I arrived in the chilly capital of Colombia at 10am and checked into Fatima Hostal, La Candaleria. It was nothing special, but a great location and very inexpensive at around $16,000 pesos ($8 USD) including breakky the staff were very friendly and made me feel right at home. I met a lovely english lady in my dorm and we lunched and she gave me a tour of the city.
She introduced me to Tinto – 50 cent coffee sold out of flasks from people in the street and we lunched in one of the many trendy restaurants of La Candelaria. I ordered a hot chocolate which came with a side of bread and cheese. The cheese, a creamy mozzarella is to put into your hot chocolate…thought I’d pass on that but a cup of hot chocolate served with a side of bread and cheese is not all bad on a chilly morning after an early flight!
Later we had some beers and rum. I was feeling very drunk and sleepy after a few beers and my new friend asked me, “so how are you coping with the altitude?” aha, that explains it then. Somewhere in my memory bank was the useful little fact about Bogota being 2,640 meters above sea level. I attempted to have a night out with my new friend and some of her amigos who we met a trendy jazz club in town. Sadly I could not physically keep me eyes open and retired after a few minutes!
I’d been informed petty crime is rife in Bogota, that waiters would take your order and steal your purse from your bag while they concealed it with the food menu, or that people on scooters might take your backpack in passing. Walking the streets alone after dark is a definite “no no”. So I took precautions but after almost a month in this city I can honestly say I’ve not been the target of any petty crime. I don’t even think I’ve been ripped off by taxi drivers or paid “tourist tax” from vendors who realise I dont speak much spanish. Its been a nice break from 4 months of haggling and feeling disheartened by greedy opportunists. Bogota is also a nice break from the cat calling Ive experienced in most of the other places I’ve visited. Much easier to blend in here. Aside from a few taxi drivers who’ve had their eyes on me in the rearview mirror rather than the road and invited me to sit up front. Pretending I don’t understand Spanish works well in these situations, a little harder to pretend I don’t understand the gestures but they all give up eventually.
After the first night in Bogota I had decided to give couch surfing a whirl. I had a skype date planned but in the interim received an invite via a message from a Facebook friend to stay on his couch. I racked my brain, who was Sergio? Obviously someone I’d met from Bogota, I vaguley remembered his friend Juan Paulo who had helped me in Cartagena with some instructions for my arrival in Bogota. I had spoken to Sergio very briefly and was wary ofcourse but after a quick facebook stalk I thought “why not take a chance”.
Now I know what you’re thinking, guy invites single female to stay…and admittedly I did wonder about this but I was made to feel absolutely at home by Sergio and his cat Jack. I’m very happy I took the chance. This is just one example of the many encounters I’ve had of Colombian hospitality. I did not expect this from a bustling city of close to 7 million people. If locals even catch a glimpse of a map in your hand or a lost expression you are sure to be offered help or in my experience an escort or ride and at times a place to stay. I had some high school girls save me big time when I got lost in the tricky Trans Milenio bus network.
Aside from the cold weather, Bogota has been one of my favourite cities so far. A multitude of trendy bars and nightclubs. Huge food culture with delicious options from both street vendors and little artsy cafés and stylish restaurants. Beautiful architecture, lots of parks and some pretty outstanding street art. Plus the people I’ve encountered have been great fun. I have been cooking a lot here and I must say the fruit and veg is divine and bursting with flavour! Not to mention the gigantic avocados which became an accompaniment to every one of my meals. Must watch out for the comidas rapidas (fast food) and freshly baked bread and croissants at every turn however, they are cheap and delicious but perhaps not the most nutritious.
One evening I had gone a little overboard making mushroom and asparagus risotto for dinner and Sergio had the idea to set up a lunch date with his retired nieghbour Bernado to take care of the left overs. I had been having a few days to chill and catch up on things, so was happy to have some company. Bernado arrived at the door with a bottle of French red wine and we talked about my travel plans and Bernados Amazon expeditions. After lunch we progressed to espresso martinis, Maria the house keeper included, and then Bernado showed me around his apartment. It was like a museum. A two story library in his living room and artefacts from all over the world. Precious stones, spears from indigenous tribes in the amazon, cow bells from Switzerland and fossilised wood to name a few. Bernado grabbed a few albums of his amazon travels and some big maps from the most organised study I have ever seen. It was great to get some inspiration for the upcoming amazon leg of my journey and Bernado was a very enthusiastic host. Flicking through pictures and exclaiming how “fantastic” it all was with a heavy accent.
Some other highlights of my stay were the Botero museum, Andres Carne de Res – a cluster of steak and tapas restaurants with a packed dance floor for everyone to come together and dance until the wee hours (odd combination but it works), a night out with the crew from Hostel Sue and Nighclub Baum and the view from Montserrate. Enjoy the pictures 🙂