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Published: September 24th 2012
I've been in Colombia for well over a week now so it seems like a good time for an update. I arrived in the capital city, Bogotá, around 5am on Thursday 14th after a couple of overnight flights from New Orleans via Houston. After attempting (and failing) to extract some Colombian pesos out of the ATM machine with my card in Bogotá, I took a taxi to my hostel which was located in La Candelaria, the old historic centre of the city. I hadn't slept on the flights, so after dumping my bags I promptly fell asleep and continued to sleep for most of the day. When I finally got going, I checked my emails and found one from my parents letting me know that they'd had a call from Natwest Fraud department regarding my card. So, with a blocked card and very few pesos on me, the day's activities were slightly limited. However, as it was so cold in Bogotá, especially after spending 5 weeks in 30+ degree heat in the USA, I didn't mind having a lazy day to be honest! Oddly enough, I met about 5 other Brits at the hostel - perhaps Bogotá is
the new place to go for people from the UK?! So I had dinner at the hostel's restaurant with one of the Brits I'd met, and then passed the remainder of the evening chatting to the other Brits and swapping travelling stories.
On Friday the first thing on my itinerary was to get my bank card unblocked so that I could access my money and thus breathe a little easier! Luckily there was an internet cafe with international phones near the hostel, and after going through all the necessary security checks, the very nice man at Natwest unblocked my card. With that sorted, I went sightseeing with a few people from the hostel that I'd met the previous day. In the morning we took a leisurely stroll across the centre towards Bolívar Square which is bordered by the Palace of Justice, the National Capitol and the Primary Cathedral. The architecture is beautiful and the Square itself is lively and bustling with people, pigeons and... llamas! Yes, llamas. How I love them so. The cute colourful houses which lead to the square and the mountains in the background all added to the beauty of the place and I hastily fell
in love with it. There's a lot of street art around, which adds to the colour and charm, and kept me reaching for my camera. We then went to the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) which has an epic collection of pre-Hispanic gold. I was extremely impressed, more than I had expected I would be, as I can't say I tend to see anything terribly attractive in gold. But the museum is spacious and nicely laid out, with a lot of information, and it also contains some very impressive pottery. After the Gold Museum we walked over to the Botero Museum where we met a couple of other Brits from the hostel. The museum contains many of Fernando Botero's paintings and sculptures, as well as works by other artists which belonged to Botero that he donated along with his own work. I'm not generally a fan of paintings or scupltures of people, but Botero's works really are so unusual and interesting that I loved the place. We had a free tour in English which was extremely informative and provided more of an insight into Botero's choice of style. This day was the birthday of one of the guys at the
hostel, so before we returned, we bought him a little cake, which we later presented to him along with a very out-of-tune and out-of-time rendition of 'Happy Birthday'. But I think that it was well-received!
On Saturday morning a little group of us made our way to Cerro Monserrate, which is a mountain which affords great views of the city. We took the furnicular car up to the top and then wandered around (very slowly - as the altitude of over 10,000 feet was definitely taking its toll!), enjoying the views of the city stretching out beneath us. The top of the Cerro itself is extremely pretty, with its church and religious statues and exotic trees which are dotted around. It was a cloudy and drizzly day which is a shame in some ways as it limited the view somewhat, but the sight of the clouds clinging around the mountains was wonderful and certainly enough to make up for any impairment which the cloud cover caused. We strolled through the market place at the top and marvelled at the bizarre assortment of food being prepared and sold, before taking the cable car back down to the bottom. We once
The church at the top of Cerro Monserrate, and a view of the clouds and mountains in the background
again headed into the centre, taking more photos of the old and colourful buildings and churches that we passed, before stopping for an outrageously big and outrageously cheap lunch. (The portions in the USA were epic for sure, but this would certainly have been sufficient for two people as I could barely eat half!) The meal came with soup, salad, fish, rice, 3 different types of potato, a guava juice drink (which was unusual but very tasty), and for dessert, a little plate of orange jelly. It cost less than 4 pounds (there is no pound sign on this keyboard...) With our bellies full, we took a slow walk back to the Square and this time had a mosey around inside the Cathedral, which was surprisingly modern in my opinion. Lovely though. There were a lot of tourism police around the city centre and a couple of them invited us to take a free tour of the nearby Police Museum. The tour was a lot of fun, particularly as our youthful guide occasionally broke into salsa dance, and was clearly keen to promote his country to foreigners. As is understandable, he was also keen to distance the Colombia of today
In Bolivar Square
from the Colombia of the past, although his (and the museum's) focus on Pablo Escobar as the cause of Colombia's bad international reputation seemed like something of an injustice and an oversimplification of the country's past. But regardless, as I say, the tour was enjoyable, although I do query what was going through the mind of the person who designed the museum, as the rooms hosted some truly obscure artifacts and tidbits of information which seemed to have no logical relation to each other. That evening myself and one of the girls from the hostel went out and got a traditional hot chocolate which is popular in Bogotá. The hot chocolate comes with little bits of bread, and slices of cheese. You mix the cheese in the chocolate and then dip the bread into the mixture. As someone who loves any dish that mixes sweet and savoury, I absolutely loved this. It helped that it was nice and warming too, because as I've mentioned, Bogotà, at an altitude of 2,600 feet, gets extremely chilly, especially in the evening. In fact, it was the cold that led me to book a flight straight to the Carribean coast for the following morning
(Sunday 16th). Because I am returning to the capital in a couple of weeks' time, I didn't feel too aggrieved about leaving after only 3 days. If the city had a warmer climate, I'd probably say that Bogotà is one of my favourite cities. As it is, I will say that it is a great place, and thus I am looking forward to returning to it and spending more time wandering through the old city and taking in the charm of the old, slightly tumble-down buildings which are covered in street art.
Well, that is all for my first blog entry from Colombia.
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