Bogota

Here I am, on the road, back where I belong. 

I flew into Bogota two days ago, and my first impression was, ‘Am I in the right place?’

From warnings and a vague understanding of recent history, I was expecting Colombia to be a nasty place where the unsuspecting gringo is kidnapped, ransomed and/or enslaved as a drug mule for the cocaine trade. This turned out to not be the case. 

Though I can’t yet speak for the rest of the country, Bogota is nice! The city is kept relatively clean and is highly policed. The buildings are tall and the architecture is interesting. The weather is unbeatable (70 degree days, 50 degree nights). The food is pretty good, the beer is better, and the people are so damn nice. Perhaps everything is relative when you’ve spent some time in West Africa – that place could use some help.

My hostel – the Cranky Croc – is one of the best I’ve stayed in. With hot showers, fluffy pillows, wifi, a communal kitchen and even reading lamps on every bunk, I wasn’t roughing it. I got a room to myself, which doesn’t help with meeting people but suited me fine.

After taking it somewhat easy my first afternoon in, I hit the ground running yesterday in a whirlwind tour of the city. After a small breakfast I rented a bike and spent a the morning biking across the city. Bogota has a bike infrastructure that makes most Western cities look bad, and there is no better way to see a city than on a bicycle. 

I rode upwards of 30 miles, zig-zagging through neighborhoods and districts, snapping photos as I went. I saw parks and stadiums, churches and shopping malls. Bogota is a major metropolitan city, and though I’m certain poverty exists in Colombia, it doesn’t appear to exist here.

I returned to the hostel, only to not know what to do there. So I walked right back out. 

I found a restaurant that prepares vegetarian interpretations of traditional Colombian dishes. While I’m eating meat on this trip, I’m still not that fond of it. Vegetarian fare always sounds tastier and more trustworthy. For 9,000 Colombian pesos (less than $5) I was served a gargantuan feast that included soup, yoghurt, a banana, juice, and a big round bowl with rice, beans, avocado, [meat] and fried chips. It was delicious and probably a much needed calorie bomb after my active morning.

I moved on to visit the Museo de Oro (Gold Museum), only to find it was closed on Mondays. Although the guidebook said it’s a must-see, I don’t particularly feel like I missed much. Instead I just started walking with no destination in mind. At this point I had earned a pretty good sense of direction – much like Colorado the surrounding mountains act as a compass and constant landmark. 

I followed a series of street markets, selling everything and nothing at the same time. I came upon an major plaza circled by important government buildings of mismatched architectural styles. Every plaza in Bogota has an absurd amount of birds that would make Hitchcock proud. 

From there, looking toward the mountains, I could see the streets began to steadily increase in grade, so I climbed. Up the hills I walked, the streets ever-increasing in steepness. At some point I thought to turn around. My view had burst open and I could see endless rooflines across much of Bogota. I reached the top to find a nice looking church, catching my breath while soaking in the views.

I took a dilapidated cobblestone alleyway to follow another street downhill. As luck had it, I fell upon the exact place I next wanted to seek out: the Botero Museum. Francesco Botero is a lovable artist, surely Colombia’s most famous, known for taking everything he sees and making it morbidly obese. I never tired of seeing him fatten up everything from cats and horses, to political figures and the Mona Lisa, Adam and Eve, and Jesus at the crucifixioncrucifixion.  Besides a landslide of Botero’s work in multiple mediums, the museum also houses a very strong collection of his contemporaries, including Picasso, Dali, Moore, Bacon, Chagall, Monet and more. I didn’t have to visit the Gold Museum to know this one kicked its ass in my book. 

Connected by a courtyard, I also checked out the Money Museum (lame) and the National Modern Art Museum (not lame). The latter had a very interesting collection of modern Colombian art.  All three museums were also free, a beautiful concept I’ve seen around the world, yet foreign in most of the U.S.

It was getting late at this point and my feet were telling me it was time to head back to the Cranky Croc. After a shower and some internet time with mom and dad, I headed around the corner for dinner and drinks at the Bogota Beer Company, my watering hole of choice both nights. 

On top of good beer and artesian pizza, the treat of all treats was watching my Broncos beat the Raiders on Monday Night Football. If you want to witness the extent of globalization, look no further than how most people on this planet, regardless of country or continent, are exposed to much of the same music, TV, movies, sporting events and fashion trends. I guarantee that in every capital city you visit you will find a fast food restaurant or pizza joint on every corner and they will be playing MTV, VH1 or the Billboard 200. As I write this in a bus headed south, my fellow passengers are watching some god-awful American high school football movie I’ve never heard of. 

This isn’t to say that each place doesn’t retain its own distinct culture and traditions – this trip would be pretty dull and pointless if that were the case – but like never before we have so much in common with each other. Moreover we have an unprecedented opportunity to communicate with and understand each other.

[I’ll be continuously posting a slew of unedited photos on my Tumblr – click here

[For pictures of Bogota’s beautiful street art, click here, or go onto the next post]

 



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