After my mishap on the bike, the tour really improved.
We took a much-needed break at a fruit market, where we got to sample all sorts of exotic fruits. Throughout our time in Colombia, we tried many fruits and fruit juices that we had never heard of before; I think my favorites were lulo and maracuya. In general, the fruits tended to be citrusy, slightly sour, incredibly ripe and juicy, and simply wonderful.
Got a sour one!
I felt much better after that, and we biked around some more. Our next stop was at Parque de la Independencia, a really nice little park that represented some excellent park design. It was full of children and families playing. We also had our first arepas here; arepas are Colombian corn pancakes found everywhere, from fancy restaurants to street food vendors. The ones we had here were among the best we had on the whole trip, and believe me, we had a lot of them.
Our bike ride took us further north, with stops at Colombia’s bull fighting stadium (nice architecture, not impressed with the “sport”) and through some residential neighborhoods that were characterized by English Tudor-style architecture. Interesting choice, somewhat odd. Andy and I both really enjoyed seeing the real neighborhoods and parks where regular Bogotans actually live; to me, that’s often the most interesting part of cities.
Also, we visited this linear park in a neighborhood that apparently had had problems with unhygienic behavior:
One of our last stops was at what would be one of my favorite sites in all of Bogota: the Central Cemetery of Bogota. Many presidents and other important figures in Colombian history are buried here, but I was fascinated by the haunted, mysterious air. I love visiting cemeteries in general, and the atmosphere here felt haunted, mysterious, and beautiful, much like the city itself. I really enjoyed myself playing with Andy’s fancy DSL camera here:
After that, we rode through the red light district and La Plaza del Periodista. The tour ended up being five hours total, and while bumpy and difficult at times, overall it was a fantastic introduction to the city for our first day.
We went back to the hotel to rest up, wash up and inspect my bruises, then ventured to Usaquen that night for dinner and drinks. Usaquen is an upscale, trendy neighborhood in the north part of the city. Since it was a Sunday night, it was a little quiet, and we didn’t really take pictures.
On Monday morning, we decided to spend more time exploring La Candelaria (the historic district) on foot. We visited the Museo Botero first, which houses many works of Fernando Botero, Colombia’s beloved artist, as well as paintings by many other European and American 19th and 20th centrury artists (Picasso, Monet, many others). The building was beautiful with a nice flowered courtyard (something I would learn is a dominant architectural style all over Colombia, due to the awesome climate), and we really enjoyed ourselves here. I saw more Boteros and learned more about his work on this trip than I ever thought I would.
Bogota felt like a city full of secrets, lots of unexpected courtyards, hidden gems, surprises if you look close enough. It’s mysterious and intriguing. La Candelaria is full of narrow streets, alleys, many buildings wedged together, brightly colored historic facades, shops and restaurants that barely have signs to indicate they are there. The weather varied a lot, from cool and drizzly and overcast to sunny in an instant, and then back again. It’s chaotic, diverse, fast-paced, and decidedly non-touristy.
The military presence is huge; military police, kids as young as 18, armed with rifles and shotguns guard every street. I didn’t get pictures of them, for obvious reasons. We felt safe but also cautious the whole time.
There’s graffiti everywhere, and some really great street art.
We visited the Biblioteca National, the largest public library in South America, and the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Cultural Center, where we stumbled upon this cool exhibit of origami dresses.
We had lunch at a vegetarian restaurant, Quinua y Amaranto, because I was craving leafy greens after mucho fried food and carbs, and then found a fun little dive-y corner market/bar called Luna Park that felt like throwback to the 1950s. We enjoyed beers there (for less than $1) atop the yellow plastic tables, looking at the ancient displays and writing in our travel journal. Felt very far away, and loved it.
Later that night we went to La Macarena, one of the young, hip parts of town, for shopping and dinner. Again, it was kind of quiet, being a Monday.
On Tuesday, our last full day in Bogota, we went to the Museo de Oro (the Gold Museum) in the morning, which contains artifacts and history about Colombia’s pre-colonial heritage and gold and metallurgy work and the meanings of ancient rituals. The museum was really impressive: modern and well-curated.
After the museum, we explored more of central Bogota, checking out the chaotic street life, the vendors, the activity, the people going about their daily lives, so far and so different from what we know.
In the afternoon, we took the Transmilenio, the city’s bus-rapid-transit system, north to Zona Rosa.
Zona Rosa is the upscale district, characterized by international business travelers, fancy hotels and condos, and high-end luxury stores. It felt almost like a different city. I was glad to see it, but glad we didn’t stay in a hotel up there. One of the best parts was Parque 93, a really nice urban park.
Nice bike and ped path
And no matter how modern the city might be in this area, you still see signs like this:
Share the road.
We ended the night at Andes Carne de Res, a crazy combination restaurant, market, bar, and dance club. We got to witness Bogotans dancing and letting loose.
Also, here we discovered the cheapest and best way to drink in Colombia: order a media of cheap, local rum and a mixer of diet coke. This was so cheap and so good, and it is served everywhere.
Up next: Villa de Leyva!