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Published: November 20th 2019
For the most part, just about all of what was in the original script had proven to be worth writing, and also translated well into a reality, that it could be deemed 'travel by numbers', were it not for the fact that such a widescreen ambition was worked into the mix that this was no ordinary exercise. Making it to Bogota was indeed the final piece of the jigsaw, and background reading had served to suggest that the city had enough in the way of individual features to be dubbed a stand-alone experience worthy of its place in the whole chapter. Well, for the most part, Bogota offered something large in terms of its outward appearance, but felt like no great giant in among the two previously-visited Colombian cities where the overall sense of charm worked on so very many levels. Mount Monserrate, and the funicular ride involved in getting to and from, just about topped my Bogota list of city treats, and the commendable gold museum succeeded in making the sheen of the metal itself appear to glimmer throughout the visit of just about all of the exhibits. Seeing the city centre's most prominent buildings too had a certain resonance
about it which cut through the spell of rain, and in typical meandering fashion, the buzz around commercial areas seemingly sewn together by some kind of funky vibe helped the day go with more of a swing, especially when the knowledge that the enire trip was drawing to a close came coupled with a realization that the entire year in travel was also in the process of grinding to a halt. I don't doubt that Bogota still houses some of the shadiest characters in Colombia, so these are not streets to be combed after dark, but then again, conserving energy for a thrilling episode the following day followed in hot pursuit by a long-haul flight was the order of the day. Leaving big ole' Bogota, heading north, with a slight easterly deviation, and you're on your way to Zipaquiera, a lively and liveable town with one major tourist draw card in the shape of the Salt Cathedral, a cavernous network of underground passageways which you could barely believe actually exists looking at the entrance, and the development immediately above on ground level. An audio guide is provided for this visit, but in typical fashion, it seemed to be an equally
favourable option just letting the visuals speak for themselves, even if the first few points of interest encountered were crosses placed in certain corners, with lighting effects to enable those vital selfies to come out substantially well. On the very subject of lighting effects, one impressive feature which greets the visitor both at the entrance and indeed at a special venue at the end of the tour is a Las Vegas Freemont Street-style display of animation courtesy of coloured lights on curved ceilings. Nothing new then, in terms of concept, but the whole idea is so well executed that there is some kind of magnetic appeal to these two areas, and forced a slightly prolonged visit out of this tourist in the process. Elsewhere, the cavernous passageway which leads to the cathedral's altar is impressively lined with chandeliers, and the extensive souvenir shopping area, coupled with an upmarket restaurant is enough to make one wonder what kinds of public events might have been held here to a positive outcome. The town of Zipaquiera itself came across as a breath of fresh air, just when I was about to curse Bogota's relative inaccessibility for the 14th time (building work still ongoing
for a planned metro system), and the amiable plaza (which led to a few streets where reasonably-priced stores led the way) just stubbornly refused to be traversed without pausing for those vital last few photos of a photo-heavy two-week trip. Given the tips of Colombians met en route who sang the praises of other areas not visited on this trip, the resort town of Santa Marta being the most vociferously namechecked, I had enough collective evidence that here stood a nation whose desperate past had clearly cast its actual beauty in an unfairly poor light, and the latino vibes which seem to have driven the nation forwards in the wake of gang warfare and its multiple woes are appealing and reassuring enough that this nation of arguably some of the finest soft drinks you'll ever taste might even be just as tasty when it comes to asking for a refill.
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