Just as I was tiring of sweating all the time in Cartagena, the hour came for me to fly to Bogotá. I arrived about 2 in the afternoon and got ripped off by a taxi taking me to my hostel. He took a detour because there had allegedly been protests in the city earlier that day at some university, and he wanted to make sure we didn’t get delayed by traffic or continuing disturbance. I have no idea where we went, or if there even had been protests; but regardless, it didn’t warrant doubling the normal price. Oh well! Sometimes there’s not a lot you can do in a new place where you don’t know anything.
That afternoon I went for a walk to orient myself. My hostel was in the historic center of Bogotá called La Candelaria, where most of the famous churches and museums are located. I spent a while sitting on the steps overlooking Plaza de Bolivar and being gawked at by passers-by. At one point, I was approached by two students wielding an iPhone, who requested a recorded interview about politics. They asked how government officials were selected in my country, how people voted and how citizens living abroad were accommodated. Not surprisingly, they were university English students scouting gringos to interview for a class project…. I can’t hide anywhere. Plaza de Bolivar sounds like it should be a big, pretty public square in the center of the city. And it is big, and in the center, but it is not pretty. There are no trees, only a gray statue
in the center, a huge gray open space surrounded by gray buildings, and a lot of gray pigeons. And on sunny afternoons, it is populated equally by pigeons and people. The pigeons seem to be the main highlight. Children chase them, people buy seeds to feed to them, and when they get scares, they all fly together around the central status in overwhelming, flapping gray amoebas until they decide to land in again. Luckily, despite its astronomical probability, I never got popped on.
Often here in Ecuador, and when I’m traveling in other places, I have this anxiety about stopping anywhere for too long. One reason, as a tourist, is that it’s harder to pick the pockets of someone who is on the move; but more so, because if I stop and sit somewhere, someone will always decide to come talk to me. That is not all
bad. I’ve had some funny and interesting conversations with people this way, but sometimes it’s not so pleasant. And I’m the kind of person who just likes to sit in silence and people-watch. I can’t do that here, because I will always get interrupted, even if I’m reading or doing something that makes me look like I don’t want to be interrupted. After another little bit of wandering, I found the Museo Botero, a free(!) museum dedicated to the work of the famous Colombian artist Fernando Botero Angulo. Most of you know him for his chubby sculptures, but you may not know (I didn’t) that he also painted chubby characters.
My second day in Bogotá, I had a list of about nine churches and museums that I wanted to visit. I had them all mapped out so that I could check them off in the most efficient way possible according to their hour of operation and hopefully get to all of them in one day. I made it to 7 of them, and the two churches I missed were either closed for renovation, or I literally couldn’t find them anywhere. But I found another church on the way, that was even better than most of the others I did see. Some of the highlights of this day were that surprise church, the Museum of Gold, and eating tamal and hot chocolate with cheese. The surprise church was probably not super old, which it why it was not on the list of important old churches to go to in Bogotá, but it was hard to miss. I loved the color combination: maroon-ish and sea foam green. I walked in on noon mass, and sat absorbing the vista for a bit.
I had asked by Colombian friend from Washington, DC what I should eat in Bogotá, and without a moment of hesitation he instructed me to get hot chocolate with cheese and tamal at 5 pm. Well, I got hungry at 2 pm, but I did go on a quest (a short one, as this combination is very common in Bogotá) to find chocolate caliente con queso and tamal. Bogotanos put mozzarella cheese in their hot chocolate. I tried it, but I probably won’t ever do it again. Apparently, I’m something of a purist when it comes to hot chocolate. And the tamal was delicious. You’re probably imagining a Mexican-style tamale: corn meal with ground beef and peppers in the middle wrapped in a corn husk. This is sort of
similar, but not. A Colombian tamal is also corn meal, but it not spicy, and these particular ones has chicken, and vegetables mixed in. And the best part, instead of corn husks, they are wrapped in big green leaves. Mmmmm…..
After a satisfying lunch, I headed over to the Museo Del Oro. This museum is famous as one of the largest and best collections of South American gold. It was impressive and the museum itself is very well designed. There’s not that much else to say. It’s a museum filled with gold. See the pictures.
On my third day, I went out of Bogotá to a town called Zipaquirá, north of the city, where there is a now-famous salt mine. As I understand, it began just as a salt mine, but has since become famous as “The First Wonder of Colombia” because of the giant Cathedral that has been carved out inside the mine. The funny thing is, the original cathedral was destroyed a number of years ago, and the new one was recreated specifically as a tourist attraction. So really, it has no history, or special meaning at all, which I found disappointing. The trip there took about an hour and half. La Candelaria is in south-central Bogotá and Zipaquirá is beyond the northern bounds of the city. So, the trip there began with a 45 min ride on the TransMilenio, Bogotá’s central bus line masquerading as a subway. This was a nice way to see more of the city, given my time constraints. After getting off at the north terminal, I caught another bus to the town of Zipaquirá. This would have been really nerve-wracking of not for the bus travel I’ve done in Ecuador. The bus serves the town
itself, not specifically the Salt Cathedral, so it is not designed for particular use by tourists. But I made it. And, thanks to my blonde hair and blue eyes, the bus operator knew exactly where I was going and told me where to get off. I walked around the town for about 15 min trying to follow the obscure and infrequent signs directing visitors to the Salt Cathedral. At the Cathedral, you buy a ticket for about $10 (not worth it) that includes a tour of the Salt Cathedral and a
stupid 3D video. I found a few people from the hostel there, so we took an English tour together, which at least got us away from the giant crowns of local visitors. The Cathedral has the Stations of the Cross surrounding the central atrium. And the main auditorium is just a big cavern with a cross carved into the front wall and lots of colored lights to make it look important and fancy. All in all, it was interesting adventure, but I don’t recommend this to anyone visiting Bogotá.
Finally, on my last morning in Bogotá, I rode the TransMilenio about 25 min. north of La Candelaria to find the Christian Science Church for their Sunday morning service. I did find it, and was warmly welcomed, of course. The church is a plain store front, and has 70’s yellow décor on the inside. It’s a small congregation, but larger than my society in Quito. I’m getting close to understanding most of the
Spanish services. I read copies of the Spanish lesson sermon throughout the week, looking up words that I don’t know. I learn a lot of words that are not very useful, given that normal people don’t often use Biblical Spanish, nor speak the way Mrs. Eddy wrote. But just the other week I heard two words from the weekly lesson while watching “Pan’s Labyrinth“! So, I’m learning. And after church, I rode the bus back to the hostel and prepared my bags for my flight home.
And that was the end of my adventure, and now I am home, continuing my other adventure living in Quito.