Vern: This is probably the most wholesome piece of text you'll ever read about Bogotá. No kidnappings, no paramilitary coups, no guitar-cases falling open to reveal RPGs and no cocaine. In fact, the most shocking thing you'll come to read about involves hot chocolate.
The government has done a lot to secure the city and armed police are on most corners, however the parliamentary buildings do not welcome visitors and the south of the city is out of bounds unless you operate in the black market. An American English-teacher we bumped into who lives in Bogota and walks the streets in a hoodie, clutching an empty whisky bottle as a deterrent, spooked us with some stories including when he fell asleep on a bus and woke up petrified in the south, so we were on edge for the weekend. But fortunately we were unaffected by crime nor did we hear first-hand of any travellers who had had any problems. We stayed in the old town/student district called La Candelaria, close to restaurants, museums and churches. Convenient though not particularly charming.
We arrived late on Friday the 6th of May and for dinner had a shwarma served with pickled eggplant to die for at a hole in the wall near the hostel. The next morning we headed out to the funniest art museum we've ever visited. A huge chubby bronze open hand with sausage fingers stands in the foyer and welcomes visitors to the Botero Musuem. Botero is a Colombian artist who paints and sculpts everything fat. Fat nudes, rotund families, chunky pieces of fruit, a chubby Jesus and an obese Mona Lisa hung on the gallery walls and every room made us chuckle. However artsy you are, you do not want to comission this guy to paint a portrait of your missus. The sculptures were also hilarious and included a horse with fat rolls, an over-fed cat and a hefty pigeon sitting on a meaty woman. We liked it a lot, and as we left I promised myself that I'd eat more salad.
The Musuem of Money was in the same complex, but despite the bilingual displays outlining notes and coins since the beginning of time, the only thing which could hold my interest was the miniature mint - I could operate the two printing machines and the guilotine machine with three light up buttons and print millions of pesos in minutes. The career prospects didn't look good for the little zero-value-adding plastic men who just stood around the machines watching me work. Andrea wasn't quite as taken with my tiny assembly line and insisted that my stack of freshly printed bills had no use in the regular-size world. Not even for ransom drops. We left having learnt nothing about money.
That night the hostel was loud! Our little silicone earplugs put up a brave fight against the beats eminating from the common room. A small group of revellers too petrified to go out in the dark, I presume, drank through the night in the hostel. Shjord, a dutchman who had befriended us, couldn't sleep and went to enquire why the 12 o'clock quiet time rule wasn't being enforced only to find the front desk receptionist on a table making out with a backpacking Casanova and the rest of the group helping themselves to the open bar. He decided against voicing his objection and went back to his room.
The following morning, we were to climb up Monserrat, to a chapel overlooking the city. The 2,5 kilometre uphill comprised 1500 steps and takes 2 and a half hours to ascend. There is both a funicular and a cable car but we had committed ourselves to the path, because it was free!
We got there and asked where the start of the trail was. "The path is closed, the steps are being rebuilt", was the response. We looked at each other (and at Shjord, who'd accompanied us on this outing) defeated and disappointed. But secretly we were individually thrilled and relieved, though we didn't let our delight show to each other or to Shjord. 1500 steps is a lot. We bought tickets and the funicular zipped us up the hill. Minutes later we were on top of the hill and the only energy we'd exerted was that necessary to pop our ears.
The view of the sprawling 1500 square-kilometre city was impressive. Every third building or so was red bricked and designed by an architect named Salmonella leading some texts to call Bogota 'salmonella city'. Not good for the food industry! The masses at the top of the hill were a mix of touristos and church-goers who go through this rigmarole every Sunday to go to mass on a mountain. Andrea felt for a guy who'd built a tin shack up there and bought a coke from him. It was really early in the morning for furry teeth, but charity compelled Andrea to help the old guy out.
We descended by cable car, and made our way to the Gold Museum. Shjord and I were hoping for gold leaf guns and cars, the bling that druglords spent their money on, but the displays chronicled the history of gold on the continent and the timeline ended a few hundred years ago. Impressively, they were making stuff out of gold in South America while the rest of the planet was in the dark ages. Most of the artefacts were bird-people, bat-men or figurines with masks - the shiny effigies were used by the Shaman to dazzle and distract villagers while he explained that he morphed into a jaguar or a bird when no one was around. Look! Shiny!
On our final day, before catching our mid-afternoon flight we went to Bogota's most famous deli, the False Door, and ordered a 'Chocolate completo' - a mug of hot chocolate served with a wedge of mild cheese - a famous Colombian combination, or so Lonely Planet would have us believe. We diligently dunked the cheese wedge but it neither softened nor took on a new flavour, nor enhanced the flavour of the hot chocolate. The other patrons were all lunching on vine-leaf wrapped tamales. No one else was dunking their way through this delicacy and thus we felt a little foolish and we left thinking we'd been had.
Soon after, we left the capital by plane. Next stop, Cartagena - a walled city on the Caribbean coast.