Bogota is notorious for traffic and crime, but on this Sunday the traffic was light and during our stay we never felt threatened, in spite of touring some sketchy areas. Our drive from the airport took us past the old soccer stadium where the local teams were facing off; there was a solid presence of day-glo-green clad police keeping things calm. To keep the stress down I’d found an AirBnB smack-dab in the center of tony Zona G’s restaurant district, which made Sue and the boys quite happy… our host Jorge greeted us and set us up in his large 2BR, well located among brick tudors on the south edge of trendy Zona G, famous for its restaurants.
Jorge helped us understand the safe neighborhood boundaries, so ventured into the Bogota night cautious but confident, past dozens of upscale eateries. Tonight’s destination was simple & satisfying Home Burgers, which the boys judged the best travel burger since Jungle Burger in Siem Riep. Afterwards we wandered down to Crepes & Waffles for a delish dessert, then on to the local grocery Carulla, which rivals Whole Foods back home… sous chef Sue was happy. We stocked up for the week then dragged home to bed.
Monday was a national holiday, so Ciclovia was on, and we found free bike loaners just up the road from our apartment. Broad Calle 7 made for good biking, and Bogota had better bikes, vistas and roads than Medellin, but facing gloomy weather and a lack of compelling local destinations, we kept the ride short. We ditched the bikes at 10AM and hopped a cab for the must-see views atop Monserrate.
Like Medellin, Bogota is nestled into a lovely high valley cradled by Andean peaks… and like Medellin the low clouds and smog often obscure that natural beauty. Even so we always welcome an escape to view the cityscape, so took the funicular up to Bogota’s proud symbol, the Cerro de Monserrate, perched ~1,500’ above the city at about 10,000’. On this fiesta day the church grounds were crowded with families, and there was a happy, relaxed buzz in the air. We enjoyed a stroll about the grounds but didn’t linger… we had more to see.
Descending by funicular and taxi to the old quarter of La Candelaria, we sought out the La Puerta Falsa, a diminutive 200-year old snack shack serving up juicy tamales and hot chocolate with cheese, bread and biscuits. The place is deservedly famous; we enjoyed squeezing in among the locals for a quick sip and bite.
Since we were in the historic district we walked the central Plaza de Bolivar, which is flanked by the colonial-era Capilla del Sagrario, the neoclassical Cathedral Primera and Capitolo Nacional, and the more modern Palacio de Justicia, which has seen some hard times. In 1948 beloved leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán was assassinated, sparking the “El Bogotazo” riots… 2500 people died and the Palacio de Justicia and 135 other buildings were razed. Then in 1985 the guerillas of the M-19 movement invaded the building and took 300 civilian hostages; the military responded with gunfire and when the smoke cleared 11 Supreme Court Justices and over 100 others were dead.
Things have improved since: in 2013 Bogota had one of the lowest murder rates of any Latin city, though petty crime and muggings remain a problem. Indeed we’re walking this quarter with our guard up… but this Sunday all is tranquillo.
Continuing north from Plaza de Bolivar, we passed the museum of literary hero Gabriel Garcia Marquez and entered the Botero Museum, which had a fine displays of bulbous Botero paintings and sculptures, and some outstanding other works from Picasso, Renoir, Dali, Monet and Pissarro. These artworks are very approachable so the boys did well… don’t tell them but I even caught them admiring one modern work. Continuing our explorations we walked below Jorge Olave’s whimsical Green People and found yet another excuse to eat – the Cafe de la Pena Pastelería Francesa… yum.
Uber brought us back to our spacious but dingy apartment… after some feet-up time we ventured out and let the boys pick our next diversion. They chose a cure for homesickness: a movie and popcorn. We saw Kong 3-D, new enough that it was only available in English with Spanish subtitles. Sated, we ventured across the street to a zany local favorite, Andres DC, a chain of massive no-holds-barred multi-floor party restaurants serving up a 70-page menu and a cacophony of music, lights, wall decor and energy. Sunday is a quiet night; even so they had a Cuban band add decked out in Panama hats bongoing out Son and Salsa… it felt like Ricky Ricardo’s big band playing a 5-story latin TGI-Friday’s. Fun to see but overpriced and awkward as our generations straddle the young adult target market, so we satisfied ourselves with a peek and headed home…, tomorrow is a school day after all.