Are you wondering why I am in Bogota? Colombia is a country I never expected to visit. but I’m glad the fates have brought me here. Our nephew Raul is getting married next weekend in Barranquilla. We are close to him and his girlfriend, Jassel, so when the “group” that will sit on the groom’s side started forming, Jorge and I signed on.
There are 13 of us, and we all figured it would be silly to travel all this way and not see as much of the country as we can. Jorge and I opted to stay in Bogota for 5 days and Cartagena for 3 more before we travel to Barranquilla for the wedding.
Last Thursday’s non-stop flight from Cancun to Bogota was literally as easy as eating apple pie. Interjet took off on time, we had lots of legroom, a free checked bag – a sandwich and a cocktail too – all for about 7,000 pesos return. It felt like the “good old days” of air travel had returned.
Immigration and Customs in Colombia are extremely “thorough”, as are the foreign currency exchange and hotel check-in security. We had to fill out lengthy forms, allow our passports to be photocopied and even had our fingerprints taken. The government seems determined to know everyone’s business. But who can blame them? A decade ago the country faced dire crime-related challenges that are more or less under control now. And the citizens I’ve spoken with have opted to take the strict measures in stride. They don’t like to talk about the past but obviously, they feel that too much control is better than not enough. They do not want a return to the dark days.
However, the day we arrived, a crowd of about 1,000 students marched through town, causing havoc with the traffic. Much of the angst derives from the constant devaluation of the currency and sky-high Inflation. A cup of coffee costs about 10,000 Colombian pesos. (Mind you it is excellent coffee!)
The next day, Friday, no sign of the protestors could be seen. By noon, even the graffiti they sprayed on public buildings had been scrubbed off. When I looked at the recently cleaned walls, I saw clear evidence of earlier erasures. Obviously, the troubles of the past are not entirely in the past. But I can relate to that – all of Latin America is undergoing changes – for us all the sacrifices and the stakes are high.
And speaking of “high”; Bogota is the fourth-highest of the world’s capital cities (2,625 m / 8,612 feet). I spent a short time in the highest La Paz, Bolivia (3,640 m. /11,942 feet) during my youthful backpacking days. But I have never been to Quito, Ecuador the second-highest (2,850 m / 9,350 feet) or Thimphu in Bhutan, third at 2,648 m or 8,700 feet. In La Paz I never got sick – at 20, who does? – but on this trip, both Jorge and I felt queasy the first evening.
However we have picked up the pace since then. Our hotel is located in the colonial district and we’ve done plenty of walking through the narrow cobblestone streets. The architecture reminds me of other Latin American cities I love – San Cristobal de las Casas, Puebla, Mexico City and Lima. The atmosphere is lively and street vendors line the sidewalks. Although the rain has not let up for much of our stay, people don’t let a little foul weather deter them from gathering in the Main Plaza to play chess, feed the pigeons, listen to music, and mingle with friends.
The rain did hold off long enough on Saturday morning for us o go see the Shrine of Our Lady of Montserrate perched atop one of the highest hills in Bogota. To get there we rode a sky tram and had fabulous views of the city below. We did not stay long though because we could see that our luck with the weather was not going to last much longer.
All our outrunning the rain built up an appetite and our first authentic Columbian meal took care of that. Very nicely I must say!
We would have liked a siesta, but instead we spent the better part of the afternoon at the Botero Museum. Up until now, I have not been a huge fan of the artist’s pudgy people, but seeing such a large body (no pun intended) of his work has changed my perception. His work is full of social commentary and irony — his technique is masterful. He is also generous with his art, in both Bogota and Medellin he has built museums and filled them with his own work, as well as his personal collection of other artists’ canvases, including – Chagall, Picasso, Renoir and Dali – admission is free of charge – and I plan to return there today.
But I also want to visit the Gold and Emerald museums. I have not been near the jewellery shops, but today my companions will not have to “force” me into a shopping foray.
In the next day or so, I will let you know how my restraint is holding out!