Every single Colombian we came across during our first weeks in this country had no good words for Bogota at all. The message we received was basically that if we skipped the capital, it wouldn’t be a big loss. Up in the north they have a nickname for Bogota, they call it “La Nevera” (“The Fridge”). Cause yes, when you compare the thirty something degrees one gets in the coast, to the 10 degrees or less that can be in the capital during the evening, there’s quite a difference. But we received the chilly temperatures with our arms fully open, cause after sweating like crazy in the north, we did enjoy, and a lot I must say, the feeling of using few blankets to sleep at night.
Bogota is placed at 2,600 meters over the sea level, and it’s the home for more than nine million people, who are split in almost 2,000 neighborhoods. Yes, it’s a pretty damn big place. Before coming here, many people would tell us that to be save in this city you should hide in every corner, take a look outside and make sure there’s no danger, and then run to the next corner. And do that all the time, probably until somebody shoots you for being such a fool. I wouldn’t blame the shooter. Is there crime in the city? Hell yes there is, but we also do have our own fair share of it back home in Barcelona and Wroclaw. Colombians say it pretty straight forward: “No deis papaya” (“Don’t give papaya”) which stands for don’t go around flashing cash or fancy stuff. For example, I didn’t use the big camera in the city, only a tiny crappy compact camera, which I would take out only when I wanted to take a pic. Between this and staying away from certain areas that any local can tell you about, we had a really pleasant walk and never felt insecure even if we were the only ones walking in many little streets. La Candelaria, the historic center, is a really great place to get lost walking up and down its streets. From the highest points one can start to really appreciate how huge this city really is.
But the way to get the whole deal of Bogota is to get yourself up to Montserrate, a mountain from which you can see the immensity of the Colombian capital. Great views from up here indeed and there’s also a little market where you can get nice treats as well. Really recommended. If you go on Sunday it’s cheaper (10k going up and down). You go up in a cable car and down in a funicular or vice versa, and it’s a pretty nice ride.
On Friday night our hosts took us out with some of their friends and we had a terrific time. We had the chance to meet these amazing guys who told us plenty of stories about the city and Colombia. One of those was about a game, really popular in the country, specially in the region of Boyaca, called “Tejo”. Basically it consists in throwing some sort of metallic disc to try and explode little bags full of gunpowder. No, it’s not like blowing up dynamite, but don’t tell me this is not a bit of a strange thing to do on a Sunday morning, specially when people of all ages play it. Here’s a video where you can check how this crazy game looks like. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMFTzaHJaKo. For the Spaniards, it’s like petanca but with explosives to spicy it up a bit. Not yet satisfied with this creation, apparently Colombians decided to keep on this creative fever and invented another game called “Sapo” (“Toad”). This one is played by throwing a metal disc into a board full of wholes, each of which has a different punctuation, and in the middle of the board there’s a little, or not that little, toad, which is there standing with its mouth open, and many times with a bit of gunpowder, of course, in its nose. So you can get points by getting the discs into the holes, or by sticking the disc into its mouth, or the highest score comes, as it couldn’t happen any other way, by exploding the little creatures nose! I forgot to mention it’s not a real toad, it’s just a figure. We listened to all this and plenty more while enjoying good beer and food, and believe it or not, Bruce Dickinson was there to play for us all night long. He was bold, 30 years younger and had a bit darker skin, but it was him. The bar where we went had life music performed by a guy whose voice was uniquely similar to Mr. Dickinson, the vocalist from Iron Maiden. After asking him, almost begging, he played “Fear of the dark” and it felt so good to sing it along with him.
Couple of museums are really worth stopping by in Bogota. The museum of gold and Botero’s. The first one is an incredible path through the history of gold and how it was seen and used through history, and the second one brings a great collection of this great artist Botero, plus many other artists that are part of the exhibition. The entrance to the museum of gold costs 3,000 pesos, while Botero’s is for free.
In the museum of gold, we discovered where the piggy character from Angry Birds came from. a US company didn’t invent it, no sir, it was there already hundreds and hundreds of years ago, in Colombia. Take a look and don’t tell me it’s not exactly the piggy fella. Yes I know, some people would go to this museum and only learn new amazing stuff, but unfortunately what we will remember the most is this little funny guy, together with the origin of the myth of El Dorado, but mainly the pig.
There were two main reasons why we loved this city, and they are called Luis and Andrea.They were our hosts from Couchsurfing, really amazing hosts! They told us where to go, showed us around the beautiful park of Simon Bolivar, the library Virgilio, and invited us to the botanic garden, shared with us amazing meals, football games and brought to us the opportunity to meet Bruce Dickinson! What else can you ask from a host???!! Thanks a lot guys once again!!! Hope to meet again somewhere!
FUN FACT FROM BOGOTA AND OTHER MAIN COLOMBIAN CITIES
Some time ago, in order to try to reduce the amount of cars that on a daily basis literally flood the city roads, the government came up with an idea called Pico y Placa. The idea consists in not allowing certain cars to be on the streets on certain days. And what was the criteria chosen? Pair and odd numbers. So each calendar day, together with the last number of each car plate would determine if the car is allowed to circulate that day from 6am to 9am and again from 3pm till 7pm.. On June 12, during these hours, only cars that have as a last number a pair number could go out. The government thought this would reduce significantly the amount of cars, but what really happened was that the number of cars sold skyrocketed. What did most of the families do? If their car had a pair number, well, they bought another one that would have an odd number. So yep, the number of cars did not particularly go down, but the car companies had never been happier.
A crazy city buzzing with life everywhere, horrible traffic and a really bad reputation, but with amazing people to help you discover what a great time you can spend in Bogota. If you have the chance, don’t miss it!