December 17, 2018:
Greetings from Colombia! No, we did not drive our house to Colombia. So how is this “Our House In . . .”? Well, Our House is a state of mind, living where we are and all that. We only had a month. We flew.
As you know, we’ve been doing a lot more driving than flying over the last few years, and most of that flying has been on Southwest. Thus, we were a little shocked upon reaching our seats for the 5 hour United flight from Houston to Bogotá. They were the most uncomfortable, least roomy airline seats we’ve encountered in years. Our 11:59 PM flight left an hour late, and the portable torture devices, plus lengthy announcements/advertisements and a middle of the night dinner service, provided for little overnight sleep.
We arrived in Bogotá around 7:00 AM, a little tired. Luckily we had an Airbnb accommodation that was smoother than any hotel check in, allowing us immediate access to a nap.
Bogotá is the large (8 million people), high altitude (~8660 ft, 2640 m) capital city of Colombia. Its oldest section lies up against the Andes to the east, and the city sprawls out onto a large, relatively flat plain to the west. Much like Colorado’s Front Range, the highest density seems to run north-south, packed as close to the mountains as possible.
Traffic in Bogotá is about as bad as we’ve seen it anywhere. Because of this, and due to poorly enforced emission standards, there is a lot of vehicle exhaust in the air. It was definitely the biggest negative in our visit to the city. The smell of it brought back childhood memories of city streets awash in smoky diesel and pre-catalytic converter gasoline exhaust. It irritated the lungs and eyes.
To combat traffic and related pollution, Colombia, in at least the two major cities we visited, is turning to clean, modern busses, some hybrid and/or natural gas fueled. The main form of mass transit in Bogotá is a system of dedicated bus lanes running throughout the city with limited interference from street traffic and large rail-like stations:
This is a relatively small station in the heart of downtown. The main north-south route running through the city features large stations and three segment busses. It’s almost a railroad. One advantage over rails lines we witnessed is that emergency vehicles can use the dedicated bus lanes to speed through the city unhindered by street traffic.
When we travel, we tend not to hit the checklist of all the local attractions everyone is supposed to see. We find that kind of travel exhausting. For us, a lot of travel time is spent doing more mundane things: walking around aimlessly, reading, eating and drinking, etc. After all, the tag line of our blog is “living where we are.” We aren’t on vacation, this is our regular life. So we do things a little differently than many travelers.
That said, you do have to hit some of the major tourist sites at a new location, and Bogotá has a few that are definitely worth seeing.
We spent a day in the historic center, taking a free walking tour offered by the city. This tour was allegedly offered in English. The tour guide was very nice, but sadly, the English offered was not very . . . English. We would have been better off with a Spanish language tour. We did manage to glean a few facts and take some photos.
We spent time in Plaza Bolivar, around which sit the city’s Cathedral, Colombia’s supreme court and the home to the country’s legislative branch. [click to enlarge]
The city is surprisingly un-touristy, with most of the tourist action centered around Plaza Bolivar and the adjacent Candelaria neighborhood. Of course every city has to have some level of tourist ridiculousness.
Bogotá, and Colombia in general, has taken on the blight of urban graffiti by encouraging quality artistic graffiti in place of random vandalism. And it seems to be working. On our walking tour, we saw quite a few examples [click to enlarge]:
The tour also took us around a bit of the central business district, almost all of which dates from no earlier than the 1950s. In fact, Bogotá in general lacks much in the way of historic architecture. It was, to us, surprisingly modern looking outside the Candelaria section. Part of this is due to the fact that many structures in the center of Bogotá were damaged or destroyed by riots during El Bogotazo in 1948, making the 50s-era architecture more understandable.
In this plaza just outside a small private university there is a used book market. The gentlemen on the steps aren’t booksellers, however, but rather wholesale emerald traders. We saw them sharing peeks into small white envelopes. Curiously, we saw no evidence of any form of security around them:
Just visible top center is the mountain top sanctuary of Monserrate, another of the city’s major attractions:
The peak of Monserrate looks out over central Bogata at approximately 10,341 ft (3152 m). At the top is a church and great view. Atop a nearby peak is a large statue of Jesus. Both the church and the statue replaced icons built by Bogotá’s original inhabitants to oversee their city. As was typical, the Spanish replaced native religious iconography with their own. Coincidentally, we visited Monserrate with a couple of young Spaniards we met on the walking tour. César and Sergio are traveling around the world while also working on master’s degrees in law through their university back in Spain. And, of course, they’re blogging about it.
To get to the top, you can hike (which some residents do every morning), or take a cable car or funicular, depending on the time of day. We took the cable car.
This is the funicular option which goes through part of the mountain, available only in the mornings.
Our GPS app measured us a bit higher than the official peak height.
The views of the city from the top were impressive.
On the left you can see the financial district; on the right, Plaza Bolivar [click to enlarge]:
The church and plaza at the top, decorated for the holidays (in mid-November):
Parque El Virrey
We stayed in a relatively quiet residential neighborhood, just off of Parque El Virrey, north of the city’s center. It’s filled with locals going about their daily lives, with no particular interest in gringos, which was lovely [click to enlarge]:
One thing we didn’t expect was just how lush Bogotá is. We probably expected the high altitude to equate to a more arid climate. But we encountered a wide variety of plants and trees, most new to us. We shouldn’t have been surprised, as the city is approximately 4° north of the equator, and gets regular rain year round. The weather in Colombia changes dramatically by elevation, but remains relatively unchanging by season. For example, in Bogotá, the average summer day has a high of 63°F (18°C) and a low of 48°F (9°C), while the average winter day has a high of 66°F (19°C) and a low of 44°F (7°C). In sea-level Cartagena (our next stop), the temperature varies even less over the year, but is nearly 25°F warmer.
We also encountered some unexpected Mexico connections in Bogotá. We didn’t expect to see Benito Juarez in Colombia. We’re woefully ignorant of South American history. [click to enlarge]:
There’s a lot more Colombia (including more Bogotá) to come. Stay tuned and as always, thanks for checking out our post. Click the subscribe button if you want to get email notification of new posts.