Bogota is a sprawling city located 8,000 feet up in the Andes Mountains in the center of Colombia. The city seems to still be less traveled than most given its huge population and mountainside locale. The exotic geography assured me I was very far from home. I hadn’t been to an urban venue where English had a smaller proportion of words spoken. Some of the only English I heard was “Money! Money! Money!” hurriedly exclaimed by a local gentleman who spent very little time before putting a knife to my throat and rifling through my pockets. It was convenient to not have to translate what he was saying, but having my cash and phone stolen would prove to be a fair burden for the remainder of the trip. It was an especially brief encounter, but he saved me a much longer encounter at the DMV by leaving me with my wallet still in hand. The stolen phone also explains the lack of photos to go along with this post...
To get away from the hostel crowds, we decided to stay in an Airbnb just to the north of La Candelaria. We were footsteps away from La Parque de la Independencia, which is a treat to stroll through and see the Bogotans lounge around during the day in between school and work. Much young love can be found there between the pockets of bushes and the small walkways within the hills. La Candelaria is Bogota’s downtown and would be considered the FiDi in most other cities. The buildings are tall and the streets narrow. Many shops are shallow, while others have precious courtyards. You can buy almost anything in the area, and it’s mostly cheaply made. If you’re looking to buy an off brand musical instrument, you won’t wander too many steps in between the many hole in the wall tiendas de la musica. Here is where we were told not to walk around at night, and rightfully so.
By a nice bout of luck, our apartment was a block away from one of the best culinary streets in the city. Normally a vegetarian, I was thrown off the wagon by my lack of menu reading abilities. Eat as the locals do, they say. But actually, you eat as the waiter interprets your gringo speak. Very cheap prices and an empty Italian restaurant brought me to order the bacon-wrapped filet mignon. The undercooked vegetables had me happy to be abandoning the earth’s problems for the week. Each of the next two nights, we indulged along that street in a different South American cuisine that was just as wonderful as the last.
Eating so carefree and heavy made it tough to make it out each night, but we made sure to see what Bogota’s nightlife had to offer. Getting in our first night, we took a few steps over to the corner wine bar. The owner, Paolo, gave us a lay of the land, while telling us of his journey from his family’s vineyard in Chile to Washington D.C and finally to opening up the place. He seemed like a welcome first encounter until he recommended we go to some traveller bar the following night. After venturing off on our own the remaining nights, we found our way into a basement warehouse party DJ’d by Gary Beck one night and to a rock ‘n roll bar to meet some friendly locals the other night.
When it was time for our vacation within a vacation, we flew across the country to spend a couple days along the coast in Cartagena. I see why it is the #1 tourist destination in Colombia. We stayed in the Walled City, which is a beautiful walled off section of the city that was built in the 16th century by the Spanish colonizers to fend off the incoming Caribbean pirates, amongst others. I haven’t traveled to too many port cities in my days, but Cartagena reminded me a lot of the French Quarter in New Orleans with its cobblestone streets and narrow roadways. Spending our first couple hours drinking cervezas in the Plaza Santo Domingo was quite the treat.
With many tourists comes many vendors. Usually vendors are pushy and known to create discomfort for the visitors walking by. The vendors within the walled city always had a smile on their face and would end each sales greeting with a “mi amigo, where are you coming from?.....ahhhh wonderful! Welcome to my city...” It’s hard to keep telling such kind people “no” so often. Many of them offered this drink called Colombian White Coffee. I had never heard of white coffee before, but the especially tropical weather put me in no mood be drinking anything other than a Club Colombia (popular cheap beer of the country).
Cartagena has a wild nightlife with some dark edges to it. You can find lots of trouble to get into that is certainly not condoned. Ask some of the Secret Service about their stay there in 2012. Cartagena is a lovely place to relax and enjoy the hot & humid weather, and that’s what we did. After a couple nights sweating near the ocean, it was time to head back to the states to appreciate the comforts of America. Until next time Colombia!
Written by Joe Benz, good friend and frequent Bighorn contributor
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