The Sights of Bogotá – Day 35

Wed 7th Mar

A quick stop in Claro to sort my phone out and then I’m a tourist for the day!

First stop – to climb this little beast

– the big mountain that towers over the city of Bogotá called Monserrate. It’s a whopping 3152m above sea level with a big white church on the top.

There are 3 ways up – walk, cable car or funicular

Everything I had read said it was dangerous to walk up due to muggings and robberies etc but yesterday’s tour guide told us this had changed. You can only walk up in the morning (it closes at 1300) and there are police on the way up.

Not wanting to skip a challenge, I decide it’s safe enough to walk up. If you start from Plaza de los Periodistas, you will see some rectangular streams

Follow those up, and then follow the path on the right past the uni and head up the hill. Cross the main road and the steps to walk up are by the car park and the entrance to the funicular is a bit further up in the white building

Up, up and up I go!

I see a lot of people in gym kits coming down – surely they didn’t run up here!!! Yep they do as a few whittle past me! Bloody hell – I’m all for keeping fit but this is insane. It’s not the steepness as such but the air – or lack of it! I’m walking up at a fairly tidy pace but can’t quite believe how out of breath I am. I climbed a steep bloody volcano the other day n didn’t feel as out of breath as this! About half way up it feels like my heart might just pound out of my chest!

Good job they have these signs at certain intervals on the way up telling u where u are

Definitely makes the last push a bit easier!

I have never before felt the effects of being at altitude and thinner/reduced air – god knows what getting to Machu Picchu will be like!

That aside, it was a pleasant walk. All the stories about it being dangerous were made more pertinent by the fact that there was a massive police presence all the way up. Every 500m or so police were based at stations up the mountain. This provided some comfort but also proved as another reminder of the truths behind the reports and blogs I’d read. At least they’re doing something about it thou to try and improve the situation.

A pretty stone arch welcomes u to being nearly at the top

and the view of the church just around for the corner is lovely.

Last few hundred metres and again WOW!!!

What an incredible view over this enormous metropolis

There’s a fair bit up the top not just the church but the gardens, wishing well, eateries and restaurant and even a workout area!

And also the funicular to go down! I wasn’t going to get this but as one was about to leave in 5 mins, I promptly bought my £2 ticket and thought I’d give it a whirl! It bought me an extra hour to do more things – that’s what I’m telling myself anyway!

Having worked up an appetite, I consult trip advisor to find somewhere for a nice lunch. I had a £3 street food 3 course meal last night and feel like something a bit nicer. El Gato Gris’ score comes out quite high and is in the heart of La Candelaria so I decide to go there. A great little restaurant over several floors and a lovely terrace on the roof. There’s also a great ambience with a local live band playing.

I order a local dish of fried plantain with a green tomato type salsa which was nice enough and chicken with a rice sausage for main (the menu was in English)….had I had it in Spanish I’d have known that rice sausage was in fact morcilla…black pudding!!! Picked that out and the rest of the meal was ok. The venue and staff were lovely and in a great location…the menu didn’t seem anything special to me though and were more international dishes than local food. My wairtress did ask if I knew Adele living in England, obviously I don’t but she was very impressed when I told her I had seen her in concert 2 years ago! Half the waiting staff also knew by the time I left! A very nice friendly place.

From here I rushed down to the Museo de Oro. Not something I was hugely interested in but felt I should as one of the biggest tourist attractions in Bogotá and at less than a quid for entry, why not! The museum houses the biggest collection of gold in the world

It was the great gold stores in Colombia that led to the myth of El Dorado – a kingdom paved in gold and why so many Spanish flocked here – all looking for that pot of gold!

Yep, a lot of gold here which was quite impressive but I wouldn’t rush back.

1400 – time to meet outside the museum for today’s city walking tour of Bogotá. This is another free tour (except 30000cop tip) run by Beyond Colombia. Look for the red umbrellas on this one.

Again, a large group accumulated

and we started in Parque Santander where we told all about the history of Colombia pre independence and then how Bolivia and Santander became president and Vice President of the then Gran Colombia following independence.

The struggle for independence led to the formation of 2 political groups – conservatives and liberals and it was the constant battles between these that has led to a very colourful and tragic history for Colombia with its numerous civil wars, not to mention the period in the late 1940s known as La Violencia where more than 300,000 people were killed following the assassination of Liberal leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán.

We see the Church of San Augustin and are told of the revolutionary seamstress PolicarpaSalavarrieta who got a job working for the wives of influential men in the army and royal family etc so she could forewarn her revolutionist party before a planned attack by waves dropping on these high powered people. She recruited people to the revolutionary cause and transported weapons in her petticoat! She was eventually captured and executed but completely unrepentant. Her legacy lives on and she has been the face on Colombian currency many a time.

You can’t talk of Colombia and politics without talking about drugs and of course Pablo Escobar! Yes, Colombia is one of the biggest cocaine producers in the world but many of the big cartels of the past have been busted and the corruption between these and the police/governing officials is nowhere near as bad as it was…but it is still big business and Columbia still remains the biggest producer and trafficker of this drug.

We visit the famous Plaza Bolivar

and the impressive buildings of the cathedral, Parliament and the palace of justice.

This is a much newer modern building as it was destroyed by the army whilst trying to take control of the siege and hostage situation by guerrilla group M-19.

We wander around this central part of Bogotá, learning more about the importance of religion, activists and politics.

However, Colombia has such a huge and colourful past I could never regale (or remember) all I was told this in a blog post!

On to the graffiti’d streets of La Candelaria and the same stories I heard yesterday but not in as much detail. Near Parque de los Periodistas, we stop in a cute little coffee shop and sit out back for a chat, a coffee and some chicha – a fermented maize drink with sugar. We get these little cup things made from a fruit no-one wants but the shells are used to make chicha cups!

It smells like rocket fuel but doesn’t taste too bad! Chicha is quite famous in Colombia and a lot of this is down to the German Beer company Bavaria who tried their best to ban the sale of chicha to increase beer sales. A lot of media propaganda and bribery with the police and other official bodies ensued so that in the end drinking chicha for a period of time became a criminal offence. The thing was, back then, beer was just so expensive and u could get 6l of chicha for the price of one beer!!! Things have since resolved and is legal but Bavaria is the biggest beer company in Colombia.

We are also told that despite what u might think about getting a good coffee in Colombia- u probably haven’t had one as they export over 90% of the good stuff. It used to be more but now tourism is growing and people come in search of good coffee, they are keeping a bit back for people to buy in country! Again I can’t comment as I don’t like coffee!

Colombia also also has a very famous artist – Fernando Botero. I was worried I wouldn’t have time to see any of his work but the tour did take us into this museum. It also houses several other museums and is all free so definitely worth a visit. Botero is famous for painting ‘plump’ people

but it isn’t this he has a fascination with but more the circular shape!

Another thing u can see in his art is distortion and movement – a tap will be running, a volcano blinding smoke or the perspective/metrics of a scene not right. I’m not one for art but I really enjoyed looking at the work of Botero and as he’s from Medellin, I will get the opportunity to see much more when I move on to there.

The tour finishes at the Luis Angel Arango library and this is of note because of Gabriel García Márquez who wrote 100 Years of Solitude has given Columbia it’s one and only Nobel Prize.

These tours end by the guide saying a big thank you but more that they hope our perception of the country has changed. Yes a very troubled and turbulent past but things are changing and tourism is definitely increasing.

I walk away thinking my own perception of the city has changed and I feel a lot more comfortable here and safer walking round etc than I did 2 days ago but just as I’m heading back to my hostel, I see someone get mugged and have their wallet stollen….2 guys laughing and running like lightening up the street.

I head back to my hostel and shit myself as these guys walk past me as I’m waiting for the door to open and hold on to my bag for dear life!

I did and do like Bogotá…I loved the street art and the edgy vibe it has. It did definitely grow on me but the constant having to be on my guard was just a bit too much for me. I’m glad I went, I loved what I saw but I can’t wait to go up north and head to the coast tomorrow!

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