Our first full day in South America is in the books, and it was a good one! After spending a day and a half in Bogota, I can say that it is a gritty city, but a beautiful one as well. The streets and squares are full of people out and about, and everywhere you look there is lots of action. I can also say that i can understand maybe 40% of what people are saying to me. Needless to say, the Spanish is a little rusty – there are a lot of “comos” and “repite por favors“. I’m holding on to the hope that I won’t be giving so many blank stares by the time the trip is done.
We decided that the best thing to do on our first day would be to get a general introduction to what Bogota has to offer by jumping on a tour. I had read good things about Bogota Bike Tours, so we headed to the downtown to their shop. Our hostel is in the northern area of the city, so we jumped on a Transmilenio bus, which took us to the city centre. I’m always a little wary of taking a bus in a new city as it can sometimes be near-impossible to know where it is taking you and where to get off, but the Transmilenio was actually quite easy to navigate. Its stations are more reminiscent of train stations, with signs directing passengers to exactly which bus will stop where. I’m no pro, but heres a tip – when trying to get on a Transmilenio bus, you have to push your way through or you just won’t get on. It pained my polite Canadian sensibilities to be so aggressive, but saying “permiso” (excuse me) a couple of times helped to soften the blow. Plus, when in Bogota, you’ve gotta do what the Bogotanos, do, right?
We were fitted for our bikes at the bike shop and we got rolling on what would be a twenty kilometre tour de Bogota. I was imagining that we would just cruise around for a couple of hours and get some insights into the city from our guide, but we made a few stops that far exceeded my expectations! Our first stop, and one of the highlights of the tour for me, was at a little market in La Candaleria where we got to sample a number of different fruits, most of which I had never heard of before. We tried everything from a tree tomato, slightly sweeter and more “fruity” than a regular tomato but still very reminiscent of the ones we know and love, to a lula, which is apparently very good in juice, to a dragonfruit, which was one of my favourites. We also learned that guavas are a very effective natural laxative. Who knew! I definitely want to go back and sample some of the fruit we tried again, and hopefully remember all of their names this time.
One of our next stops was at a stunningly beautiful bull fighting ring, although it is now used for Metallica concerts and theatre productions as bullfighting is no longer allowed in Bogota. I was impressed by the calibre of the architecture – it brought back memories of structures we saw in Europe. Immense protesting brought an end to the bullfighting, and now its supporters are undertaking hunger strikes to try and bring it back. You just can’t win!
Our guide was a graffiti artist, and was very knowledgeable about the abundant graffiti that we passed on our ride. There is some amazing public art on the streets and walls of Bogota, and artists are actually paid by the government to adorn areas of the city, which I think is amazing. I was astounded by the quality of some of the paintings that we saw. Giving artists licence to showcase their works in this way makes the city so much more vibrant.
As we neared the end of our tour we were all in need of a little pick-me-up, so our stop at a high quality coffee shop was timed perfectly. The coffee that Colombians drink is generally not that great, as most of the good stuff is exported for us lucky foreigners to sip on, but this place serves the real deal highly delicious Colombian java. Zevi and I both had delicious cappucinos, and had our appetites whetted for what we will (hopefully) see in the coffee region in a couple of weeks.
Apart from Zevi getting stuck with a lemon of a bike that lost its chain on a number of occasions, our bike tour was great! Seeing the city by bike allowed us to cover way more ground than we would have been able to on foot, and we were able to visit some neighbourhoods that might have been no-go zones if we had been on our own.
To round out our day in downtown Bogota, we paid a visit to the highly touted Museo Del Oro, or Gold Museum. I am not a museum person by any stretch, but this one was impressive, with thousands of adornments worn and used by Colombians stretching back millenia. Some of the pieces are incredibly intricate, and we marvelled at what they were able to do with what we would consider to be rudimentary equipment. For somewhere around $1.75 Canadian each, it’s well worth the visit.
We cooked our first hostel meal this evening, which brought me right back to our trip in Europe six years ago. There’s something very satisfying about sitting down to a hearty meal after being on your feet (or pedals, as it were) for most of the day. Tomorrow I think we will be heading north to the Salt Cathedral, and I am looking forward to seeing if it is all that it’s cracked up to be!