From Panama to Colombia marked our ninth border crossing and first by plane. An easy 90 minute flight, fast queues at immigration and customs…it was a breeze compared to driving. The moment we stepped out of the Bogotá airport, two men hustled us for an overpriced taxi ride. The first guy approached us right away outside the sliding doors and offered to take us to his cab. While we were gesturing no, a second man came by to shoo the first guy away, then he offered to show us the “official” taxis. We followed him a bit, but saw that he was taking us to a taxi in the middle of the queue, not the front. So we turned back around and eventually found a cab that cost us 30,000 pesos to go to the northern barrio of Usaquen. The other guy asked for 70,000. Welcome to Colombia!
Bogotá is big and bustling. It is the capital of Colombia with 8 million people, similar population as New York City. As the cab drove the 15 miles from the airport to our hotel, everything looked familiar to back home and very different from the small towns that we have visited in Central America. High rises, brick homes, 6 lane highways. It is also cold. At over 8000 feet, for the first time since Mexico, we needed our winter layers. Down jackets and fleece were taken out of the roof top Yakima box and packed into our luggage. First impression of Bogota reminded me of Boston, where people wore a lot of wool in dark colors and seemed more formal and reserved. It is only a short flight from Panama but the different vibe of South America hit us right away.
We checked into the W Hotel in Usaquen. This upscale neighborhood is known for having a small town feel in the big city. It is a nice place to stay for a few days but it definitely represents only the upper segment of the city. Our hotel is very trendy. Electronic music was always pumping in the dark elevators and our room came with martini glasses and shakers. It is not the type of place we normally book but we got a discounted family rate. So our kids got to enjoy hotel bathrobes and crisp linens! Tough life!
The next day, we called for an Uber taxi to go downtown. Yes, our first Uber experience, a San Francisco company, was in Bogotá, Colombia. Even though the vast majority of taxis are safe, there are cases of taxi robberies and kidnapping and tourists are advised to not hail taxis on the street. We went to the historic La Candelaria district to see the free Botero Museum. The museum was okay but a great introduction to one of Colombia’s most famous artists. After that, we walked the few blocks to Plaza de Bolivar. At the Plaza, Simon and I had a moment of…maybe “travel rush”? And I felt like I was walking in a dream for a while. Here we were, finally in South America, in a city that we didn’t even know the pronunciation of before the trip, standing in the middle of one of the most famous plazas in Latin America, surrounded by historic architecture…and lamas, while our kids were having the time of their lives chasing pigeons. Nothing else made us feel like this in Central America. We were starting to like Colombia.
From downtown, we took another Uber taxi to the Mount Monserrate cable car. The mountain is over 10,000 feet and has a great view of the sprawling city of Bogota. We had a fun cable car ride, nice views, some high altitude heavy breathing, and surprisingly good restaurants. That is one thing about Colombia that is different from Central America. Even the most casual of restaurants will serve you proper food. Like 3 course meals with nice dish ware and table cloth. Another thing different is how few North American tourists there are. The majority of tourists we have seen are Spanish speaking. Third thing about Colombia is the immediate warmth of the people. For the first time we are constantly hearing “bienvenidos” (welcome) and seeing lots of smiles and curiosity towards us foreigners, and not because they are trying to sell us anything either.
Ty is an impressive hunter gatherer. There was a decorative pond fountain on Monserrate where he was determined to find something alive to catch. He kept going back to it all afternoon and wouldn’t give up. I was sure there was nothing in there…we were at over 10,000 feet and it was just a scummy pond. Finally, as we were about to leave, he found some tiny little water snails stuck to a rock. I am sure that is all he remembers about Bogota – snails and pigeons.
After our short “vacation” in Bogota, we are heading to Cartagena, a city famous for many things including being an inspiration to many of Gabriel Garcia Marquez novels and was a key slave trading port in the 17th and 18th centuries, and also, where our van awaits us in a shipping container.