Today we embarked on the last leg of our whirlwind six month adventure – Bogota. We had an early flight so we awoke, showered, packed and grabbed a taxi to the airport. We checked in smoothly enough and grabbed a quick breakfast of various baked goods and settled in to wait.
We boarded the plane and were delighted to see that, despite this being only an hour and a half flight, we had seatback TV’s (again, take that US Airline companies). Lynn spent the flight watching Silicon Valley but had to stop because it was “too real” and reminded her of work. Doug finished a book he had been reading. The flight anxiety is still strong in Lynn and even though it was a pretty smooth flight and there were no aborted landings she still left the plane with sweaty hands.
The WikiTravel article had scared the bejesus out of us and we were quite nervous about getting a taxi to our hostel but we managed to use a perfectly fine one that didn’t rob us, mug us, or take us to an ATM and demand we empty our accounts for him. Instead we had a quiet ride in mid-day traffic through a city that looks an awful lot like La Paz. With a little help from Lynn and Google we found our hostel but were too early to check in. Instead we dropped our bags off and set out to find some lunch.
We are staying in the La Candelaria neighborhood which is supposedly the nicer and historic part of town. Walking outside though there was nothing that would imply to us this was a nice part of town. The whole place smelled of weed and diesel exhaust. The buildings were all single floor concrete buildings in various states of disrepair with graffiti tags scrawled across them. And on every corner (that’s not hyperbole, I do mean every corner) there is a policeman with a muzzled Rottweiler or German Shepherd standing watch.
Wandering around we happened upon the smell of some delicious pasta and went inside a cute little restaurant decorated with twine and paper butterflies and we both ordered the lunch special – chicken and beef lasagna with a mystery fruit juice to drink. Both were pretty good, even if the lasagna could have stood some vegetables.
After lunch we headed over to a bike tour that had been highly recommended on Trip Advisor. We were the first ones to arrive and apparently no reservations were needed because we were immediately handed waivers and bikes. We still had thirty minutes until the tour started so we walked around the neighborhood a little more to kill time, finding a restaurant our friend Marti had recommended that we would come back to for dinner.
At 1.30 we joined up with the crew of helmeted tourists standing with their bikes in the street and while we waited a little longer we noticed the mediocre condition of our issued equipment. The bike’s shifters looked partially disassembled, all of the tires were bald and the rubber was cracking, the brakes were very lungy because the wheels were so out of balance, and they creaked as you rode them. The helmets seemed to have chunks taken out of the top of them. It was not impressive.
The tour itself did nothing to win us back. Despite Lonely Planet claiming this is the third best biking city in the world (behind Amsterdam and Copenhagen) we saw nothing to back that up. We spent the next 5 hours dodging pedestrians on busy sidewalks and avoiding cars that were only too eager to run lights or swerve around us while laying on the horn. Maybe it’s because we were pedaling slower than I thought a bike was physically capable of moving. It was like a game to see how slow we could go without falling over. The guide was very soft spoken and didn’t seem to know much about the city. We would arrive at a stop and he would point out a few buildings with no additional information and ask if we had any questions. It was comical how piecemeal the information he shared was. A good example was a stop in front of two “ministry buildings.”
“These two buildings are built in English Architecture style. And those tram tracks are a memorial from a riot that started the civil war in 1948. Any questions?”
“What makes the style English?” a German asked.
“The two buildings, they were built in English style by English people,” was his very satisfied response.
“And what was the riot for?”
“A politician was killed because people disagreed with him. The people rioted and then we had a civil war.”
Maybe if you are Colombian that all makes sense. But to Lynn and I there were a lot of unconnected dots here and getting our guide to elaborate was like pulling teeth. We just gave up and resigned ourselves to not learning much. He did eventually perk up and have more information to offer, but it was only when we got to the street art portion of the tour, which was about two thirds of it. Yes you read that right, we spent the better part of our five hour city tour very slowly biking between various street art installations, most of which were by the same artists and looked identical. Maybe Bogota has nothing better to offer?
Not everyone felt the same way though. A guy from Miami was very excited and, upon learning that graffiti is legal on public walls in Bogota, exclaimed, “Damn, I should have brought my cans.” The one redeeming factor of the tour we felt, was that we did at least get to see parts of the city we probably otherwise would not have.
Very disappointed in the tour, we were glad when it was over and we could not for the life of us understand how this had over one thousand reviews and five stars on TripAdvisor. We went back to our hostel to check in and take the searing edge off how awful the tour had been. The hostel, and our room itself are both very nice and cheered us up some, looking more like a hotel than a hostel, with nice furniture, a rainfall showerhead, and a big TV. We are once again right next to the common area though and are hopeful that won’t be a problem since quiet time starts at 10 pm. Another horrray!
As mentioned earlier, we headed to a restaurant recommended by a friend who had been here a few weeks ago. It is in an old prison in the basement of the former Secret Police headquarters and had a very nice spooky feel with candelabras for light. The food was pretty good too, and we had some delightful conversation to fill the two hours we were there before heading home to bed.
Daily Walking Mileage : 3.6 miles
Biking Incidents: Doug ran over a pigeon and Lynn hit a pedestrian, but also got hit herself by another biker so it evened out. Everyone was okay, except for possibly the pigeon.
- Bogota is in the middle of the Andes and we were surprised to learn that we are once again over a mile above sea level. We had no idea before coming to South America that so many cities were so high in elevation.
- On the way back from our bike tour we saw a line of young men being frisked by police and their not very friendly dog companions. We even saw two of the Rottweilers going after each other and that answered our question about why they were muzzled.