Tag Archives: Bogota

Bogota, the best place I’ve called home…

Little after arriving in Colombia I remember seeing a friend’s photo on Facebook, a panorama of Bogota at night with the caption “the best place I’ve ever called home.” This particular friend had already spent a year teaching in Bogota and at that moment I remember wondering if I’d leave with the same opinion (something I very much doubted at the time). It has therefore come as a great surprise to find myself so nostalgic now that I’m back in little old England, sitting in the kitchen with a cuppa while I write.

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We’ve had a very love-hate relationship over the months, Bogota and I, and there’s no denying that the city has its faults. I’m sure I could list at least 50. It’s chaotic, polluted, dangerous, messy, cloudy, grey and, quite frankly, a bit ugly. The inequality is shocking – travelling from north to south makes you realise that the Bogota of the rich and the Bogota of the not-so-well-off are worlds apart – and homelessness in the city is just tragic. Yet in spite of this there is something about Bogota.

It wasn’t until the night before I left that I realised just how right my Facebook photo friend was. After a terrifying climb, Ivan and I reached the Mirador de la Roca, in Usaquén, just in time to catch the last rays of the setting sun and looking out over all those thousands of twinkling lights, beside one of the best people I know, the brilliance of Bogota and its indescribable, can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it charm really hit me. From up there, away from all the noise and commotion, the jigsaw stretching out below us seemed such a welcoming place, one that had adopted me, the would-be Colombiana, and swallowed me up among its other 9 million residents. Despite my reservations in the first few weeks, at that moment I felt incredibly grateful to have been one of the never ending expanse of glittering lights below, swept up in the ever changing ebb and flow of the city. In short, Bogota is a place unlike any other and one that I am honoured to have called my home.

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(I will continue now with all the other places I visited in this wonderful country that, through pure procrastination, I have yet to write about).

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Recent events and other fun Colombian happenings

Another month has been and gone and I’m feeling a lot more settled in Bogotá, so here’s a summary of what I’ve been up to lately:

About half way through September I went on a trip to the colonial town Villa de Leyva for the weekend with one of the other assistants, Joe. The town is a couple of hours north east of Bogotá by bus. It’s one of the biggest tourist destinations in the Boyacá department, as well as an important national heritage site. The main plaza is considered to be the biggest in the country, and in terms of its architecture and style, it felt like little had changed in the last 400 years.

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It was super rainy when we arrived, making the cobbled streets even more fun to navigate, and leaving us rather worried that the entire weekend might be a complete washout… Despite the weather we had a lovely typical Colombian meal (pizza and wine) on the main plaza. Thankfully the next day we awoke to blue skies and sunshine and set off to explore the town and surrounding area. After having wandered for a while through the narrow cobbled streets we decided to rent bikes and cycled (in what turned out to be the hottest day ever) to the Pozos Azules, just outside the town. Unfortunately for us you couldn’t swim in them, but they were incredibly beautiful nonetheless!

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Afterwards we hoped back on our bikes and continued on to a museum called “El Fósil,” most probably because its main attraction was an enormous fossilised kronosaurus discovered in 1977, amongst other things. We also got acquainted with this absolute joker who, for a 10 desperate minutes, tried to persuade us to part with our icecreams…

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After a fairly knackering cycle back we went out for dinner (apparently only Italian cuisine can be found in the centre of Villa de Leyva) and hung around in the main plaza to watch a caranga concert. The following day we wandered the town some more before catching the bus back to Bogotá in the afternoon.

In other news, I have moved house (!) and am now living in a shared apartment about 5 minutes from work (ahhhh).

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The Colombian equivalent of Valentine’s Day (“Amor y Amistad” – Love and Friendship) took place on the 19th of September. Like most celebrations in Colombia, it was quite a big deal. Unlike Valentine’s Day, it isn’t just reserved for couples, and is celebrated just as much among family and friends. One of the most popular Amor y Amistad activities seems to be a kind of non-Christmas themed Secret Santa (my guess as to the popularity of this is based on the fact that I was involved in no fewer than three, of varying complexity). The family of a girl I tutor (aka. the cutest family ever) even invited me over for an Amor y Amistad party, complete with all kinds of decorations, marshmallows, and one of the yummiest desserts I’ve tried so far in Colombia. The gran is SO cute – despite the fact that I understand precious little of what she says, every week without fail she brings me a chocolate milkshake and a cake while I’m helping Laura with her homework.

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Last weekend was a bank holiday here in Colombia, so myself and a couple of the other assistants decided to make the most of it and take a trip to Medellin, a city a ten hour bus ride north west of Bogotá, and the capital of Antioquia. With 2.5 million inhabitants Medellin is considerably smaller than Bogotá, but in spite of this it is widely considered to be one of the most modern and innovative cities in Colombia. The city has come an incredibly long way considering that in the 90s, as the hometown of Pablo Escobar, it had one of the highest murder rates in the world…

Our trip didn’t get off to the best start. We decided to get the night bus and set off from Bogotá at 11pm. Everything was going smoothly until, an hour into the journey, we came to a grinding halt by the side of the road. None of the other passengers seemed particularly concerned, so we waited patiently, assuming that as the engine was still running we’d soon be off. (“Is this the worst bus journey you’ve ever been on?” asks Jerome). Five hours later I awoke to find us still in the same spot, with a much less cheerful Jerome asking “and what about now?” (Yes). It turns out there had been an accident and the main roads were closed.

After that fun-filled journey we arrived in Medellin early on Saturday afternoon, excited to explore the “City of eternal spring” – the mild and sunny climate didn’t disappoint! We found our hostel, which was in the rather swanky Parque Lleras part of the city, and after a tactical sleep and an inevitable hotdog, we were ready to hit the town! We sampled some of the many bars in Parque Lleras, and joined the crowds of people sitting drinking beers in the parks. It did feel like the expensive party area of town, but was lively and enjoyable nonetheless!

The following day Jerome and I tried out Medellin’s metro system (everyone raves about it, so we could hardly miss it). To be fair, it was incredibly efficient, clean and chaos free, much unlike the transmilenio… We also went for a ride on the cable car, which climbs up the side of the valley, flying over the roofs of the houses that cling to it. It felt somewhat intrusive, as you could almost see right into people’s houses and watch them going about their business, but at the same time it was a fascinating insight into the city. The cable car took us right over the top of the valley and we passed over 15 minutes of uninterrupted forest, before arriving at the final stop “El Parque Arvi,” where there was a small artisan market and lots of food stalls.

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Upon returning to the city centre we went for a wander around the “Jardin Botánico” park. One of the things I most liked about Medellin was the abundance of green spaces – parks and trees everywhere – and consequently, breathing in CLEAN AIR. At this point it’s fair to say that Jerome and I were somewhat jealous of the Medellin assistants… We also stopped for an icecream and a spot of people watching in the “Parque de los deseos.” We went for a nice meal out in the evening and a few more park beers with the other three assistants who came with us.

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For our last day Jerome and I got up early to take a trip to a nearby town called Guatapé, where a massive stone called La Piedra del Peñol can be found. Two hours later we arrived at the stone and had a spot of lunch to fuel us for the climb. The most typical dish in the Antioquia region is called Bandeja Paisa (and it’s HUGE) so what I had for lunch was essentially a baby version of this:

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After climbing all 740 steps we made it, albeit rather out of breath, to the top of the stone and were greeted by the most incredible views. Needless to say, it was definitely worth the journey!

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A series of regrettable transport decisions saw us arriving in Guatapé town (which is BEAUTIFUL) only to be told the next bus didn’t leave for another 2 hours – cue panic and a desperate harassing of the tourist info woman. Thankfully five minutes later we were in a bus, although we didn’t have time to explore the town and its fantastically coloured buildings. We has a not-so-comfy return to Medellin squashed on the floor behind the driver, and for a considerable part of the journey next to a chatterbox of an old señor who kindly forced guayaba fruit on everyone in the vicinity. Having never eaten one I spent a while sneakily watching people to figure out what they were doing with all the bloody seeds (swallowing them apparently).

Catching the bus back to Bogotá proved to be the biggest rush ever. Of course, it didn’t actually leave for another 20 minutes… After very little sleep we arrived in Bogotá bright and early at 6am. Despite the multiple downsides of this huge, messy and chaotic place (and having been rather bitter at not being placed in Medellin at various point during the weekend) I was happy to be back in my adopted city and wouldn’t change it for anywhere else.

As a little parting gift I’m leaving you with what is possibly the greatest translation I’ve ever encountered (found inside the cable car). Enjoy!

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Oh hey there Bogotá!

The travel blog is back! Continuing with the theme of Spanish speaking countries, I am now living in Bogotá, Colombia, where I will be working as an English assistant with the British Council for the foreseeable future. As the first month comes to a close, here is a summary of my Colombian adventure thus far….

After a journey wrought with self-inflicted panic and sleep deprivation – who’s terrible idea was sleeping in the airport? Oh yeah… – I arrived alive and well in Bogotá on Monday afternoon and met the rest of the British Council bunch in our swanky hotel in the Zona Rosa. Thankfully everyone is super friendly and I was soon feeling ok about being the other side of the world. We stayed in our little all expenses paid bubble until Thursday, spending most days in workshops and talks organised by the British Council and its Colombian partner, ICETEX. I’ve never received such a constant and plentiful supply of food, some would say it was too much… Those few days left me feeling both reassured, knowing more about my job and having a lovely bunch of new friends, and terrified that I was going to be mugged. Nevertheless, after having been scared senseless I have since come to the realisation that the British Council’s “security talk” may have been somewhat extreme.

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On Thursday I bid farewell to my new (and only) amigos, and was whisked to another, even swankier, hotel. Apparently I’m some kind of celebrity. I met my tutor from the university I’ll be working in and had a fun few days organising stuff. After a frantic last minute house hunt, in which I rejected a windowless cupboard with a minimum stay of four months, I have now ended up living in my tutor’s girlfriend’s aunt’s attic! Fortunately it boasts a window and a lovely view of the mountains surrounding Bogotá.

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Unlike most of the other assistants, I only started actually teaching last week, as the English courses at my uni began much later. But so far things are going well! I have also managed to acquire a pupil to tutor. After having our first lesson I was invited, in true Colombian fashion, to her uncle’s birthday party, where I met the whole family, ate A LOT of food and was constantly greeted by the assumption I was about 15… Other exciting things I have done include learning how to make arepas (a fried, bread like thing made of maize flour) with my host “mum”, discovering that you can get a delicious three course lunch for the equivalent of £1.20, sitting outside the stadium at 10 pm listening to a Carlos Vives gig, seeing Cafe Tacvba for free (!!!) and going on a fun little excursion to the town of Facatativá with some of the other assistants. We had a wander round and visited an archaeological park (Colombians bloody love kites) and experienced the most full bus I’ve ever been on – 30 people in a combi anyone? All in all it’s been jolly good fun thus far and I have already learnt an important lesson for the months to come; avoid aguardiente like the plague.

So far I’ve noticed several unusual things that I’m going to make a note of here so I can reminisce and laugh at my ignorance when I’m back in England. Firstly, in Colombia the weeks seem to last not seven, but eight days. It took me a while to understand why people keep talking about doing things “every eight days.” Confusingly a fortnight is referred to as “every fifteen days” and even more inexplicably, three weeks are generally referred to as twenty days… Yep. Food-wise I’ve found that most meals contain rice and/or chicken. On the bright side there are lots of fun and unusual snacks to be had, such as hot chocolate with cheese (nicer than it sounds), and there are bakeries everywhere. As far as the Spanish language is concerned I’ve found that the already confusing tu/usted distinction has somehow become even more blurred in Colombia – my host mum frequently combines the two in the same sentence. Colombians seem to love putting everything in the same place. So far in Bogotá I have come across whole streets dedicated to kitchens, bicycles, book shops, pet shops and pretty much anything you can imagine. There’s even a corner where Mariachi loiter.

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Making arepas – yum!

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Facatativá

Since writing the above I have done a tiny bit more exploring, this time to the town of Guatavita, an hour or so to the north-east of Bogotá. After having lunch in the town, we went to visit Lake Guatavita, a sacred place for the pre-Hispanic Muisca people and the origin of the legend of El Dorado. At 3000 m the lake was even higher than Bogotá so the effects of the altitude were very much felt. The views definitely made up for it though!

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This weekend I’ve had a lot of fun celebrating my birthday, Bogotá-style. This included two trips to Crepes and Waffles, a restaurant that only hires single mothers and women in need of work, and my new favourite place! I was also taken on a fun trip to Chia, north of Bogotá. All in all it was a jam-packed weekend full of lovely people, yummy food, wine and ice cream! I was even lucky enough to receive not one, but two huuuuge bars of Cadburys. Apparently it can be sourced here after all.

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Birthday meal no.1

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Birthday meal no. 2

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Crepes and waffles loooove

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A blurry birthday shot complete with a very overenthusiastic photobomber

As the following photo illustrates, Bogotá is absolutely bloody enormous and generally cloudy. In the coming weeks I hope to do more blog worthy things, i.e. finding my way around and seeing the country, so you can look forward to a much more exciting read!

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