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Published: April 24th 2016
We didn't really know what to expect going to Bogota, other than it being colder than where we arrived from. We came to find a sprawling city in the highlands of Colombia with larger than life street art and a dark intriguing history. Sometimes the 2 were even intertwined.
We decided to stay in the area called 'La Candelaria' a small section of the humongous sprawling city. One of the hippest places to stay due to it being on the university district with the area covered in mesmerising graffiti. One thing you couldn't miss however was a police presence here with their huge muzzled Rottweilers on a leash. Many people we had met either loved or hated Bogota either put off by the police presence or opting to stay here for months to study. We didn't know what to think when we arrived, seemed like an interesting bustling place despite its reputation.
With Bogota being a capital city, one would think it would have a navigable public transport system. We'd be lying if we said it doesn't, its just that the locals only seem to be able to understand it. Small buses with so much information on
a small piece of card in the corner of the window approaching you at speed as you try to find the name of your destination on it. Locals could spot what they needed from a mile off. For us it took a lot of squinting into the distance and deciphering the information until it was practically in front of us, sometimes still unsure as it drove off past us.
Attempting to catch the correct bus after arriving probably didn't help with us mispronouncing 'La Candeleria' - the area we needed to get to. One carpark attendant tried to explain to us which bus we needed to catch. Listening intently, what we picked out did not make sense. The phrases which confused us the most were; veinte seis (26) de Julio and Germania. We thought what on earth has 26th July and Germany have to do with anything!? Turns out it is a street name (some streets are named after special dates) and an area, both of which the bus we needed travels through.
After eventually making sense of it all we followed his directions and got on the right bus. One thing about the buses here
is that they are made small. Really small. There's never any room, even for P and her small legs. On this bus we had to navigate with our bags, probably knocking people out of the way in the process. And we thought our bags were small. Maybe we needed to rethink these 40L :-/
On the bus Chris got 'speaking' to a local (in spanish obviously). Although a very broken conversation we were able to understand the gist of what the guy was saying. A very friendly guy full of info regarding Bogota, he even advised us of the best route to take to get to La Candeleria without having to walk through any dodgy areas.
We got off the bus where the guy advised us and found ourselves in what seemed like the busiest christmas street market/festival. We decided to weave our way through, trying to stay cautious as we did so. What we found however was that it felt very safe, no one batted an eyelid at us everyone was interested in whatever they were involved in.
Stupidly we didn't book any accommodation here and found ourselves hostel hopping. 3rd time lucky,
we finally found a place. After befriending a Chinese traveller in our dorm and putting on some warmer clothes we all went out for dinner and to explore the area. Bogota is freezing compared to the warmer climates we've enjoyed previously.
When we had arrived we had to weave through a ridiculously bustling main street that was closed off to vehicles as it was night. We decided to check this out again. Returning, we started at what seemed like the beginning. There was a sea of people; families & friends, street sellers selling winter clothes, hot dog & burger stalls, street performers and some impressive street artists.
Sticking together we weaved between groups of people, stopping to watch a male street performer with white face paint, balloons for boobs, and a pink wig drawing large crowds. We passed a rap battle, a 3D virtual reality station and a "place your bets on which box the 1st guinea pig will run to first" track. People were everywhere enjoying the food and atmosphere of it all. It's probably the first time we felt a bit 'christmassy' during this time of year with the cold weather and christmas lights
The following day we went on the popular graffiti walking tour. The whole of Bogota is like a massive canvas for the cities artists. It was really interesting to get an insight to the culture here that has birthed some very successful artists and also has played host to some of the worlds best including Justin Bieber (will explain shortly). Some of the art we got to see was beyond amazing, some we would probably walk past and not even notice as it blended in so well. We were even able to start to recognise certain artists from their style alone. A lot of what we saw was in the Candelaria area, but we believe there's is much more beyond that, some far more outstanding pieces. Maybe next time as unfortunately a lot of them are in areas deemed 'unsafe'.
Our guide explained how there's a level of respect amongst the solo artists and graffiti crews. Most murals go untouched once they're up but should a newcomer come along and 'tag' (spray paint their initials) over an existing respected artists work, there are consequences. We learnt that the respected artists' crew would go out
that very night and completely erase the work or tag all the work the newcomer has painted in the city. Basically erasing any evidence that that artist ever existed. This also happened to popstar Justin Bieber who fancied himself a bit of a graffiti artist. Although it wasn't for a tagging offence, he wanted to leave his mark in the graffiti capital. With a police escort, security and a camera crew he was allowed to create a piece of art on a wall in the city. This angered the local graffiti artists, as not too long before, one of their fellow artists was killed at the hands of the very same police due to graffitiing. The police then tried to cover up the killing. Biebers art lasted all but 24hrs in Bogota.
We were shown some strong politically driven pieces of art which told a story of how once upon a time, soldiers were killing the homeless people of the city. These homeless were then dressed as rebels and a photo was taken of them to make it look like the military were winning the war against rebels and cocaine production/trafficking. One artist was very clever in raising
awareness of this issue; whenever he noticed a homeless man/woman not in their regular spot he would draw an image of that person in the same spot on the wall. Whenever these 'regulars' disappeared people started thinking about them a lot more.
This was to do with a US backed scheme called PlanColombia/Falso Positivo to stem the amount of cocaine entering the states. Even more unsettling, people who had one too many on a weekend and had fell asleep somewhere were also taken and shot by the Colombian military. A very sad part of Colombia's not too far history.
After the tour we wondered around the town through the small quiet streets of Bogota and into the huge plaza complete with giant christmas tree. From here we wanted a better viewpoint from up one of the steep hills leading away from the plaza. Walking up, we smiled at a passing family also working their way up the cobbled street. The father stopped and started speaking to us in Spanish. One word that stood out was "Peligro" meaning danger. He advised us that we shouldn't continue any further upwards and to head back down where its safer
- where the police with the big guns and even bigger dogs were. Taking his advice we headed back down. Any other day we probably could've blended in but the big camera around Chris's neck is a give away for tourist.
One popular thing to do when in Bogota is to take in the views of the city from one the highest viewpoints of Mount Monserrat. There's 3 ways up this mountain - cable car, funicular or walking. Can you guess which mode we chose?
It took us just over an hour to climb the breath taking (literally) steep steps up to the top of this mountain. The high altitude didn't help either - 2800m above sea level. Apparently during special religious times of the year, some locals choose to climb the steps on their knees for repentance. Ouch! Oh yeah there's a church at the top too.
We went up on a Sunday, which we were advised was the best time due to the many worshippers, runners, tourists and police presence. Also the cable car and funicular are cheaper on that day too. There have been reports of robberies happening around this area,
even in the daytime. Which is strange, as all we seen was police on the short walk from the town to foot of the mountain. On the way there we saw an interesting piece of graffiti and wanted to get a closer look. We were stopped by a policeman on a corner and pointed in the complete opposite direction. Peligro!
Finally, at the top of the mountain covered in sweat, we were treated to some amazing views of the city below. Bogota was built on a plateau amongst a mountain range so the surrounding land in the distance provided a beautiful scenic backdrop to the sprawling flat city. As we mentioned there is a church at the top of the mountain, which actually had a service going on inside. Outside, many people milled about either taking in the views or catching their breath from the gruelling walk up. Whilst up there we sampled a coca tea made from the coca plant (does not contain cocaine). Its supposed to help with high altitude sickness etc. Tasted just like green tea to us, plus it helped to keep us warm as we waited for the cable car down.
Speaking of keeping warm, the temperature drops a lot at night too. Whilst out that evening we stopped by small bar selling hot wine. That really brought back the feeling of christmas at home as we would probably be sipping mulled wine at the christmas markets in Manchester. This one even came with fruits in it :-)
One area that seemed pretty quiet during our graffiti tour was one of the oldest plazas in the city. Unfortunately not many original buildings are left in this tiny area, although the government has had the church and the central fountain rebuilt. Arriving later in the day we stumbled upon a crowd of people in the square, many young adults enjoying a beer, company with friends or a smoke in a quiet corner. Most were sat in a semi-circle watching a clown/magician doing slapstick comedy and tricks. We found a space on the floor and watched for a little while although we couldn't understand a thing he was saying. Apparently throughout the night there are many live circus acts and bands performing in this square to an audience for tips. It had a nice vibe in the square as the sun
began to set and everyone seemed relaxed just enjoying the evening entertainment.
On our last day we wanted to purchase our tickets to our next destination Salento. Annoyingly as with all bus terminals, they are based outside of the city centre. After speaking to our roommate Ling, he told us that we could catch a bus straight to the terminal from Candelaria. After wondering around a bit asking numerous locals and a public bus station assistant, we hopped on the bus headed to the main bus terminal...or so we thought. We ended up completely on the other side of the town getting off at the last stop. A few locals who were on the bus tried to help but struggled to tell us exactly where we needed to go in Spanglish so advised us to get a taxi instead. We were prepared to catch a bus back the way we came until an older lady put the fear of Bogota into us. We hopped straight into a taxi to the terminal.
Roughly 99% of taxis and buses we have caught so far in Colombia generally play some sort of salsa music. Not the one we caught
that night. We think this one wanted to set the tone of the neighbourhoods we passed.
Now don't get us wrong we appreciate all types of music but the music he played was chillingly haunting as we passed dark streets with minimal lighting, prostitutes, drug addicts & sometimes not a soul. The areas locals warned us about. The music concocted thoughts of him taking us somewhere to be robbed or even worse. Our imaginations were running wild as he swerved from lane to lane as the songs intro rang out gunshots over an operatic singer. We looked at each other like "what the heck is happening here".
As most of you have already guessed we made it safely to the bus terminal in one piece. It was such a bizarre experience for us. During the ride we did manage to 'shazam it'. Here's the link to the 2 main songs we heard:
Our overall verdict on Bogota or the areas we visited apart from being freaked out by that taxi ride we were pretty impressed. We think it was the amazing graffiti that did it for us. We saw some of the most inspiring
art, one or two maybe that we would consider turning into a tattoo!
We agree the police presence was off putting but as with most large cities, crime can and does happen. Unfortunately they cannot be everywhere.
When visiting places like this it’s always best to be aware of your surroundings and have your wits about you. Don't carry too much money (or valuables), stay in groups (if possible) and listen to the locals. Thankfully for us we got to meet some of the friendliest and helpful Colombians in a city stigmatised with crime. The good always outweighs the bad!!
Accom: Hostel Candeleros
Villa de Leyva to Bogota 22000COP p/p
Tot: 2.205s; Tpl: 0.069s; cc: 40; qc: 173; dbt: 0.0955s; 1; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.9mb