From Trinidad & Tobago, we were headed back to Ecuador. But we had to connect through Bogota, Colombia, so we decided to stop there for a week and check it out. Why not?
We were less organized than usual. A few days before leaving Trinidad, Elliott was frantically worrying; where were we going to stay? We had no plan and he was about ready to pause the travel train for a bit. I emailed our friend Miguel from Spain (whom we had met in Ecuador), and asked him for the contact information of his friend Paola, who lives in Bogota. We had met her once or twice for a few minutes when she was staying Cuenca, and she had told us to come stay with her family in Bogota if we ever visited.
Did I mention she only speaks Spanish? Yes, it was a little nutty. But not really any different from couch-surfing with total strangers (although they usually speak English), so I figured it would work out okay. And it worked out better than okay!! As is often the case in Latino culture, she had been serious about us staying with her. My email was met with a completely welcoming response – yes, we could come in three days late at night and spend a week with her! She would even meet us at the airport. This was quite a surprise because so many people in large cities don’t even have cars.
She showed up at the airport with her father and her daughter and gave us a big hug as soon as she saw us. We hadn’t used our very mediocre Spanish for three months at this point (since we had been traveling outside of Ecuador), and we learned quickly that people in Bogota speak much faster than people in Cuenca. So… we really didn’t understand a thing. I wish I was exaggerating! We went back to their house that night, and even though it was 1am, Paola and her daughter insisted on staying up with us since we weren’t tired. We understood maybe 10% of what was said at best. Wow. It was going to be a long week, we thought! We went to bed wondering what would happen in the morning.
That first day we didn’t do much other than work on our own things while Paola put together a slide show for her dad’s upcoming birthday party. In the evening, she said we would go bowling. A couple came over and we later understood one of them was Paola’s cousin. After over an hour of traveling on three buses, we mused how much we take it for granted that it’s usually less than a ten minute drive to a bowling alley in the States! But we found out we weren’t just going to a bowling alley – it was a bowling alley within a huge sports complex, much like the complexes that hosted the London Olympics we attended! The bowling was cheap and fun and afterwards we watched a football match going on outside (that’s soccer for all you Americans).
The next day Paola took us to an area called “La Candelaria,” which turned out to be the old city center of Bogota. It was pretty and quaint and very hilly, with Spanish Colonial, Baroque and Art Deco styles. It was definitely the nicest thing we had seen at that point, since up until then our keenest observation had been that Bogota is a huge, sprawling city like Los Angeles. (It took an hour+ of bus rides again to get to La Candelaria.)
We found some local ladybugs, and stopped for a moment at Paola’s alma mater, La Salle University (not to be confused with La Salle in Philadelphia unfortunately).
We visited a tiny city museum with old photos of Bogota, Museo de Moneda (Money Museum with big money presses and some art), and several more sites throughout the day:
The library to view photos on display by a famous photographer named Hernan Diaz, ironically, one of Paola’s favorites!
La Catedral Primata (Primary Church)
Congress and President’s House
Museo del Oro (Gold Museum)
We bought some cool souvenirs from street vendors, and listened to two street bands. We also got a chance to try some Colombian food. First we bought some street food called papa rellena (stuffed potato). It was a huge fried ball with an outer shell of potato and filling of rice, chicken and delicious spices. Yum! Tons of flavor, and super cheap. Later on for dinner, we went to Punto Burger, a favorite place of Paola’s from her university days. The burgers were awesome and huge; and they had the french fries (chips) right on top of the meat! This place was a major hit with us, and I was already noting how much I was enjoying Colombian food.
Our last tourist destination was the mountain of Monserrate in the city. It rises to 3,152 metres (10,341 ft) above the sea level, and is a pilgrim destination. We were planning to conquer the steep incline on foot with Paola and another cousin, but when we arrived at the bottom of the trail we found it was closed for renovations for Santa Semana, or Holy Week. Total bummer! We wouldn’t be pilgrims after all. We waited in a long line and took the funicular to the top.
It was fun riding above the trees and taking in all the views, and there was much more at the top than we expected. The biggest surprise were the 14 stations of the cross! (I guess that explains why it’s a pilgrim destination.) We walked up the path passing all of them, sometimes making funny captions and taking photos, other times deciding it would just be too mean to do that. At the end of the stations there was, of course, a church, perched on the very top of the mountain. We went inside and were amazed at the throngs of people inside the different sections, saying their prayers for the upcoming Semana Santa.
Outside the church, there was a long walkway with vendors selling all kinds of souvenirs, where we found some earrings and a magnet. The second half of the walkway was all food vendors, so Paola and her cousin showed us more local foods and explained what they were. We picked a few things out to have for lunch: I had a tamale and Elliott chose to share fried intestines and potatoes with the other girls. The tamale was great; Elliott was diggin’ the intestines for a bit, then thought about them too much and decided he wasn’t so crazy about them!
We took the cable car down the mountain, and then walked around the city some more.
We toured the inside and outside of Simon Bolivar’s former residence. If you don’t know who this guy is, here’s a little history lesson: he was a Venezuelan born political and military leader who was integral in fighting for independence from Spain for several different countries, including Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia! We see his name all over Ecuador on streets and monuments.
We also checked out some more street art – it was seemingly everywhere! And it was always art as opposed to graffiti, which was really nice. Bogota was surprising us in a good way.