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The Big Bad City Called Bogota…

…No, I’m just kidding

Since the moment I arrived in Colombia I heard completely mixed feelings and opinions about Bogota, the capital of Colombia. Some people told me it was a “big ugly, dangerous, busy and really cold city”. Others had a warmer attitude towards the capital and said words like “rich in culture, more opportunities, and friendly interesting people, beautiful, colonial and exciting”.

During my frantic-yet-chilled (the Caribbean has this effect on me: my mind is all frantic and overheating with thoughts and then I look outside and chill out) job search, I had to accept the reality that I might have to work in Bogota and since I had opposing views on the city, I listened to those who told me it was just a big ugly city. Thank goodness the heavens were my side and I found a job here in Santa Marta, but the wonder of what Bogota could be like had me planning…

During the first days of school the first thing I did was find out when the holidays were (I’m a terrible worker, no?) and I booked some really cheap flight tickets to Bogota. My accommodation was already sorted: I have a good friend, Ana who lives in Bogota, but who lived in Santa Marta for a few a months this year and through mutual friends we became language exchange partners, meeting almost every day to talk. Ana needed to take care of her mom the week I was there, so I stayed there as well.

Ana and Me


Juan (Ana’s husband), Ana and me at “Wok”- the best Asian restaurant outside of Asia!


Felica- Ana and Juan’s amazing boxer :-)


I arrived on a semi-sunny Saturday; filled with excitement and marveling in what will transpire during my week in Bogota. Ana was busy teaching yoga, so I took a taxi from the airport to her mom’s house. I was met by the helper (who cooked and cleaned the whole time I was there- no dishes! woohoo!) and I had a chat (all in Spanish) with Ana’s mom. They live in nice, green area (Nicolas de Federman) and there are some parks nearby and at night it’s deafeningly quiet! I am used to sleeping with my windows open and hearing vallenato until 4am or someone screaming “tinto tinto” or boys playing soccer until late at night.

That first night I went with Juan and Ana to a friend’s birthday-house-party. Wow, I had forgotten what these kinds of gatherings were like. The crowd, of about 20, was of the “artsy-fartsy-bohemian-type” (as quoted by the host); so skinny jeans and big (Asian-like) glasses. The music they played was amazing; a mix of funky-electronic-old-school and I must admit it was a nice change to reggaeton. I ate A LOT of cake: Ana made an amazing chocolate cake and another girl made a chocolate-fudge tart… hmmmm, I still have taste-memories…. It took a while for me (or for them) to warm up to each other and soon I was chatting to some of them- in Spanish and the odd English. And again I was mistaken to be a Cachaca, jajaja:-) (Cachaco(a)’s is the name for people who come from Bogota, like Costenos are the name for people from the Caribbean coast).
We partied until 5am and revived ourselves with toasted cheese sandwiches.

On Monday Ana took me shopping, and yes I’ll admit it was fun. I had a longish list so we started to tick things off. ..
Cachaco’s generally are fashion conscious and dress really well. Of course I saw punks, metal heads, skinheads (was nice to see some shaved heads- in Santa Marta it’s only because of balding), and the usual hippies. I really enjoyed dressing for the weather: I borrowed a jacket and scarf from a friend and it was a nice to wear jeans/tights without sweating. And another thing I THROUGHLY enjoyed was the 2 hot showers I took everyday- I have never been that clean (yes, I am sure my mom is proud of me, hahah ;-)) It had been about 7 months since I had a hot shower and the body does tend to forget what hot water feels like, but we got reacquainted very quickly and in the most delightful way.

Super clean me, hahahah :-)

On Tuesday I spent the day at a friend’s house. I met Diego when he lived temporarily in Santa Marta for a few months this year. It was cool to hang out, chat, cook and walk around his really quiet neighbourhood (which reminded me so much of Ostrava, Czech Republic). It was good to see another area of Bogota; to broaden my perspective of the city. I also had the opportunity to use the “Transmilenio”- Bogota’s bus system. I was really impressed with its punctuality, cleanliness and safety, and it runs until 10:30/11pm.

On Wednesday Ana took me to “Hipermar” and for those who know about my obsession with Asian food; well this was heaven coming from Santa Marta where the only Asian option is a bottle of soya sauce made in Colombia! Hipermar is a Japan restaurant/supermarket, and thank goodness the Japanese and Koreans have similar cuisine because I was able to find so many wonderful luxuries that captivated my heart (I mean stomach)- roasted seaweed, sesame seed oil, noodles, real chilli powder, rice paper, shitake mushrooms and miso paste. I went Asian-mad! ;-) (I made miso noodle soup the other night and it was better than I’d ever made before!)

The next day I did my tourist-thing and spent the day up at Monserrate and later walked around La Candelaria with Diego. Monserrate (which sits at 3152m) is the famous mountain located to the east of Bogota- helping those who have a predisposition to be deficient in navigational skills to be able to orientate themselves. (Similar to Table Mountain in Cape Town for Cape Townians-hahaha ;-P ). The church at the top was built in the 17th century and is a popular pilgrim site.

Monserrate from Ana and Juan’s apartment.


You can walk up (takes about 1.5 hours) or take a cable car or funicular. I opted for the funicular up and cable car down (now, don’t think I was being lazy, it’s dangerous (muggings) to walk up when it’s not busy).

With the altitude being so high I struggled to breathe when I walked up the meager flight of stairs from the funicular’s arrival area to the main area. (Bogota is 2625m above sea level and I did suffer a little from altitude sickness when I first arrived). The view of Bogota wasn’t that great- it was a bit hazy, but I got a good enough idea of the size city. (According to Wikipedia Johannesburg and Bogota are almost similar in size: Joburg- 1,645 km2 and Bogota: 1,587 km²…the similarities between Colombia and South Africa continue to amaze me! :-) )


La Candelaria is situated downtown and is the original, historical Bogota, so the streets are colonial, narrow and mystical-like; you walk on old cobbled pathways with artistic painted walls passing all sorts of people from normal students to the why-did-you-have-to-pierce- and tattoo-yourself-that-much-kind-of-people. But I like it! ;-)
There are many museums, libraries, small café’s, international restaurants, universities and churches.

A haunted street in La Candelaria


First church in Bogota

The Foundation of Quevedo- the possible foundation site of Bogota

We also visited the Botero Museum (Botero is a famous artist and sculptor from Colombia). I am not a fan of his art, but the museum houses some of Botero’s personal art collection, so there is Picasso and Monet and other artists I can’t remember now, but had interesting art.

The Plaza de Bolivar, located in the heart of the historical centre was one of the most surprising things I saw in Bogota: I didn’t expect it at all! I felt like I was in Europe or in Warsaw, to be more exact. It is so unlike anything place I have seen so far in Colombia. But I guess since I only really know Santa Marta- Colombia will continue to surprise me.


National Capitol - the seat of the Colombian Congress

Primary Cathedral of Bogota which was built between 1807 and 1823, and next to it is the Holy Chapel which was built at the end of the 17th century.

On Friday we went to Plaza de Paloquemado (a big wholesale market where you can find almost anything) and I again went crazy for things I hadn’t seen for months- for eg. dried cranberries and wholewheat and rye flour (I want to make bread). I also bought good and cheap vegetarian food such as nuts and seeds.

Never knew they were so many different types of potatoes!

For the remainder of my time there I went to the movies, went out partying with Diego and his friends to a real cozy little place in an area called Chapinero. A reggae band played and later the music was a mix of European electronic/pop but also some Colombian artists. A great night out! And on my last day I went with Juan and a friend to Suesca (a small town about 1.5 hours north of Bogota). Our plan was to do a bit of walking, but while we were having lunch the heavens opened up and we had to leave—not without a fight though. Juan’s car (an old school beetle) wouldn’t start so we grabbed some men and we all pushed, in the pouring rain, through soggy grass and eventually it started. A different kind of adventure….

So, maybe you are thinking “what does she actually think of Bogota?”
Yes, the streets can be absolutely terrible- with potholes (no, I can’t even call it a “pothole”; it’s more like a “huge gapping opening” in the middle of the street. Even on the on the highways there are holes! I think even Zimbabwe has less potholes than Bogota, haha! ;-))
And yes it can be cold and rainy. But when the sun shines the day is perfect- not too hot and not too cold. And at night the temperature drops (but not too much) allowing one to snuggle deep into the layers of blankets and for sweet, warm dreams to permeate ones head.


Yes there are big ugly buildings, but at the same time there are some areas where you feel like you are in England- with small red-bricked houses.


There were times when I felt like I was back in Joburg- amazingly and comfortingly similar buildings, streets and good energy.

So finally, Bogota is an amazing, safe (I felt safer here than in Joburg) modern, cultured, exciting, interesting and fun place to visit. And doing ordinary admin things (great remedy for any homesickness) with Ana also helped me feel like I was home in SA, or at least it felt like I wasn’t just travelling or passing through Colombia. Instead I am living my “real life” here - some of you travelers will understand what I mean by this…

But speaking of homesickness, I’ve only ever felt it once here; and only a shudder of it. I go to spinning classes twice a week and my friend (who is the instructor) sometimes plays the “waka waka” song. It’s the perfect mix between my homeland and the country I now call home, and every time I hear that song my heart jumps and I do miss home, but just a little bit, because I am brought back to a contented reality when Spanish words fill my head :-)

The week away gave me a chance to step back and see my life in Santa Marta from a new and different perspective and to examine in which areas I need to focus on to keep me going in the right direction (I have a new goal! ;-)). One thing I know for sure, in my soul, is that Santa Marta is the place for me, now. I like Bogota, (Joburg as well) - but big cities are not for me; I get lost in them (with or without a mountain).

I could never get lost in Santa Marta; even blindfolded I could find my way to the sea…


Posted by piratejax 14:11 Archived in Colombia

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