After a couple of months – caugh* caugh* almost a full year – without writing more than a single blogpost, the voice in the back of my head started speaking up louder and louder every day, until it was screaming ‘WHEN WILL YOU FINALLY WRITE AGAIN’. Well, I guess now is the time. Not that I didn’t have anything to write about, like six months working in the more than popular Split area, Croatia, and a three-month backpacking trip to Colombia & Ecuador. I might even have some interesting things to write about Panamà and Serbia, which I visited in winter 2016. Oops.
Even if I have some catching up to do on former trips, what I want to talk about now is Colombia. A country that stood firmly as the number one on my to-visit-list, ever since I traveled from México to Panamà and met too many people describing Colombia as their absolute favorite country in Latin America. After some research – as in: reading every single guide book and blogpost about Colombia, spending hours and hours scrolling through pinterest in search of more and more and more blogposts – I decided: Colombia would be my next big destination. Just a couple of months later, you could find me on a flight to South America.
Bogotá. Capital of Colombia, aproximately 8 million inhabitants, located somewhere high up in the mountains at an altitude of 2640m and about as rainy as Belgium. At least, the 4 full days I spend in Bogotá it didn’t seem to stop raining, which didn’t improve my not-so-sure-if-I-like-this-city mood during my stay in the capital. I confess: I still don’t know wether to like Bogotá or not. Sure, I visited some nice museums and the Graffiti walking tour is one of the best free tours I ever took, but… I still have this gnawing feeling inside that makes it impossible to pronounce the words ‘I like Bogotá a lot’. At least for now.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE ABOUT MY TIME IN BOGOTA
The weather. Yes, I know, as a Belgian, I shouldn’t complain about weather in other countries, especially not since 99.9% of the times it’s better than in my homecountry anyway. Well, I tell you: it sucked. Maybe it doesn’t suck all the time, but I had my fare share of tropical showers and early spring temperatures during my short stay in the capital. Even though I read up a lot about the city in advance, I definitely underestimated the low temperatures and amount of rain that met me there. If you would travel to Bogotá, be prepared: just in case, take an umbrella / good rainjacket – even though I think I would prefer both, since a rainjacket alone might not be enough…don’t worry, if you’re ever stuck in the portal of a church or around the Plaza Bolivar, it takes about 6 seconds before you are surrounded by streetvendors trying to get rid of their umbrellas – and a warm sweater. You’ll thank me for that later.
The altitude. Since Belgium – and especially Flanders, the region I’m from – formed once a part of the Low Countries or Low Lands, now called ‘The Netherlands’, you might already guess it…I’m not used to high altitudes at all. Arriving in Bogotá asked an adaptation of my lungs to thinner air, which wasn’t made easier by the cold I caught a couple of days before. Add having a late night drinking red wine – the 5+ amount of bottles that my 4 hostel-compagnons and I drank in Madrid might not have been the best idea, especially not when you’re taking an intercontinental flight the next morning – and you might find yourself a bit sick and exhausted the first days in the capital. The high altitude really needs some days to adapt to, only just take a bit more care of yourself than I did before arriving. I’m pretty sure that without having a cold, I wouldn’t have felt that miserable the first couple of days, when breathing was a little bit difficult and my body exhausted after a day of sightseeing with a jetlag. Take your time to adapt.
The feeling of insecurity. Hold on. Stop right there. First, I want to make it clear that Colombia is a magnificent country where it’s perfectly fine to travel alone, as a couple, in a group or with your family. I traveled both alone and with a partner in Colombia, with no big problems whatsoever. However, it’s good to take a couple of precautions when traveling, which are linked to the good old ‘common sense’ everybody should have: don’t walk alone on the streets late at night, especially not in dodgy areas; don’t show off your precious Iphones/giant cameras/the golden earrings you got from your grandmother for your 18th birthday/all your money; preferably spread your money over different places and don’t take everything with you all at once;… Pretty basic stuff. Now, Bogotá. During my 3 months in Colombia and Ecuador, this was the only city where I always had this indescribable feeling of insecurity in the back of my head, while walking on the streets. Candelaria, the historic district and one of the oldest parts of the capital, is one of the most popular areas to stay in, with a lot of hotels, hostels and restaurants. When I arrived in my hostel – yep, in Candelaria, sometimes I am a big tourist -, they showed me the areas on the map where I definitely SHOULD NOT go and I got the advice not to take my phone or bank cards with me when I wanted to leave the hostel after dark. – Dark being in this part of the world around 6 pm – Hmm. Robberies were quite common and continuous warnings by both the hostel owner and fellow backpackers didn’t make me feel more at ease. But maybe too many warnings is what’s causing the insecurity in the first place… Although a small incident with a drunk homeless guy waving around a broken bottle because somebody didn’t give him a cigarette, didn’t help either…
Next time I’m in Bogotá, I think I’ll do my best to couchsurf more and meet more locals, who can show me another side of the capital, one I might not have seen yet. – I should better say ‘definitely haven’t seen’, since I’ve only given the city 4 days to appeal to me, before moving over to Salento. Sorry Bogotá, but I’ll give you another chance, I promise! –
WHAT I LOVED ABOUT BOGOTA
Sundays. In Belgium, Sundays are always a tiny little bit boring where I live. Not a big city, so no museums or theaters or cinemas to visit and shops in general are closed. While in Bogotá most of the shops are also closed on Sundays, the city is still buzzing with life: families go outside to take a picknick in one of the numerous parks – not only in the capital, saw this as well in Medellín and other Colombian cities – andthe main streets are packed with people, artists and streetvendors trying to sell everything from empanadas to umbrellas. – you know, sudden rainshowers and all that – Traffic is blocked off in a lot of streets, so people can walk, skate and cycle all over the city without risking their lives. – it has a name, Ciclovía, every Sunday and on holidays from 7 am until 2 pm – It’s a nice way to discover some other parts of the capital and ideal for one of my all time favorite activities: people watching. I love to walk around in a city or sit on a square and watch people doing their daily thing, admire their different clothing styles or just the way they walk and be happy that the world can be such an interesting and diverse place. Yup, happiness can be quite simple sometimes. Another big plus about Sundays: a lot of museums are free!
Museums. Which brings me to my number two of things I liked about Bogotá: the museums. Of course, I didn’t have the time to visit aaaaaall the museums, but I picked – like every rightful tourist would do – the two most popular ones to start with: the Museo de Oro and the Museo Botero. The first free on Sundays, the second free every single day. – yeeeey – The Museo de Oro or the Gold museum is a highlight on many people’s Bogotá -trip and known to hold the biggest collection of pre-Hispanic gold in South America. Since I love history and some bling bling, I couldn’t miss a visit to this museum. Only a short walk from the Candelaria district – in about 10/15 minutes you’re in the city center and at the museum – and an entrance fee of 4000 COP – about 1,2€ – before you can drool above showcases filled with golden artifacts. From teeny tiny frogs to a ceremonial Muisca offer boat, the museum takes you back to times long before the Spanish arrived on the continent and the different indigenous tribes still crafted their beautifully detailled works of art. – I spent about 3 hours in the building. I guess it’s quite clear I liked it, no? – Museum N°2, the Botero museum, is dedicated to Colombia’s most famous painter and sculptor, Fernando Botero. Before visiting Colombia and during my ‘I-need-to-read-everything-I-can-about-Colombia’ frenzy, his name came up a couple of times and I got a bit curious. After visiting his museum – hey, it’s free, so why not? – I can call myself a fan. I loved his characters who are always out of proportion – Or you can call them a bit chubby – and the sense of humour that seeps into his paintings. A lot of works are donated by the artist himself and even more, you can see works of big masters known all over the world: Chagall, Picasso, Dalí and the Belgian Paul Delvaux. Did I already mention it is free?
Bogota Graffiti Tour. One of the things I like to do when I visit a big city, is check if they have a free walking tour. Not only are those tours tip-based, which means the guides generally do their very best to show their city to you, but to me it’s the ideal way to get a general feel of a city and what (not) to visit during the rest of your stay. The Bogotá Graffiti Tour however doesn’t show you the highlights, but gets you to know all the hotspots for some serious graffiti-watching. During the tour we visited both the Downtown and Candelaria district, with in Downtown the more politically tinted murals and in Candelaria a bigger focus on art about the indigenous population. I particularly loved this tour because they really talk in depth about the murals: who made it, what does it mean and why did they paint it. Furthermore, the guide isn’t scared to talk about difficult political topics and you get to know what Justin Bieber has to do with the current graffiti policy in Bogotà. If you love street art, history and want to get to know the city in a slightly different way, than this graffiti tour might be a good idea.
WHAT I JUST DIDN’T DO
While you can read what I’ve been up to in the parts above, there’s still a lot of city that I didn’t cover. When I wasn’t busy visiting one of the museums, strolling around the Candelaria district or franatically taking pictures of some gorgeous murals, I was probably lying in bed with a headache, trying to blow every single blob of snot out of my nose. Or hiding under the drainage pipes of one of the Candelaria houses / playing card games in the hostel while waiting for another sudden downpour to stop. Four days in Bogotá clearly isn’t enough to visit everything there is to see – duh, you always need a lifetime in a city for that, and even then it won’t be enough – but there are a couple of things I would’ve liked to do while there:
Climb Monserrate mountain. I love myself some nice views, especially if you have to do an effort before you can take that perfect selfie with ama-zing background. – not that I’m a selfie girl, I tend to have this horrible double chin in every selfie I take and I prefer to avoid that – Monserratte is one of the most popular places in Bogotá to gain that ama-zing background and you can reach the top both on foot as with a cable car – or bicycle for the crazy ones among us – but sadly, I didn’t reach the top. I didn’t even do the effort to try and visit, since a view is non-existent when rainclouds dot the sky at every single moment of the day. Next time.
Mercado de las Pulgas de Usaquén. Or any other market, actually. Nothing better than walk in between rows and rows of fresh produce, discover different smells and colors and simply be overwhelmed by the surrounding chaos. I absolutely love this. How you can be anonymous in a big crowd, taste new fruits and listen to the yelling of vendors trying to sell their goods to you. Just walk and look and smell and be there, without necessarily buying anything. This particular market also is known for its arts&crafts and its indigenous products, but I missed out on it. – sad emoticon – Another reason to give Bogotá another chance.
Visit/sleep in another district. Yes, visiting La Candelaria isn’t really seeing the whole capital. Exploring other areas as Zona Rosa, Chapinero and fashionable Usaquén – you know, from the market I also didn’t visit – is still on my to-do-list in Bogotá.
As I’ve already written, four days isn’t nearly enough to say you know the capital of Colombia. – or any capital whatsoever – All the nice activities I did, the Graffiti tour, discovering La Candelaria and roaming around Downtown on a Sunday, where overshadowed by the continuous rain, my cold – hurray for snotty noses and jetlags – and my struggle to adapt to the altitude. After four days I decided to give it a break and head to a greener and – hopefully – sunnier destination: Salento & the coffee region.
More about Salento and how I survived a busride from hell in the next post!