Bogota, Columbia 25th May to 30th May 2012
Saturday 25th May
Flight from Cartagena to Bogota left at 10.50 and arrived at 12.17. Before landing we could see some of the great sprawl that is Bogota City, all 1700 square kilometres of it.
Taxi to our Hostel was very straight forward, at the airport there's a taxi office you tell them the name and address of your destination, they calculate the fee and hand it to the next available taxi in the queue. This way there is no misunderstanding or being ripped off. It took us about 30 minutes to get to Sayta hostel in Candelaria district along one of the main roads round the city. The hostel only has 4 rooms, 2 doubles, a triple and a dorm room sleeping 5. We had a double upstairs so we could admire the city views, it has a shared bathroom with hot water. The owner Jon is very helpful, friendly and although his English is limited he enjoys a chat with his guests. His first comment was 'Mi Casa su Casa' and proceeded to make us a cup of tea. The hostel is an usual building, with round walls and lots of windows, including a balcony with window seat to people watch. The climate in Bogota is much cooler, which we have been looking forward to. There are four blankets on the bed and I have to get my long trousers, fleece and coat out to wear.
Once we had settled in we went for our usual recce of the neighbourhood. We are surrounded by universities and so in student land with some vibrant cafés and bars. Just 5 minutes down the hill is a square where the students hang out, listening to music, dancing, talking and impromptu speeches, theatre and comedy. We then made our way down the hill further to one of the main squares, this was very busy and very modern with many shops and pigeons. We decided to take it easy today as we are at 2600meters above sea level and this can give people altitude sickness. Climbing back up the hill to the hostel we certainly felt out of breath and light headed.
We ate at a local café serving a strange combination of Greek/Turkish and Chinese food.
Sunday 27th May
Today we are told most of the museums open for free or half price including the monastery, at the top of the hill, Cerro de Monserrate which has a cable car going up to it. It is about a 20 minute stroll to get there and is quarter of the price today as it's the forth Sunday of the month. We choose to take the Cable Car up and the Funicular Railway down. Although many other people choose to take the path and stairs, maybe another day when we are used to the altitude. The Monastery and statue of Jesus at the top are a Mecca for Colombians as several miracles have happened there and the remains of a famous priest are buried there too. Today is a sunny clear day so from the top (2964m) we can see the massive city of Bogota, it spreads as far as the eye can see. It is in a basin surrounded by mountains, but the houses continue up the mountains. It is the 3rd Highest Capital City in South America, after Quito and Lima. At the top there as well as the monastery are souvenir shops and cafés selling traditional food from Bogota, including a very tasteless, soft cheese to which they add fruit or caramel. We don't stay too long as the altitude is giving us both headaches.
At the base are local cafe selling traditional food, we stop for lunch and have a chicken soup/stew with sweetcorn and other veg.
Monday 28th May
Today we have a sleep in as I think we are both finding the altitude difficult, with headaches, insomnia and lack of appetite. Once we have had breakfast we venture into the old town to find the tourist information office for a map and ask about city tours. We are told about several museums worth a visit and book onto an English tour for tomorrow.
We visit the Casa de Moneda - museum that tracks the history of Columbian money, from simple pieces of silver and gold to modern coins and notes. It has English information along side the Spanish and so is very interesting. There are also some mint machines that were used, these were made in Birmingham, England. This museum then leads into the Museum of Modern art, which we give a miss and then onto the Botero Museum - this is about one of Columbia's famous artists who paints and sculpts all things chubby, including men, women, still life fruit and tables etc. His painting are very childlike, but his sculptures are appealing as they are round and tactile - unfortunately we are not allowed to touch. They have been featured in several major cities including Cartagena and Barcelona.
We stop for a late lunch at a cafe serving 'typica menu del dia' We share a ?????? and find it is much tastier than yesterdays version and definitely enough for two.
On our way back up the hill we visit Inglesia de San Francisco, the oldest church in Bogota. It has a very ornate gold alter piece and other paintings.
Tonight we eat at Arabe Restaurant, which is just down the hill from us. The man that owns it is Egyptian and has a relative that has as sister restaurant in London - he also speaks English. The food is amazing and certainly compares or beats any food we have had in Egypt - it was not that expensive either.
Tuesday 29th May
We join the City Tour today at 10am, this lasts two hours and takes us round the old town explaining the history behind the buildings and some of Bogota's turbulent past. It is very interesting but everything was 'beautiful'. Whilst on the tour we met an English couple who had just arrived in Bogota and had been travelling up South America. We decided to have lunch with them so we could swap stories and advice. We chose to take them to the 'tipica' cafe we had visited
yesterday, this time sampling different dishes. Andy had Bandeja Paes - similar to an English breakfast and heart attack on a plate. I had Changua - milk, bread, egg and cheese. I was expecting something like a savoury bread & butter pudding but there was far too much milk for that, Several hours later we parted company having had great conversations and plenty of laughs.
This afternoon we visited the Museo de Oro ( Gold Museum). This is housed in a modern building on four floors across in the financial department of the City. It tells the history of gold making by the original tribes of South America, how they made it into jewellery and how different areas looked wearing it. We paid to use an audio tour just in case there wasn't info in English, we could have probably had managed without it. The museum contains 55,000 pieces of gold and took about 2-3 hours to tour round.
Next stop Villa de Leyva.