Have you ever met a person who is a walking mess?
They lose their belongings all the time while walking like something is about to fall out of their bag; their hair is never really properly brushed. Most of the time you just want to pick up after them or just offer them some organization tips. Maybe send them to watch that creepy Japanese lady that is SO happy to clean and finds joy in old kitchen rags.
Ok, I binged through the whole season of Marie Kondo in one day and thanked my t-shirt for existing as well, I won’t pretend like I’m better than that.
Well, to return to my person metaphor. That mess of a person turns out to be the creative genius who’s very own presence fills you up with good energy and inspires you to be a better person than yesterday. This is Colombia.
Colombia needs to wash her metaphorical hair and put on a new pair of pants but underneath, where it really counts, she is the enchanting, inspiring work of art. Her people are magnetically charismatic, they have a specific kind of depth; while the scars of history are still visible on her skin, they make her all the more appealing.
The Colombian Reputation vs The Reality
When we announced we are going to travel to Colombia we got all sorts of reactions. From “that’s great, you’re going to have so much fun” to “be careful down there”
Here’s what the Canadian website says about Colombia:
Talking to people (who have never been here), reading some of these websites and listening to the general public opinion will have you believe Colombia is still the place they portray in the “Narcos” on Netflix. A show most of the Colombians I met despise because it makes the guy look like he was cool, but more on that later. Having the information we had, we boarded that plane in Miami and landed in Bogota.
First Impression of Bogota
Our first moments in Bogota were messy. After we found our way to customs, we waited in this pretend line for two hours to get to the customs officer. I fuckin hate waiting in lines. This is why I pay my bills online, shop on Amazon and avoid malls from December 1st. Colombia made me wait in so many lines until I learned how not to get phased by them any longer. The officer informed us Canadian citizens pay a fee to get into the country. Fair enough, that’s on us for never doing enough research -.- Of course, the card didn’t work [cue: the theme of our travels] so she got up from her spot and took us downstairs to the ATM where she just took these thousands of pesos and left. Then we went through two other customs just to get into the country. It took us three hours to get out of the airport.
Getting a taxi from the street is not recommended in Bogota. At least it’s not if you read all the posts online. I saw a lot of people hauling a cab from the street but we decided to listen to the other travellers and just stick to the apps like Tappsi (they are not paying me for an ad but I’M HERE IF YOU WANT TO PAY ME), you can use Uber (we did, a lot) but it’s still illegal so they don’t drive from the airport. However, there’s a line of taxis that have been cleared for safety right as you exit the airport. You’ll get guys approaching you offering taxi rides on the down low but it’s better to go with the yellow line.
The streets are hectic. Lanes are not even a suggestion, they straight up don’t exist. I can’t help but believe that everyone just hits the gas pedal so what happens – happens.
Bogota hit us with its traffic right away, but we were too impressed with ourselves for making it to South America to care. Ever since I was a teenager who gave away her brother’s digital camera to get into a Shakira concert, I wanted to go to Colombia. The music, the people and the dramatic expression of emotions all pulled me towards this intense, but beautiful continent.
All The Sounds Of The World …
Gather on the streets of Bogota and they all play at once. The vendors sell fruits, vegetables, bottoms of blenders, pagers (yes, the pagers they used in the 80s), framed photos of Juan Alejandro’s sixth birthday in case you wanted to have it (???) and a lot of remote controls. A very big item on the streets here.
These vendors don’t just put up their shit on the display and call it a day. This is a competition of who can be the loudest. There are microphones involved, huge speakers, personal space invasion (huge over here) and a desire to sell anything. We witnessed a father take a lollipop from a kid to try and sell it to us. Bogota takes “taking candy from a baby” to the next level.
The day we arrived I was confused like the old ladies using credit card machines.
I was moving out of everyone’s way, I had no idea how to cross the street and I kept tripping over the sidewalks. My 2% skim milk skin also gave me away. I was in awe of the chaos on the streets. The chaos that somehow worked.
A La Orden
People hustle to make their money here. You’ll see them selling balloons on the busiest highways, just walking around like it’s a nice park.
“A La Orden” – you’ll hear from every corner. An expression unique to Colombians only meaning “At your service” and also “You’re welcome” I like the way it rolls of the tongue, I’m very into it.
Sundays in Bogota
Every Sunday the streets of Bogota shut down for cars so the people can walk around, bike and shop from the markets and vendors.
All the vendors come out, the markets open up and it’s a sensory overload. Music is loud, the sellers are louder. The items for sale get crazier and the smells of street food take over the city.
Jay and I walked around the city for hours in silence and were probably the only two quiet people. We were just taking our senses for a ride. Everywhere you look, there’s something to see. Everywhere you turn, there’s something to hear. We finally stopped over in a bar on a busy street that wasn’t packed and watched a football game (I won’t call it soccer).
We walked home and discovered it’s the “night of the little candles”. People lit up tiny candles everywhere. On the streets, on their windows, shops, everywhere you go there are thousands and thousands of little candles lit up. A sort of magical vibe takes over the city. People were out singing, dancing and lighting up candles. This would never fly in Canada but here the term “fire hazard” isn’t a part of everyday vocabulary. There were no fires that night (if I was a cliche writer I’d say “except the ones lit up in our hearts” but let’s not go there).
What To Do In Bogota
Walking tours can be a hit and miss. It can be an informative, fun way to learn about the city or it can be a waste of time with added unwanted exercise.
The walking tour we took was luckily one of the good ones. A bunch of Gringo’s gathered at one spot, some looking lost and confused, others looking down on the first group.
We took a stroll (using the word stroll very lightly here) down the Candelaria – a historical district with museums, restaurants, libraries, churches – you name it. It’s a place where you’ll find most of the other tourists but you can get lost in the crowds if you wanna pretend you’re not one. Street art comes to life here. We learned that Justin Bieber tried to be a graffiti artist here and drew a huge weed leaf on a Canadian flag. We also learned that people hate him for it. Seriously, wtf are you doing Bieber? Just pick a spot on the map in the world where you’re gonna go pretend to be hip. Gtfo.
We took the obligatory tourist photos and moved on to Bolivar Square, where we saw some llamas for the first time (!!!) and learned about the history of this once violent spot.
“The Palace of Justice a large international style building where the Supreme Court is housed was first built in 1921 but was destroyed by a fire during the Bogotazo after the murder of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán in April 1948. A new palace was built on the north side of the Bolívar Square but was destroyed again in November 1985 by the guerrilla movement M-19 during the “Palace of Justice Siege“, while the army tried to take control of the building. The ruins of the building were kept untouched until 1989 when the government decided to construct a third (and current) building on the location, of which construction started in 1998”
I copied this from Wikipedia, I’m sorry to all my English teachers that cringed on using Wikipedia as a source, but I remember the guy talking about this so I know this part is true ok?? I’m not pretending to be a historian.
We saw the building next to it where some people were tortured and you know, that kind of light stuff before lunch.
We finished the tour with Botero museum. God bless that guy for glorifying chubbiness so much that I didn’t feel bad about my fourth empanada that day.
Botero’s art is focused on, let’s call them, proportions. He used his wife and mistress as main models (taking nudes to a new level) but kinda made them feel like shit cause he drew them all fat and stuff.
If Jay was painting a portrait of me and after all the standing around naked I find he drew me 80lbs heavier I really don’t know how I’d react. And then on top of that, he paints his side chick too? Ay ay ay.
He even did it to Mona Lisa. I’m gonna be honest, I like his Mona better. Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa looks like a girl who always gives you backhanded compliments. She’d say things like “wow you don’t look tired today” or “I admire girls like you, that don’t care what their hair looks like !” Botero’s Mona Lisa looks like she could throw a mean party and salsa the night away with her chubby lil ankles.
The Gastro Experience
The foundation of our relationship is food. Jay and I both like to try new things and eat everything one offers. Do we sometimes overdo it and gain 20 lbs in three months? Maybe. But one month you’re a little Michelin tire mascot and the next you live on broccoli and lose all the weight. If Oprah can change her weight all the time, so can we damn it.
Street Food in Bogota 1-3 $
You will NEVER go hungry in Bogota. There’s a vendor selling food in every single corner, on every single street, road, highway, you name it.
Arepas are corn-based flatbreads I guess? You can get them with anything you want – cheese, chicken, beef, veggies. Add the sauces, control your own spiciness and you got yourself a meal.
Empanadas – You’ve heard about empanadas. They are the deep fried stuffed pastry, also available with chicken or beef. We also found a spot for grilled empanadas but this was outside of Bogota.
Fruit– From mango to papaya the list is too long. Colombia has such a huge variety of fruits available. Half of the time we didn’t know what we were looking at. Vendors sell fruit already cut in cups.
You can get your vitamin C everywhere. For a list of fruits grown in Colombia click here.
Mazorca Desgranada – Freshly shaved corn. It’s sort of a corn salad. Great option if you’re trying to be healthy. Just like arepas you can add your own stuff, mix and match ingredients so you never get bored.
All the sweets –Colombia has a lot of sugar cane, and as such, there is a lot of sweet options to choose from on the streets. In Bogota, you can try Coco Frito – fried coconut or go crazy with Obleas – a giant wafer sandwich you can top up with every topping imaginable.
Ayy the Ajiaco soup, if made well, is a dream. Colombia has like 50 different types of potatoes (a bit of an exaggeration) and they throw them all in this soup, combined with chicken to make this creamy base. They serve it with rice, avocado, sour cream and capers on the side topped up with corn on a cob. You can choose what you add to it, but I always went for all of it. One bowl will cost you about 5$ in less touristy places but can go up to 10$ in the Candelaria. You will get a lot of food, just because it’s soup doesn’t mean it won’t fill you up.
Chicarron wasn’t on our to-eat list until Daniel (shout out to Daniel) – a guy who lives in Bogota – took us to a place called Love Chicarron and blew our minds. It is fried pork belly (also can be made from beef or chicken) and you can choose your own flavours. I had the spicy one just because I treat my body like its an amusement park. It was delicious – 10/10 would do it again.
All The Avocado In The World
If you buy avocado in Canada it’ll cost about 5 to even 10 $ for a small piece of shit that is never ripe or too ripe. Here, you’ll get the size of a basketball avocado from the street for 1$. It’s a millennial dream come to life here. Give me all of it, please.
Not to be confused with chicharron – this is a fermented alcoholic drink. We were told gringos tend not to like but Jay and I loved it. It’s not because we are special or anything, we’re just borderline alcoholics.
Colombians like their beer. There is a movement of craft beer happening in Bogota. You will find places called BBC (Bogota Beer Company – get your mind out of the gutter) if you want to try some of their newest craft beers. For the classics, they have their Aguila, Club Colombia and Poker. They cost about 1$. Better than Doug Fords 2$ beer promise that (last I heard), died a painful death …just like the free tuition.
Everywhere you go in Bogota you are followed by this mountain. From day one we were ready to go up there and enjoy the views of the city. Of course, we did it the last day but hey- we did it.
Our optimistic plan was to hike up there and take the cable car down. The traffic of Bogota had other plans. Saturdays are insane for the traffic in the city. We took an uber to Monserrate and it took us a nice two hours to get to it. (It’s fine, it was 15$ all together). Our driver, Juan Carlos, became our best friend. He talked about his life, his wife and his kids. We talked about politics in Colombia, all the corruption and how Colombians always like to live in denial and turn everything to a party. He told me how he’s scared his kids won’t want to go to school because they don’t value education in Colombia as much as they should, and education fights corruption. Massive protests in Bogota have been going on for some time now. The current president cut the education funding and gave it to the military. This wasn’t your average protest. Education doesn’t benefit the people that reap the benefits of corruption.
Well, back to Monserrate then.
Due to SO much traffic, we were late for the cut off for hiking. They close the path for hiking up at 1 pm and the one to hike down at 4 pm. Monserrate used to be notorious for robberies of tourist so the city is focusing on ending that. There’s a military presence all over the hill and they don’t allow tourists to hike at night. The path has been cleared from sketchy bushes and such so the robberies aren’t a thing anymore. We took the cable car up and hiked down. It costs us 5$ for one way on the cable car. You’d think going down is easier, it’s not. The steps are made like the Spanish hated this hill. They are steep, they change in size and I may or may not twisted my ankle a couple of times. That’s more because I’m a clumsy mess than anything. There was a woman going down in heels. Either I’m crazy or she is.
So, how safe or unsafe is Bogota really?
The north part of the city looks like a North American suburb. Its well maintained, safe and you have nothing to worry about. Downtown is a little sketchier but ok during the day. Practice your general common sense. Don’t flash shit around like you’re a celebrity with a face tattoo and you’ll be fine. Pickpocketers are around just like in almost every major city so be smart. Avoid the south, you don’t need to go there and it’s the sketchy part of the city. If you hear a Colombian saying ” no des papaya” they are telling you’re being a target.
Meaning – don’t give someone a reason to rob you, don’t give them free papaya. We have never felt threatened, followed or unsafe. Traffic is the only dangerous thing here, but after a bit, you get used to the rhythm of it as well.
We liked our time in Bogota. The people, food and the energy was a great start for our South American adventure, but the real love for Colombia started when we went to Medellin.
The city that won us over completely, more on that in the next post 🙂