After another big brekkie we set off to the bus station to head to our next stop Villa de Leyva. There is no direct bus so we had to go to Tuncja and change. It's a four hour ride to Tuncja then one hour to Villa de Leyva.
For the first time since we arrived in South America we had a lady driver. She had brought her daughter along for the day. What a difference. It was a calm drive. No mad speeds, no death defying overtakes, no excess speeds then heavy braking in bends. In fact she was doing really, really well until she killed the dog !!! Ok it wasn't her fault. Fido ran from the offside narrowly avoiding being hit by a lorry. When he reached our carriageway he stopped with a relieved look on his face. Then he looked up and saw our bus descending upon him. He had that 'f***' look on his face. Thump, yelp silence. As most of the dogs are strays we didn't stop. I thought women were meant to be caring!!
Anyway on we went. At Tuncja we jumped off and straight on a local bus. We were soon in Villa de Leyva. Our hostel was great. On the edge of the town there were only a couple of people staying there. It was noise free, no cockerels and no barking dogs.
On the outside of the door to our room was the biggest moth you've ever seen. About the size of a pigeon. Ok maybe not that big but huge none the less. It seemed pretty passive. Jill said 'Aren't you worried it might come in the room?' For that read 'I'm worried it might come in the room do something about it Vic'. While Jill was in the garden I went to confront the moth. I banged on the door but it didn't move. No other option I flicked it gently with my hand. It flew off the door did a quick circle and landed on my head!! Agghhhh I'm being savaged by a killer moth. Fortunately it didn't like my shampoo and flew away down the corridor. I went calmly outside and said 'You can relax I've dealt with the moth'.
The town is nestled in the mountains about 4 hours outside of Bogota. It is the week end retreat of the affluent Bogotoans. The town was founded in the 1500's and has remained pretty much unchanged since. There aren't many new buildings. If they build any then they are built to look like the old ones. Like many South American towns it is a UNESCO heritage site. What about Aldershot?!!
We arrived on Thursday and the place was nearly deserted. It has to be one of the prettiest and most authentic places we have visited. Lots of locals in Ponchos and sombreros. Having said that the number of bars and restaurants gave a clue to its other side. On Saturday the place is descended on by hoards of visitors. The calm is shattered. Fortunately our hostel didn't get busy. We had three lovely days in the town and really didn't want to leave.
Sunday morning and we are up and after brekkie take the short walk to the bus station. The bus driver is a man so Colombian speeds again. No dogs killed though!
Bogota is back at altitude and is surrounded by mountains. Our hotel is a typical city centre hotel. Smallish room but clean and functional. We'll start exploring tomorrow.
We are staying in the Candelaria area which is part of the old city. As I've said before South American towns generally have an old part dating from the Spanish occupation and a new part. Candelaria is either Bohemian or scruffy depending on your viewpoint. It has a large university on the edge so there are lots of dreadlocked yoof around. Bogota itself is home to over 7 million people and it is surrounded by hills. It sits over 8,000ft above sea level.
Today we are exploring the city. Our preferred method is on foot. We walked around the Candelaria district then moved into the wider old town. In keeping with other South American cities it has large squares many with big colonial buildings. In Bolivar plaza there was clearly something going on. The presidential palace is there. There were lots of heavily armed soldiers and police around. Roads were blocked etc. In the main square a stage was set up and a military band was tuning up. In front of the stage were lots of motorcycle police with their bikes all lined neatly.
We later found out that the following day was a public holiday. It seemed they had kicked the arse of one of their neighbours in a war.
We walked a good portion of the city centre and then headed to go to Montserrat. One of the problems with South American cities is that the main attractions are religious buildings. This was no exception. The monastery is high on a hill overlooking the city. There are 3 ways up to it. Walk, cable car and funicular railway. We chose the railway. If you don't know, a funicular railway works with two carriages going up and down on a rail pulled by a cable. Each carriage counter balances the other. The view as you go up is amazing.
At the top you get a full panorama of the city. Although there are some high rise buildings it is a very low level city. Like Rome, Los Angeles and Athens the hills hold in the smog. When you look one way it is a clear view. The other way is a smog haze. Either way the view is superb.
One of the things I won't miss about South America is their lack of manners. I'm told it's an education issue not a malicious thing. As we went to take the railway down Jill went to enter a carriage and was basically shoved out of the way by some women who wanted the best view. I was aware of the man of the group about to do the same to me. Not a chance. I've stood on picket lines and know how to occupy space and stand my ground. A subtle arm move a wide stance and oh dear I'm in the carriage first. Once inside we have a good view.
Finding nice restaurants is always an issue. Colombia had Brazilian prices and Ecuadorian standards. We did eventually find a nice Italian.
Next day we decide to visit the salt cathedral at Zipaquira. It's not really a cathedral as it has no bishop. Zipaquira is about 50 kms outside Bogota. Today was a public holiday so we weren't certain about the buses etc. Anyway in for a penny. Bogota has a modern bus system. It is a bit like London Underground but on the surface. The buses are two or three carriage bendy buses running in dedicated lanes. It's quite impressive. We caught a bus at the Gold Museum then changed at Avenidia Jimenez for Portal Norte. That cost about 50p. Then we hopped on a local bus to Zipaquira.
This is quite a big town situated near one of the earliest human settlements in South America. I think I'm right in saying that the oldest dinosaur skeletons found were in South America. The cathedral is part of an old salt mine. It is about 200 metres underground.
The salt has been extracted since the 5th century. In the 1800's it was a large commercial mine. In the early 1900's miners built a sanctuary underground. Eventually it was expanded to a cathedral. It consists of long tunnels with small and large chambers inside. Each chamber represents a part of the crucifixion story. Another common theme. Forgetting the religious stuff it is an impressive piece of mining.
We spent a couple of hours looking around including a 10 minute light and sound show in one of the big chambers.
Back in Bogota we walked the cobbled area of Candelaria. There was big crowd of youngsters waving flags and banging drums. It seems Bogota FC is playing. It seems some things are the same the world over. Lots of young men getting excited while the Police watch and wait. It's not long before tempers flare and two guys start fighting. Cue the Police. I'm interested how they will deal with it. Much the same as England really. They move in and split the two fighters. Then they get a lot of verbal abuse from everyone. They are very restrained until someone pushes an officer. He draws a long side handled baton and shows matey who really runs the show. Whack! Cue people running away.
Interestingly there is a guy filming it all. In England it would be the Police unhappy about that. Here it was the troublemakers. Clearly they didn't want their actions on film and gave him a load of abuse. Anyway more Police arrived and it was soon under control. Handbags really.
Tomorrow we have an early start as we are flying to Santiago. It's the last stop of our South American adventure before we move to South East Asia.