Arriving late in a new country, on a new continent, after an 11 hour flight is enough to throw your internal clock out of whack for a few days. Add in nearly 9,000 feet of elevation and a 30 degree temperature drop and you’re looking at a minimum of 48 hours of recovery.
Our (excitingly rare) direct flight from Madrid lands in Colombia’s capital of Bogota, a sprawling city home to 6.7 million people. The air is cold and dry, reminiscent of Colorado, making the beach that we were laying on less than two days ago feel (accurately) very far away. We wind through crowded streets of what appears to be an even mix of college students and homeless men as the Friday night scene in Bogota’s “bohemian” La Candelaria neighborhood plays out.
Hotel Casa Deco, a small boutique hotel in the heart of La Candelaria with a boatload of sustainability and community outreach initiatives (see the story here), is the perfect home base for our four night stay. With a zombie-like gaze, we shuffle out the next afternoon, in search of some authentic Colombian food. Our first glimpse of the neighborhood in the daylight reveals an eclectic mix of boutiques, hostels and restaurants, sitting next to abandoned buildings and trash bags torn open for redeemable recyclables. A group of homeless men lean against brightly colored buildings adorned with beautiful murals. It’s certainly “up and coming,” without having entirely arrived yet.
We enjoy the menu del dia - a three-course lunch of soup, rice, a bean cake and watermelon juice, for under $5 a piece and head down to La Plaza de Bolívar, which is alive with locals and pigeons on Saturday afternoon. That evening, after a quick dinner, we’re reminded by the team at our hotel to be careful at night. La Candelaria is a few blocks away from a very impoverished area and we’ve read in a few places that “knife muggings are downright common,” especially at night when the police presence is diminished. Other than a few persistent, intoxicated and borderline aggressive men late one night, we generally feel comfortable, but keep aware of our surroundings.
Sunday is the best day in Bogota. Experiencing the Ciclovia, a Colombian tradition when the streets close and the locals head outside to walk or bicycle with their families, is comparable to Colombian culture cliff notes. The streets are packed with vendors selling everything from cheap shoes, to arepas (fried corn meal patties stuffed with chocolate or cheese), to jewelry, avocados and empanadas. On every other block groups of people circle around a huddle of guinea pigs, placing bets on which of the small group of numbered cups the little rodent will race into. Twenty-something boys breakdance on broken down cardboard boxes next to the static blares of an old boombox, while further on young women compete on the classical violin. It's a party that happens each Sunday, without fail.
Starting to feel a little more like ourselves the next day, we walk to the Botero Museum. Located in the heart of La Candelaria, within a beautiful colonial building, the museum holds hundreds of Botero paintings and sculptures. Spending a couple hours meandering through the beautiful halls is a welcome break from the consistently chaotic skinny sidewalks (many with random foot-deep holes that can be a bit treacherous to navigate after a beer at 9,000 feet).
Our final agenda item has been peering down at us since our arrival. The Cerro De Monserrate, sitting high above Bogota’s historic district, is visible from our hotel room and most of La Candelaria. Having partially acclimated to the altitude, we decide to skip the tram and embark on the pilgrimage up the mountainside. A "steep climb" is an understatement. The vertical hike takes over an hour and is a both a strengthening and humbling experience. At the top, views of Bogota stretch into the distance, airplanes fly by and skyscrapers look like Legos. It’s the first time since arriving in South America that we feel healthy, grounded, and relaxed. Just in time to catch a flight to coastal Cartagena in search for warm temps, sun, and celebration for Ryan’s upcoming birthday.