It was dark and raining lightly as Sam and I negotiated the dark streets from the airport to downtown Bogotá. I was on high alert as we raced to and fro, trying to find our way to the La Candelaria sector of the big city. All the local motorcyclists were wearing reflective vests with their license plate numbers reflecting brightly. Their helmets had their license numbers as well. We stood out immediately as foreigners. But with huge bikes and Sam's surfboard, we stood out everywhere we went anyway.
We got close to the hostel we were looking for but when we pulled over to consult the Lonely Planet guidebook we got our first dose of Colombian courtesy. A young woman named Lorena Lemus approached us with her boyfriend and asked us in English if we needed help finding our way. When we showed her the map in the guidebook, she nodded and said that we should follow them. They took us right to the correct neighborhood and turned us over to another young lady, who showed us right to our hostel door. We'd barely been here for an hour and already people were coming out of the woodwork to help us on our way. This became the trend.
We checked into our hostel and got the bikes parked in a secure parking lot and set out to see what the city had to offer. In moments we were sitting in a chill little drinking establishment filled with students and young Bogatanians.
We spent the next few days taking in the sights of Bogotá. We visited the Botero museum and got some insight on why some Colombian women feel the necessity to get butt implants.
The museum was actually really beautiful and even had some Picasso works as well. It was nice to spend some time getting cultured.
Coffee, as one might imagine is a nice part of the culture in Bogotá as well. We found a couple little places that were nice to chill out and have a cup of joe while taking in the surroundings.
Cafe Pasaje was a really busy place with the locals. The coffee was good and the atmosphere was excellent. There was a nice mix of people both young and old. But one wall in the place was dedicated to images of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Images of 9-11 and the terror of that day really caught me off guard and made me feel uneasy.
I guess it just really disturbed me seeing those photos while I was trying to drink my coffee and enjoy the atmosphere. But once we were outside again, I let the sights of Bogotá's architecture calm me.
It was a pretty night, which we took full advantage of by partying all night long. On the walk home in the morning, we were stopped by a tv crew and interviewed about our visit to the city. They asked how we liked Bogotá, if we felt safe in the city and if we thought we'd visit again...
I was chatting with Tim Henkels on Skype clear across the world in Turkey and he insisted that I visit the BBC or Bogotá Beer Company. I hadn't had a real beer since I left Colorado so I was more than keen for a visit. Sam and I hopped on the bikes and made the cruise from La Candelaria up to the Zona Rosa and found this little heavenly haven of beer. We sat for a couple hours savoring the quality brews.
Towards the end of our stay in the city, we made an afternoon out of a visit to Monserratte. This beautiful church high on the cliffside overlooks the whole city and has both a gondola and a cable car funicular transporting people to the top. The views were incredible and the setting was idyllic. We went on Sunday when the fares were slashed more than half.
The military presence was strong. There were military police everywhere we turned, but this gave the place a very secure feel. I found them to be super friendly and helpful on every occasion. I asked to have my picture taken with military in just about every country on this journey and here in Bogotá was the first place that they agreed. Colombia has enjoyed a huge decrease in violence since the heavy handed Uribe administration came into power eight years ago. I'm sure the constant police presence in the streets is responsible for this.
Bogotá was a great warm up for Colombia. I couldn't wait to get out and visit more of the country.
(several photos in this post appear courtesy of Sam Miller)