Bogotá was an unplanned stop on my adventure and a pleasant surprise I had to go there in order to fly to Cuba because Cuba has suspended all flights via Mexico due to the flu virus and Bogotá is one of the few places from which I could fly directly to Havana. Colombia has a bad reputation so I wasn't going with high expectations but Bogotá was actually a very nice city (during the day time at least - it felt dangerous after dark).
Coming in on the plane it looked rather like home - very green and hilly with many fields of animals and crops. The weather was lovely on the day I arrived but I spent all of that day trying to arrange a flight to Cuba and after that the weather was a bit miserable - cloudy and rainy. In fact I spent most of my time in Bogotá organising my subsequent travel plans - I had already booked a tour in Cuba but had no flight to get in - the only airline I could fly with was Cubana and unhelpfully their website was broken, nobody answered their phones either in Cuba or at their UK partner and when I went to their supposed office in Quito it didn't exist. I emailed them and someone replied saying that I could buy a ticket from their office in Bogotá so I had to fly to Bogotá and just hope that it would work out! Thankfully it did - eventually... There was another palava with paying for it - they would not accept debit cards, only credits cards, but not MY credit card so I had to withdraw tons of cash to pay for it.
There were people in uniforms everywhere in Bogotá - tourist police, traffic police, regular police, security guards with big dogs and many different types of soldiers. I don't know if it's always like that or if it was connected with the visit of some of the Spanish royal family. I didn't know anything about their visit until I saw it on the news while I was having lunch and then realised that they had been just a street away from where I was in the morning! It's annoying that I missed it. I think I saw their motorcade a couple of days later but that was not really the same.
I was staying in the quaint La Candelaria district, with lots of small colourful old houses and narrow streets - it's on a steep incline and trekking up and down the hills all day was quite a workout! Especially at Bogotá's altitude of 2,600 metres above sea level (Quito was actually higher but where I stayed in Quito was completely flat so I didn't notice). There was an English guy at the hostel, Giles, who had been travelling around Colombia for seven weeks already - I spent a lot of time hanging out with him and he was able to suggest some good museums to see and restaurants to visit.
I went to a great art gallery, the Museo Botero, which has many works donated by Colombian artist Fernando Botero. He has a very distinctive style of depicting all his characters as short and fat - everyone from regular people to nuns, soldiers, the president and first lady, horses and even the Mona Lisa. He also did a lot of still lifes but I didn't find them so interesting. In the museum there were also some fantastic paintings and sculptures by famous international modern artists - it was a good collection.
I went to watch the Champions League final between Manchester United and Barcelona in the trendy Zona Rosa district, which has lots of cool bars. I found 'The Pub' Irish bar, which unfortunately was rammed full of Barca fans. Man Utd played terribly - it was a depressing game (quite different to when I watched them win against Chelsea while I was in Russia a year earlier). Afterwards I stumbled upon a great shopping centre in Zona Rosa, there were loads of good shops - it's lucky that I didn't have any credit cards with me or I could have been tempted to spend a lot of money! Instead I went to the cinema to see Night at the Museum 2 to try to cheer myself up!
I spent quite a bit of time chilling out in the lovely Juan Valdez Cafés - a very nice coffee shop chain. Similar to Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, many of the restaurants here do cheap set lunches with two or three courses, which was very handy.
I spent an afternoon walking around the historic centre of Bogotá, admiring the fancy official buildings and churches around Plaza de Bolívar with the atmospheric backdrop of the cloud-topped mountains while dodging the huge flocks of dirty pigeons.
I went inside Iglesia de Santa Clara - a pretty church which was converted into a small museum. In addition to the huge number of classical religious paintings on the walls they exhibit a few other works - huge photographs of young girls wearing period dresses in stark contrasting colours, standing in slightly unnerving poses - there was an unsettling 'horror movie feel' about them.
Further up the road were the Iglesia de San Francisco, with a truly amazing huge gold-painted carved altar, and the stylish Iglesia La Tercera, with white walls and carved dark wood (unfortunately it was not permitted to take photos in either of these).
Across the street from them in Parque Santander was a market with the usual tat and then the great Museo del Oro (Gold Museum), which I really enjoyed visiting - it is a lot more interesting than the name suggests! It was very well organised and everything was beautifully presented (not often the case in my experience of South American museums!). There were video demonstrations of the different ancient methods used to make various types of metallic objects and there were thousands of artefacts on display. It was laid out in such a way as to explain a lot of the pre-colonial history of Colombia - the beliefs, traditions and ways of life of different cultural groups. There was a section on shamans, their rituals, beliefs and sacrifices that they made, with loud traditional music and chanting.
When I got back to the hostel in the evening the others were watching Dirty Dancing so I saw the end of that.
On my last day in Bogotá I went with Cathryn, an Australian girl who was staying at the hostel, on the 'Teleférico' cable car up to the top of Cerro de Monserrate for a view over the whole city. On the way back to town we stopped at Quinta da Bolívar - the pretty house and gardens once occupied by the famous liberator Simon Bolívar.
That night I took a trip with Giles, his friend Gerry and two other English guys, Andy and Justin, to the famous Andrés Carne de Res restaurant over an hour away from central Bogotá. It looked like a fairground from the outside with multi-coloured flashing lights and various things twirling around. There was a massive crowd of people outside trying to get in - we had to queue to buy a ticket and then queue to get in (we were able to skip a bit because we had a contact that worked there). Inside is like some crazy mix of restaurant and nightclub with bizarre decor and eclectic music blaring, people crammed into every nook and cranny, dancing on chairs and tables. We enjoyed big steaks (except Justin who was vegetarian and could only have rice and beans) and lots of rum before the long journey back to town.
I wish I had had more time to explore Colombia - I'll have to save that for the next trip...