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Published: February 22nd 2016
Bogota's concrete jungle.
I couldn't wait to get out of San Agustin. I was so bored there. But of course, I would have to endure one more struggle in order to do so.
In this case, it was a contender for worst bus ride of the trip. My thirteenth (!) overnight bus ride of the trip so far (and hopefully my last), I was just about over them. When I had a bus that stopped for just about every man and his dog along the road, with a girl seated behind me constantly kicking the back of my seat, a girl with a squealing puppy in the seat in front of me (normally cute yes, but not when you trying to get to sleep) and a woman with a screaming baby next to me, that was IT. To put the icing on the cake, the bus broke down and we had to all wait on the side of the highway for another one. At 5am in the morning on next to no sleep. The only saving grace was that the bus that did eventually pick us up was a luxury bus that even came with blankets. Something you needed since the air-conditioning on Colombian
Plaza de Bolivar
The main square of Bogota. With the modern MI6-like Palacio de Justicia on the left, and the Catedral Primada on the right.
buses seems to always be set to "Arctic".
On entering the city, the first ting I noticed was how much smog there was. There is supposedly a huge mountain looking over the city, but I couldn't see it.
Now Bogota isn't normally a place you would associate with someone blowing their budget - Monaco or Las Vegas, yes - but that is exacty what I did.
My first objective upon arriving was to replace my iPhone - which I duly did despite paying NZ$200 more for the same phone than I did a year ago back in New Zealand. I also needed some new shorts and couldn't resist splashing out £30 on a really nice pair at Zara. At $NZ40, I may also have gone overboard with the purchase of my iPhone case to go with my new phone. But when you find things that are exactly what you're looking for, it is worth paying extra.
Talking about paying extra, things are a bit more expensive here in Bogota than they were in Southern Colombia
. Where every meal I ate in the south cost less than 10,000COP (£2), even a fast-food burger was going to set me back twice that
Mona Lisa - Botero-Style
Fernando Botero's take on Leonardo da Vinci's famous work.
here in Bogota. Some ofmight have to do with Chapinero, the area I was staying in, which is a bit upmarket.
At 2,640m altitude, altitude sickness struck me again although it didn't stop me from testing out Bogota's Friday nightlife.
For the first time that night, I tried aguardiente
- Colombia's national spirit. Tasting like a nasty, less alcoholic sambuca - so in other words, a shit sambuca - I had it as part of some pre-drinks I enjoyed with my friend Freddie, who was a flatmate of mine in Barcelona and was now living and volunteering here in Bogota. Along with Frenchman Mohammed and Aussie Andy, we hit Baum, a pretty standard electro/house nightclub but for the tree right in the middle of it and people snorting cocaine off their fingers all around us in full view of security guards.
Cocaine is synonymous with Colombia and its recent past and anything I write about Colombia would be incomplete without mentioning it. The only thing I do have to say about it is that given everything that the drug has done to the country, I feel it would be a bit morally dubious to take it, especially here.
Look at those beautiful balconies. Plaza de Bolivar, the main square, is in the background.
it was an average night out, my altitude-affected legs only taking me through to 3.30am despite the club's 8am closing time.
I didn't feel too much better the next day so I just stayed in bed for most it, resting...because I was going to further test out Bogota's nightlife that night as well, with a visit to the legendary Andres Carne de Res.
In one of those moments that happens a surprising amount of times but is not really surprising anymore, Australian Miles, who I met at my hostel in Sucre
, suddenly showed up at my hostel here. It was to be his last couple of nights in South America before he headed home.
Finally back in touch with people via WhatsApp, I let the crew I was with in Sucre know about our reunion. And speaking of reunions, I will be having a more planned reunion with Teo, Sybe and Fleur in Cartagena in time for my birthday. Hard to think of a better place to be on my birthday!
So Miles was joining me, three Brazilian girls and three Portuguese guys on the hostel shuttle to Andres Carne de Res - ensuring that for the one-hour ride out to where the place is
Andres Carne de Res
Dinner, dancing, nightclub, salsa, bar - it is everything to everyone. There is no party quite like Andres Carne de Res.
in Chia, the language predominantly spoken was Portuguese. This had better be good, considering we had come all the way out here into the middle of nowhere for it.
It is basically two huge wooden buildings both about three blocks long, that was made to resemble a massive, wooden, Cuban-like, party hut, a restaurant, bar, salsa club and nightclub all in one. Musicians dressed in flamboyant costumes would shuffle by you table while you eat, blasting out Latino tunes.
For the dining part of the evening, Miles and I ordered the signature grill-to-share, although we almost missed it thanks to the perhaps the biggest menu I have ever seen - it is easy to miss things on a menu when it is 72 pages long! As for the grill itself, it was 1.5kg of barbecued meat, including grilled chicken, steaks, sausages, ribs and even some black pudding. Rather bizarrely, there was also massive but disgusting pieces of pork skin. The waitress though that it would be too much for the both of us but she didn't know that she was tlaking to two Antipodean males. Even if we couldn't finish it all, it would still be better value
3,000 People Party
The crowd at Andres Carne de Res.
and variety than if we were to order our own separate meals. Too much? Are you kidding me?
After dinner, we all needed a bit of help to digest all the meat we had just eaten so what better way to obliterate it all (including your stomach lining) than with a few shots of tequila!
By midnight, the whole place was absolutely rammed. I lost the group at one stage and it took me half and hour to find them again. It was a 3,000 people riot.
Now the feminists among you are not going to like this, but it would be remiss of me not to mention it, but oh...Colombian women. There is a reason why their usually among the final few at most Miss Universes.
A mainly Latino soundtrack got everyone shaking their hips with truth and I even got a few compliments from the locals for my moves and my attitude to dancing. My secret? I was just drunk, man.
The locals were nice and friendly - I reckon that Colombians are the nicest people I have met here in South America. As mentioned before however, it is a shame that they speak their Spanish so
1.5Kg Of Meat
At Andres Carne de Res. Me and Miles ate all of it. ALL OF IT.
fast! They are definitely the fastest speakers I have met here in South America too.
Anyway, there is nothing like this party palace in the middle of nowhere - perhaps one of the best entertainment venues I have ever been to. A must-visit if you're in Bogota.
Three and no sightseeing meant that it was about time I did some.
Going into the city centre for the first time however was a little intimidating - especially after my taxi driver warned me to keep my camera bag in front of me at all times.
Dropped outside the Museo de Oro, Bogota seemed a concrete jungle of non-descript, 70s buildings. And it was busy - people were just everywhere. It wasn't until I had got to La Candeleria and its steep, cobblestoned streets that I found more of the colonial facades I was expecting. The neighbourhood was colourful and pretty as well.
I was somewhat thwarted that day by the fact that almost all of the museums that I wanted to visit, were closed on Mondays. It meant that on what was probably going to be my last day here, I would have to do four museums in one day.
Iglesia Santa Clara
The impressive interior. Not so impressive is the straightness of this photograph.
The one museum that was open however, was the Museo Botero. Colombia's most famous painter and sculptor specialises in painting and sculpting things in hos own unmistakable style that is full in figure, larger than life and voluptuously formed. So basically, he liked painting things chubby. The result is that I can never take any of his work seriously - his own interpretation of many works, including the Mona Lisa, brings a smile to the face thanks to the comic joy that exists in all of his works.
I hadn't been overly impressed with Colombian food to this point so I decided to try another couple of local dishes. For lunch, the first thing I had was a tamale
– basically rice and fried chicken wrapped up in a banana leaf, very similar to the sticky rice common in South East Asia. It tasted a lot like the sticky rice common in South East Asia – so very nice. Second was an arepa de huevo
– a fried egg wrapped in a rice corn cake that is then deep-fried. Everything seems to be deep-fried here – my arteries must be hating Colombia.
I was now desperate for fruits and
Museo Historico Policia
The old police HQ now museum is set inside a beautiful building.
vegetables – the salad buffet in the supermarket close to my hostel certainly helped in that respect.
The first museum that I visited the next day was the Museo Historico Policia. The main reason I went was to see the display they have of some of Pablo Escobar’s possessions including the jacket we was wearing when he was finally gunned down on a rooftop in Medellin. But of course, that section of the museum was closed for renovations! An actual police officer guides you around the rest of the museum which is only mildly interesting save for a section detailing the war on drugs. The guide spoke English which helped but which didn’t help at the same time – sometimes it is better for me if they just speak in Spanish.
Speaking my Spanish, I have had to use it a lot more than I have had to before, here in Colombia and I definitely feel like I have improved. It really is about confidence and practice however and both tend to peak and trough which mirrors my Spanish-speaking ability.
Second, I visit the Iglesia Santa Clara which has a really nice interior but not much else.
In my opinion, Bogota's best museum.
Third, was the city’s premier museum – the one everyone raves about – the Mueso de Oro. It is well-presented, modern and comprehensive, detailing how gold was sourced and how artefacts were made by the pre-Columbian civilisations that inhabited Colombia, as well as what the different artefacts all meant and what they were used for.
But I got a bit bored to be honest. You kind-of get the message after the second floor and then you discover that there are still two more floors of the same gold objects with the same information. And as usual, the air-conditioning was on full blast and the place was freezing. It was also annoying that individual objects weren’t labelled. So overall, I though the place was a bit overrated.
I managed to save the best for last – the Museo Nacional gives you a pretty comprehensive look at the history of Colombia which was a lot more interesting than looking at lots of gold objects. It starts by documenting the pre-Columbian civilisations – who they were and how they lived – before detailing the Spanish conquest and the subsequent independence movement, mostly in the form of paintings and artefacts from the era.
Catedral Primada & Capilla del Sagrario
The cathedral is Bogota's biggest church; the capilla is the only colonial-era building in Plaza de Bolivar.
Most of the museum however was devoted to showcasing Colombian art, television, architecture, music and film. It also attempted to showcase all the different groups that make up modern Colombian society and their contributions to the country and its history, which I thought it did very well. I certainly had a much better understanding of the country after my visit.
On my last night in Bogota, I met up with Freddie again at a bar not too far from where I was staying for “Gringo Tuesday” - which is basically an intercambio
where people can come to practice different languages with other looking to do the same. The event then descends into a huge party, one which I was lucky to skip the queue to get into thanks to Freddie’s friends. I was having one of those nights where the beer was going down real easy and I ended up meeting some friends of friends of Freddie who were cool and I ended up dancing and hanging out with them until about 1am! It supposed to be, as always, just a couple of drinks. It was good fun though and I enjoyed myself, as they pumped gringo music including
Colombia's seat of congress sits on Plaza de Bolivar.
a lot of old school hip-hop and R&B.
I ended up staying in Bogota for six days, which is more than you need but the reason I did was because I was awaiting a package from New Zealand containing a new SIM card for my new phone and my new credit card to replace the one that was cancelled all the way back in Uruguay, which was being delivered to Freddie. Luckily the package arrived earlier than scheduled and I could now properly plan my next few days and could now also meet up with Teo, Sybe and Fleur on February 1st as planned!
Big thanks to Freddie for collecting my package and for two nights out on the town!
Some final thoughts about Bogota;
- The drivers here (and in Ipiales, Popayan and San Agustin) never turn their headlights on here at night! I almost got run over by a bus because of it!
- Bogota really needs to sort out a public transport system (and its smog problem)). I had to rely on the necessary evil of taxis here and I got ripped off a couple of times. One driver obviously took the scenic route and
The mayor's office looks like something out of Paris.
another gave me change with fake bills! 25,000COP worth. Fucker.
- The city is quite sophisticated. It’s not as swanky as Miraflores in Lima, but overall Bogota seems to be one of the more developed and wealthier of the South American capitals that I have visited.
Next up, I will be visiting the countryside again in the form of the Zona Cafetera, as well as Escobar’s home city of Medellin!
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