Monday, 9 March 2015

Bogota, Colombia

After an overnight stay in Leticia, Colombia [Leticia meaning happiness in Latin], a walk back over the unassuming border to Tabatinga, Brazil for a passport stamp or two allowing us passage and then back to Colombia to catch a flight, we finally made it to Bogota, the capital of Colombia. The city's full name is Santa Fe de Bogota del Neuvo Reino de Granada de las Indias del Mar Oceano and it sits on a high plateau 2640 metres from sea level within the Andes mountain range and boy dont we know it. Having spent the last five weeks in tropical Brazil, it was a shock to the system to go to bed in thermal clothes covered by three blankets! In between leaving the airport and settling into our room, we had been told of the dangers of Bogota by three different people and came across someone who had been mugged... the city was certainly living up to the reputation left by its chequered history, leading Michael Palin to comment in his 1995 'Full Circle' book 'I would urge people to visit, but at their own risk.' Needless to say that after a comfortable nights sleep I was filled with trepidation as we ventured from the hostel towards the pilgrim destination of Cerro de Monserrate, a mountain 3152 metres above sea level dominating the skyline around Bogota. As we have been lucky enough to experience the real Colombian climate, low thick clouds blocked the view of the city and whilst we struggled to climb part of the way due to the altitude, our breaths plumed out in front of us as we huffed around the site. The 17th century church is nice if not slightly forgettable but the botanical gardens and street market made the visit for us. Stalls selling Coca Tea lined the passage way and for a measly 3000 sol we gave it a whirl. Coca leaves for both chewing and stewing in tea is a huge part of Andean culture due to the belief it has many health benefits, especially to combat altitude sickness. Despite the fact it is cultivated directly from the plant used to make cocaine, it is completely legal.
It is even used in Coca Cola, hence the name. Wandering through the La Candelaria part of the city, a student and business based metropolitan area of the city, it seems like every other person is part of the federal police. There is a huge military presence here and these guys mean business. They bear guns the same size as their torsos and walk around with huge muscly dogs wearing heavy duty muzzles. I cant work out if all this makes me feel safer or more at risk so we hot foot it to Botero Museum, named after Colombias famous artist Fernando Botero. Whilst his art doesnt appeal to me, there were pieces on show by Picasso, Renoir, DalĂ­ and Monet which were great to look at. I definitely now feel I could blag my way through an art based argument! Back to the hostel for the evening. It's such a shame that we cant venture out without fearing for our safety, the nightlife looks really buzzing here and what better way to practise my rusty Spanish than over a beer?! Oh well better to be safe than sorry. All in all, Bogota has reached and exceeded my expectations and proved to me that first impressions arent always right.