Montserrat, the mountain-top overlooking the city, about 2,000 feet up. Needless to say, the view was spectacular and the mountain top had an old church and monastery—and of course souvenir shops! Down into the city, the guide took me to the “Gold Museum” to see an incredible collection of pre-Columbian gold pieces dating as far back as 5000 B.C. For a mere $3, I got to see the collection with an English-speaking museum guide. The guide was great and his English was excellent however he spoke as fast as a New Yorker so I had to listen very carefully to keep up. After a while, though, it became the same old thing: “This is a gold breast plate.” “This is gold jewelry.” There are apparently over 100,000 pieces in the collection—while impressive, thankfully I only saw about 5,000 of them!
We also toured the “La Candelaria” section of Bogota, which
I'm not sure if this is to mean "Hotel Gun Glub" or Gun Club." I guess if you're packin' a rod, this is the place to stay at!
has the oldest buildings in the city and is the original base of the city. It is now a university area with many students out on the streets, in cafes or relaxing in parks among ancient wooden buildings with interesting architecture.
I particularly liked the “Zona Rosa” area which is much more urban. Truly a city with anything one could want, I enjoyed the hustle and bustle (lots of hustle!) of this area with shops the locals visit, modest but restaurants and hawkers of all types selling a wide variety of items from their wooden boxes or duffle bags. I found a great steak restaurant in this area. For $7, I had a huge piece of steak which was one of the best cuts of beef I’ve had outside of Argentina. I have not been able to find something as good in Costa Rica so far. What I liked best about this place is that it was all locals eating there—no “ugly Americans.”
Speaking of Americans, and other tourists, I found very few of them. I would imagine that given the high crime rate (which is decreasing according to government statistics), part of the country outside of the
control of the government, and the cocaine business, promoting Bogota as a tourist destination is not easy. From what I could tell, most of the tourists seemed to be from other South American countries. I also heard some Germans. I may have seen one or two people I thought were Americans, but no more than that.
It is a city filled with things to do culturally. There are many theaters, dozens of art galleries and museums and what I particularly liked, was that there were many bookstores. In fact, one area had about three blocks of bookstores. Another part of the city had a mall, just with bookstores. Despite everything you here about Columbia, a city filled with bookstores, people with intellectual curiosity, and good food, it cannot be all that bad!
I read in a guide book that “Columbia is a country of smiling people.” I certainly witnessed that in my brief stay here. I saw school kids coming out of their classrooms smiling, parents and their children smiling at each other, and couples smiling in that giddy way we all know.
Three days here was definitely not enough and I want to come back. While
many people may have a problem overcoming the many negatives portrayed in the media about Columbia, like any city, do what is sensible and you’ll be fine.
I have a busy week coming up with more guests, friends coming, and Thanksgiving, so look for much more soon!!
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