While my friend’s wedding inspired my South American trip in general, the decision to go to Colombia was inspired by my friend who lives in Bogotá. John and I first met in NYC when I was his English teacher at El Centro in the fall. However, our adventures in NYC were cut short when he returned home to Colombia in January. We continue to work together with his business, Eryx and mine, ESL Write Away, and so I decided that if I was going to be down South anyway, I might as well stop for a visit. As I wrote last time, first I stopped in Cartagena for that adventure, and so I showed up for the last week of my trip in Bogotá with food poisoning and minimal expectations for my week in the enormous Colombian capital.
Even though I hadn’t made any plans, I was lucky to have two hosts who made sure I had a jam-packed itinerary of things to see (and eat)! Although I had anticipated a relaxing and leisurely week to explore, I was quickly informed that we would be zooming around the region. Really, there could not have been anything better. While my time in Cartagena was a chance to see the backpacker side of Colombia, my “week in Bogotá” turned out to be such a special and deep insight into the country, its history, and culture.
Bogotá: In total, we spent approximately 2.5 days in Bogotá and so I cannot comment too much on its main sights; particularly, because I was staying outside the center. I was able to leave content though with seeing the semi-spiritual Museo de Oro, politically charged Plaza Bolívar, stunning nighttime view from Monserrate, and the infamous Andres Carne de Res restaurant. In addition, I think I will always remember my time in Bogotá as characterized by the TransMilenio bus and hopping among its many stations around the city.
Zipaquirá: Just a day trip from Bogotá, Zipaquirá is a charming example of a smaller Colombian town; however, its main attraction is its Catedral de Sal. I had been to a Salt Cathedral 4 years before in Poland, but this was an entirely different spectacle. From the 12 Stations of the Cross to the main cathedral hall to the reflecting salt pool to the 3-D video experience, it truly is an attraction for all ages!
Villa de Leyva: Villa de Leyva was my favorite town we visited, located about 2.5 hours from Bogotá in the Boyacá region. Perhaps because immediately when we arrived John’s friend spotted us and whipped out some shots of the local liquor, aguardiente. Not too big, yet not too small the town was alive at all hours with music and people in its gorgeous central square. Plust we kept busy with horseback riding to the pozos azules, visiting the weekend market, and discovering dinosaurs in several museums.
Paipa: Next, we took buses to Paipa where I was obsessed with the central square with its patriotic amphitheater. We made it just in time for a lunch of $9 for the three of us in a local frigadero and then spent the evening soaking in the town’s famous hot springs. Outside of the city, we also walked around the small lake, taking in the sprawling pastures and gorgeous mountain views.
Duitama: Our final stop in Duitama was to visit another friend in her hometown. First, on the way we stopped at the imposing statue of the Lanceros del Pantano de Vargas arching into the sky. The day was truly special though because we were welcomed into our friend’s home for a delicious meal of lively conversation with her family. To finish the trip, we took a sunshine stroll to El Pueblito Boyacense to see all of the beautiful towns of the region in replica.
While the big news in the USA during June was the shocking decision of the UK to leave the EU, Colombians were much more preoccupied by the peace agreement signed the day before between the largest guerrilla group, FARC, and the government. We watched on TV, but the topic was cause for discussion throughout the rest of the week everywhere from a minimally attended concert in Plaza Bolívar to the lunch table in Duitama. While I knew little about Colombian politics before, I learned a lot from listening and observing throughout my week. Although there is hope that things will change for the better, there also appears to be a lot of cynicism that things will improve or that the transition will be managed effectively. Or in the words of one group, everything is the fault of the USA anyway in our creation of demand for Colombian-produced drugs. Gotta love travel and getting some perspective on your own country!
Amidst all our traveling about, we went to several events where I got a taste of life in Bogotá and likely the things I would do if I lived there. Of course, over-arching everything was the Copa América competition. My first night in the city, we watched Colombia lose to Chile at a language exchange event organized by Idiomarte. It was really great to meet and talk with so many people learning English, as the only native speaker there. Interestingly also, the organizer of the event and Idiomarte as a business is Slovakian.
Then on my last night, we attended the weekly Bogoshorts event at Cine Tonalá. The theater is also a bar and café, creating a cool, hipstery vibe with lots of young people roaming about throughout the night. Given the peace announcement the week before, interestingly, the short film of the night was about the government-guerrilla interaction in the more rural regions of the country. Entitled, Forastero, it was full of suspense and was eye opening, given the current events.
Maybe it’s not surprising that one of my favorite mornings of the whole trip was sitting in John’s apartment sharing music videos from our countries. Here are a few of the new Colombian songs from the summer on my playlist:
Over and over my entire week in Bogotá I kept thinking to myself that I was truly so lucky to have this experience. I never would have known to travel to those smaller towns on my own or go to some of those events or to eat so many new things. One of my #1 travel rules now is to always go somewhere where I know someone—whether a local or an expat. This just is one of the reasons why I always find myself so grateful when I travel, both to the people who share their lives with me or to the world for granting me these opportunities. Here’s to many more deep, meaningful travels in the next few months!