Monday, March 9, 2009

Bogotá, Colombia: 96 hours at 8678 ft

Our hastily planned trip came together effortlessly: I was in Miami for work and scored a free ticket with frequent flier miles to spare; Alex flew down from Boston without disrupting his studies on account of Harvard's mockery of an academic schedule. I waited for Alex at Airport Interacional El Dorado on Thursday night. He and I took a quick cab ride to our hostel in La Caldendaria. We put down our bags and walked around the corner for a comida rapida meal of arepas con queso. Alex also ordered something on the menu called the "Super Crazy." It turned out to be an eggless omelet of french fries, hot dog slices, shredded chicken, and cheese. More about Colombian gastronomy to follow.

We woke up early on Friday morning and took a stroll around the neighborhood after a delicious breakfast of cafe con leche and pastries. La Calendaria, recently referred to as "Zona C", is the oldest part of the city, know for its narrow cobbled streets and historic one-story colonial architecture. There are several universities and well as the neighboring downtown area so it is constantly abuzz with street commerce, inexpensive eateries, feral dogs, loose garbage, and graffiti. It resembles a part of any Latin American city. We stopped first at the Museo Botero to take a look at the works of Colombia's well-loved contemporary artists. It was a treat to see his famous images up close, even if I've unfortunately developed a bit of a "Botero complex" myself after dating Phillip for 2+ years.

We next went to the Museo Historico de la Policia Nacional, which was obviously Alex's choice, thought it ended up being quite a gem of an experience. Upon arrival, we were assigned to the "English speaking" Officer Valencia, a young kid who has been stationed as a museum guide for his military service (if only our soldiers were drafted as docents!). The communication was tricky as he wasn't really speaking in English and Alex doesn't speak Spanish so there was a lot of back and forth with me translating; unfortunately I missed the vocab lesson on military regalia.
The museum, situated in a former police headquarters, houses four floors of items vaguely related to Colombian law enforcement. The one half of the basement is devoted to famous Colombian criminals, or at least those no longer on the lam. I have never been very interested in the life and times of Pablo Escobar, the leader of the famous Colombian cocaine cartel, but this curator sure was! There were several chambers dedicated to the artifacts of the deceased overloard, including his beeper, the jacket he wore when he was shot dead, and a roof shingle splattered in his blood. We later learned that this is the highlight of the collection. However, for me and Alex, our favorite item was the wax cast face of the Bogotano serial killer who dismembered his victims, stuff their limbs in their open torsos, and wrote "I left you a little flower" in the victims' blood left in the body cavities. Other features of the museum included an extensive collection of international torture devices, military uniforms from around the world, and a wing glorifying the Colombian police force's efforts to combat narcotrafficing as depicted by large murals of planes spraying pesticides on peasant farmers. Plan Colombia en accón!

After our three hour tour we took a cab to Zona Rosa on the north side of town. This "trendy" area of Bogota is home to upscale apartment buildings, fusion sidewalk restaurants, and higher-end retailers. Zona Rosa is not unlike the beloved Palermo in Buenos Aires, but there is a lot less (virtually none) in the way of local experimental designers. I was hoping to return with a three-armhole sweater dress made of reclaimed cashmere but no such luck. I give this place five more years to make it happen. We drank a couple of locally crafted beers at the Bogota Brewing Company, the popular happy hour spot of preppy upper-crust locals in the neighboring area called "Zona G" on Parc 93. We later returned to Zona Rosa for a delicious late night dinner at a gourmet cervechria and then I dragged Alex to Alma, a proper Latin American disco. Alma could have been any fancy nightclub in any city in the world, full of beautiful and rich people, but at least here the DJ stuck to a sample of music (reggaeton, cumbia, Colombian pop hits). In fact, Lady Gaga was the only American song he played the whole night. FML. Alex was soon partied out when I befriended a table of young, mostly graphic designers who were celebrating a friend's cumpleaños. We got down and partied until they kicked us out and my new friends tucked me safely into a taxi before the sun came up.

We got to a late start on Saturday morning on account of my near death by auguardiente. We made it to a protracted brunch then began our epic journey to the town of Zipaquirá, a town to the north of the city. We first boarded a Transmilenio, but out of fear of barfing on a packed car of unsuspecting strangers, we got off an took a long taxi ride to a bus station where we eventually found a tiny bus that took us to our destination. Zipaquirá is an old salt mining town that is home to a massive subterranean cathedral. We toured the mine and it was stunning, even if overwrought with abstract post-Vatican II imagery. Still haggard, we left the mine before nightfall and caught some sights of the village while looking for a bus to take us away. In between Zipaquirá and Bogota is another town called Chia. We stopped here for dinner at the famous Andres Carne de Res, something of an independently owned TGI Fridays but with more spunk and high quality meat. The restaurant was teeming with energy - the kind of place to celebrate a 30th birthday with 30 friends - but Alex and I were just too tired to get to that level. Regardless, my sentimental befe de chorizo was delicious as was the tres leches for desert.

We got off to a better start on Sunday morning. We walked through a flea market and paused to watch the parade of young students marching through Universidad de Los Andes in celebration of Dia de la Mujer. The sun was shining by the time we took the cable car to 10,000 ft to the Cerro de Monserrate. The cathedral offered truly remarkable panoramic views from the top of the hill. We enjoyed a delectable lunch at the summit and tried to find some chocolate con queso. Alex thought I made this dessert up because the salesperson just gave me some provolone cheese and told me to dunk it in some instant hot chocolate. Delicious! After we returned to the city via train, we tried to rent bicycles to avail ourselves of Bogota's hundreds of miles of bike trails. Unfortunately, Colombia did not seem to offer bike rentals. After consulting five different bicycle stores and eventually getting lost, we found ourselves wandering around a graveyard. The combination of dejection and death suddenly made the day seem unpromising (Alex's edit). We asked taxi driver to take us to the amusement park we had seen advertised everywhere. Saltire Magico seemed like a pretty authentic Bogota theme park, or at least we were the only non-Colombians there. This resulted in a lot of stares, which was fine, except for a boy who couldn't take his angry eyes off Alex (alex's edit) and had a swastika tattoo on his hand (TRUE!). We ended up at the Museo Nacional de Colombia 15 minutes before closing, enjoyed some pictures of the Spanish Conquest, and walked all the way back to La Candelaria. For dinner, we returned to Zona G @ Parc 93 for some late-night pasta and Colombian beer. The next morning I left. Alex stayed for another day and watched a dubbed version of The Curious Tale of Benjamin Button (without speaking any Spanish) before getting thoroughly searched by the Orlando customs station, where they seized all his gifts as "agricultural hazards" (Alex's edit).

I highly recommend exploration of this fine city. My only regret is not having had more time to see the rest of the country. The civil war within Colombia has kept many international visitors at bay. As a result, there is little infrastructure for foreign tourists (ex: museum literature, transit information, etc. is only en español). This factor enriches the visit. It is a rare occurrence to find an major museum completely filled with nationals (and not with unseemly khaki shorts). Plus, Colombian Spanish is as crisp and clear as a telanovela, so navigating the language barrier leaves little lost in translation. Don't miss this place!



La Calendaria


groups in la Calendaria plaza


la Calendaria plaza

Officer Valenica shows us bloody bodies; he lets me try on some of the hat collection (relectantly)


PLAN COLOMBIA/US Tax $$ @ work:Officer Valencia shows us how they spray coca fields; antinarco fogger made in Pennsylvania


Pablo Escobar's jacket and blood on a roof shingle; PE's beeper and watch (hey, it was '93)


graf in la Calendaria


Zona Rosa, mas chevere


cervicheria


Alma


cumple de Andres @ Alma




Zipaquirá Salt Cathedral


Zipaquirá Salt Cathedral


Zipaquirá Salt Cathedral


Zipaquirá






un desfile de dia de la mujer




Cerro de Monserrat


Cerro de Monserrat


Saltire Magico

1 comment:

Heather said...

ruby fuerza definitely has a more interesting life than i do.

does bogota, colombia resemble cranston, rhode island at all? that's the last place i vacationed to.