The 10 p.m. quiet time as defined by our hostel was far from what Lynn would call quiet with people playing cards, blasting music from their phones, and talking on speakerphone with their friends in the courtyard right outside of our window. So she didn’t get much sleep but Doug slept quite peacefully. But we both woke up at 6 a.m. for some unknown reason and had some time to kill before we were planning to start our day.
Yesterday’s experience was less than delightful and it left Bogota with a bad taste in our mouths. But, we had one more day and we were going to attempt to make the most of it. So after having one of the best hostel breakfasts we’ve had, we were off to Santander Square to meet our free walking tour. You see, yesterday we had learned close to nothing and were really, really hoping that we would be able to get some semblance of understanding and appreciation for this city before we left tomorrow. Spoiler alert: We did!
Santiago from Beyond Colombia met us in front of the Museum del Oro and would continue to lead us on one of the best city tours that we have been a part of (this may be a slight overstatement only because yesterday was SO BAD, but it was definitely a top 3 contender). Santiago started by prepping us, “When you told people you were coming to Colombia they probably looked at you like this:” ::insert shocked face:: “But don’t worry, Colombia and this city are not what they were in the past.” We were then cautioned that this is like any other large city in that there are robberies and muggings but that we shouldn’t feel afraid to use our phones and cameras in public as there are police in all the tourist areas (that Wikitravel article should probably be updated…).
We then walked for 3 hours getting some extensive insight into the city of Bogota and the country of Colombia. In Santander Square we learned about Simon Bolivar and his post-independence feud with Francisco de Paula Santander. Bolivar, after helping Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru, and Panama become independent, became president of democratic Gran Colombia (Peru and Bolivia left this country thinking they didn’t share the same heritage as the others). But, democracy to Bolivar was very different than Santander’s view. Bolivar believed that the president should be president for life and that they should be allowed to name their successor. So, not really a democracy. This led to a lot more disagreement within the larger country eventually causing it to split into Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador. And, of course, the U.S. eventually did its meddling and got Panama to secede from Colombia in order to control the Panama Canal. Santiago was teaching us so much and it had only been 15 minutes.
We continued on to hear about a few more spots before ending up in a square learning about the event that kicked off Colombia’s violent civil war from 1948-1958: the assassination of Jorge Eliecer Gaitan. We had an attempted lesson in this yesterday but were told told “a politician died and it started our civil war.” End of story. Santiago filled us in. Gaitain at the time was running for president as a central-leftist. And, while liked a lot within the country (he was predicted to win in a landslide), he was stirring up controversy by asking foreign corporations to start paying taxes on the goods they were extracting from the country. They are still unsure who was responsible for the assassination, but fingers were pointed in a few directions including the CIA. Seriously, it’s amazing Americans are even allowed to enter South America. The assassination kicked off a bloody battle between the left and the right and eventually set the stage for the emergence of the country’s guerrillas that still exist today.
On we went to see some street art, try some Colombian chicha, visit the supposed founding plaza (and now a venue for artists), learn about the difference between public and private universities (hint: private are only better because they don’t get shut down as frequently from protests), briefly visited the Botero museum, heard the history of Bolivar’s escape from those wanting him dead, and even more before ending up in Bolivar Square. Again, this is somewhere we had been yesterday but received no context whatsoever so it beyond delightful when Santiago sat us down on some nearby steps to relay the events leading up to the Palace of Justice siege and the subsequent death of Pablo Escobar. It was a very long and involved story so I will not repeat it here, but just know that Escobar was able to convince the Colombian government to not extradite him to the U.S. with various attacks (some to burn evidence and others to terrorize innocent people), but the government finally came to their senses. In the attempt to take him back into official government custody (he had been living in a “jail” he designed and built himself) he was killed.
After the fabulous tour ended, we thanked Santiago and left to grab some lunch. Lynn’s Colombian friend, Christian, had highly recommended we try ajiaco, a soup made from potatoes, chicken, corn, sour cream, and capers. And holy crap, was it delicious (must find recipe) but also extremely filling.
Stuffed to full capacity we went back to revisit the Botero Museum once again. If you aren’t familiar with Fernando Botero you should know that he is a famous Colombian painter known for his very exaggerated human forms. He donated his private collection (with some Picassos, Monets, Degas, etc. within) as well as many of his own pieces. While Doug didn’t love his style, Lynn got a kick out of the cartoonish features and the knowledge that he hides sins in most of his works. As an example, a man will be featured with his wife and two children but have rings on both of his ring fingers indicating that he was cheating on his wife.
We then returned to the Museo del Oro to see the “biggest gold museum in the world” as it is touted. And, frankly, we were impressed. Being engineers we particularly enjoyed that 1/4 of it was dedicated to the science behind the formation and metallurgy of the various pieces. But, the majority of the museum gave some good insight into the designs used by the indigenous people throughout the country. We also received a better handle on the ceremony that was once performed at nearby Lake Guatavita. During these events, the people of the tribe would toss gold and emeralds into the lake to honor Pachamama. And, of course, when the Spanish heard about this, they drained the lake and extracted all the riches they could find from the bottom.
The last tourist item of the day was a trip up nearby Monserrate to take in a view of the city. The weather held off nicely for us so we were able to get a pretty spectacular view from the cable car on the way up as well as from the top. There wasn’t too much to do up there besides look at the view, visit the church, eat at the restaurants (noooo too stuffed), and buy souvenirs from the numerous tourist stalls. So, we enjoyed the view noticing a fire off in the distance and stating, “My goodness, Bogota really is huge” before catching another cable car back down.
We returned to our hostel in hopes of participating in the free cooking class they had advertised online only to learn that they had cancelled it. So while Lynn wrote this blog, Doug researched a place for dinner our final night in Colombia. A shot while later we were on our way to a Mexican-Colombian fusion restaurant (we didn’t realize that we would miss Mexican food so much). Here we treated ourselves to some good chilaquiles, a casserole, and their homemade salsa picante (not so picante) before heading back to the hostel. When we arrived we learned, with much dismay, that the cooking class had been replaced with a dance class in the common area, outside our door, with very loud music. We definitely weren’t sleeping any time soon, so rather than join in the fun outside we had our own fun watching a Brazil vs. Colombia soccer match in which Lynn’s team won while also drowning out the sounds from outside.
Daily Walking Mileage: 7.85
- Jorge Eliecer Gaitan is featured on Colombia’s 1000 peso bill and if you look closely enough you will also see Fidel Castro in the crowd behind him.
- Bogota sees 2-3 protests per week for various things (nonviolent, don’t worry). The preferred form of protest is to throw paint balls at government-owned buildings so you see some very colorful splatters on the walls. You sometimes also see black mesh and/or plastic wrapped around the buildings/monuments to protect them from expected attacks.
- Colombia is working to reduce the number of zeros in their currency, essentially removing 3 of them. They have an entire process that will take them to 2023. First they will remove the three zeros and replace it with the word “Mil.” You can see this on the 50 Mil pesos today (something that unknowing tourists get scammed for). Next, they will replace “Mil” with “New” essentially removing the x1000 from the currency. And lastly, they will be removing the word “New.” They are doing this in stages having learned from the failings of Venezuela and Brazil.