Sunday, 18 December 2016

A postcard from Bogota

I thought Id start my trip to South America in Colombia - well its at the 'top' so as good a place as any. First impressions of Bogota were how green it all looked, and how much traffic and pollution. I'd decided to stay a couple of days, visit the museums then get on my way. After a good nights sleep (owing to not having being able to sleep on the 15 hour flight over), first stop was the Gold museum, located downtown. Despite dire warnings in the Lonely Planet guide book to not get in a taxi alone, everything went well on the journey. The downtown area was a bit of a contrast to the affluent North of the city where my hotel was, some lovely old colonial buildings clustered around the plaza, deteriorating somewhat up the side streets (where again the LP warned not to walk alone) then leading to some brutal modern concrete shopping malls with street vendors selling (very) used goods from blankets on the pavement.

The gold museum was a delight, I spent almost the whole day there marvelling at the workmanship exhibited by those ancient craftsman, and also amazed how much had survived the greedy Spaniards; sending ship loads of gold home to be melted down to finance the war against us English.

After the museum I wandered around a bit, then spotted this tourist tram offering a tour - exactly the thing I never do, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. Not only did I get to see more sights than I would have on foot, the guys on the tram put on a 'historical show' to illustrate various interesting facts as we went round. Shame I couldn't understand much of it, but then that's the only way to get used to the language.

View across the city from the hills
Suitably knackered I made my way back to the hotel. I also checked my Happy Cow app, and was amazed to find there were no less than 18 vegan restaurants listed in the city, plus a further 59 vegetarian, so plenty of opportunity to eat well! In fact, that evening I visited the restaurant closest to me and had a stroke of good luck. While trying to decipher the menu, the guy at the next table struck up a conversation; an Englishman living in Bogota, Ben turned out to be a great source of information regarding Bogota. He casually mentioned he was going back to the UK for Christmas and New Year, and that his apartment would be empty if I would care to use it. We came to a suitable agreement, so here I am now in a nice little studio loft-style apartment with a private roof terrace overlooking the park and the mountains to the east of the city.

View from the roof terrace
That stroke of luck sort of made the decision for me to stay more than a couple of days, so instead of rushing off to explore I can spend a bit of time getting to know the city. Well, so far I've found the city to be full of contrasts; up here in the north its 21st century, modern shopping malls with all the international stores, clean safe streets with a number of foreigners strolling around quite happily. Downtown is quite different, most of the people stand around 5 ft 3 inches tall, so any foreigner stands out, plus as my friendly lady taxi-driver told me on the way to the museum, we all have a cara de bobo  which translates roughly to 'face of a simpleton'; when I asked her if I could pass for a Colombian if I wore different clothes she collapsed into laughter that I could still hear as I walked away from the taxi.                                      

Next visit was to the museum Botero, that mad Colombian artist who decided to paint and draw 'curvaceous' (read fat) men, women and animals. Loved it!

Fat Mona Lisa

The original Fat Cat?

This complez of lovely old colonial buildings also houses the money museum, lots of well-preserved old machinery (nearly all made in Birmingham England ) for those with a mechanical bent to drool over

Also in the same area is the Military museum, full of artifacts including Pablo Escobar's pistol and loads of military hardware.

Colonial buildings line streets leading down to Plaza

Old Chiva repurposed as party bus

Downtown street artists

Plenty of graffiti
 So most of this first week has been spent just wandering around, eating well each day and kind of taking it easy. I've also been studying motorcycle life here; there's the simple small-capacity singles that swarm around in their hundreds, delivering everything under the sun, then there's the modern 300 cc bikes like the KTM Duke and Yamaha R3, these are to be seen at maximum velocity weaving in and out of the traffic. Finally there are the expensive imported large-capacity machines - a new KTM 1290 costs 80 million pesos here (equivalent to £22,000) so these are ridden with more caution by obviously rich riders usually with matching riding gear. The other thing to note, as the owner of this lovely little Royal Enfield explained to me, all riders have to have their registration number in reflective letters on the back of their helmets, by law. And I thought it was to stop their helmets getting nicked. Doh!

Then finally this morning, as I was strolling across the park on the way to Starbucks for my breakfast (!) I came across this little fellow selling incense. I had to buy a box when I saw the name of the fragrance!

So, that's this part of the trip up to date - tomorrow I set off into the hinterland; I am hoping to see happy campesinos riding donkeys and waving happily through beautiful landscapes, although the doorman here at the apartment reliably informes me that I will be constantly accosted by thieves and bandits and will never be able to find vegetarian food. Time will tell!

PS SonjaM - I know I can be a bit flippant, but I'm blocked from leaving messages on your blog, which is a bit of a shame. Please know that I'm following you faithfully, and hope you get better soon!


  1. Wow, I take a couple of weeks (aka months) away from the blogsphere and come back to find you on an ultimate adventure ... safe travels.

  2. Thanks Vstar lady - I'm being cautious. Still, a teetotal vegan senior citizen shouldn't be able to get into too much trouble!!

  3. Now that sounds like quite the adventure so far.

    And how fortuitous that you met Ben. I am looking forward to reading of more of your adventures.

    HappyCow is definitely a necessity when traveling.

    1. Trobairitz, I'm finding that it's not too hard to find veggie food, as long as you don't mind eating beans and rice every day. At least they don't put pork fat in the beans as in Mexico!

  4. How lucky to get acquainted with a fellow countryman, and be able to use his apartment, too. What a kind person. Can you imagine this happening in Europe?

    And by the way, I never blocked or intended to block you or anyone else for that matter? That's mighty weird. Would you mind trying commenting every once in a while?

    Have a great time, John, and please keep us posted of your whereabouts.

    1. Sonja, as you say, that could never happen at home!
      I think the blocking of comments may be more to do with my aol address, maybe need to come into the modern world with gmail or something. I just wanted to let you know I've been following your progress, felt a little sad I couldn't leave comments. Never mind, I'll keep trying. Glad you're better.
      I'll certainly keep posting whenever I can, feel a bit guilty it's not about motorbikes - next year maybe! Regards, John