Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Bogota, Colombia


I arrived in the beautiful old city of Bogota and had very little expectations for the city. None of the travelers had anything positive to say about Bogota, everyone te commended Medellin. I was wishing I had returned to Medellin.
I arrived at the airport and took a taxi to Mr Wostal's Hostel in Bogota. The taxi driver had to make several calls for directions before he found the place. I unloaded and walked into the hostel to check-in. Anna met me and spent time talking with me about the area. Afterwards, I smiled as I realized I had a 30 minute conversation in Spanish. Wow! I was impressed with myself!! 

I unpacked and then took off to find an ATM and some lunch. I guess I should have grabbed a map but I was in a wandering mode. I walked and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the city. I walked through the neighborhoods admiring the street art. The city is nestled into the surrounding mountains. The hills were a nice walking workout. I was enjoying the city, more than I had expected when I realized I was lost. It took me a little while to get back to an area I recognized.As I walked to the downtown, I came to the Gold Museum.
I had talked to many people that had highly recommended seeing this museum and entered the building. It was amazing. So many artifacts crafted from gold. The most amazing room was dark. I walked in and stood with others. The lights slowly lit the room. As I stood in the circular room, I noticed the surroundings. Gold jewelry was lining the room and glittered in the light. Wow! Then a soft light was coming from the center of the floor. Below was more gold. We were bathed in the reflections throughout the room. Amazing! 
As I left the museum, I noticed crowds gathering in the streets. I walked down the Main Street which had street performers entertaining the locals. Old men dancing and doing push-ups, a young men dressed as a woman and acting out different nationalities walking down the street. But my favorite was guinnea pig gambling. The crowd placed bets in which house the guinne pig would run and choose. The winners celebrate with their money and everyone cheers. 
I spent my days walking and exploring the neighborhoods. I walked through La Candelaria neighborhood to the Botero Museum. It was in a beautiful old building with a tranquil courtyard. I sat watching and talking with the locals and enjoying the views. 

As I left, I could see a crowd gathering and walked to see what was happening. People were gathered in front of the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Cultural Center. He has passed away and Colombians were paying respects for his life and literature.  I decided to continue wandering La Candaleria and just enjoying the city. I had spent so many months traveling and sightseeing but exploring an unknown city was my favorite activity. I wandered the hilly streets. Enjoyed the colorful homes, street art and smiling faces of the Colombians. I loved this country. It was in my heart and soul. I had adopted its language, culture and customs. I loved the vibrant lifestyle and colors of the city. 
I stopped when a woman told me I needed to turn back towards the tourist area. She told me this was not a safe area for a woman to walk alone and asked if I wanted her to walk with me. I declined her offer and headed back towards the cathedral. Time for dinner and a cold drink. I passed a young man that worked at his families restaurant. I decided to give it a try. He took me three flights to a homelike family restaurant. I laughed and chatted with his parents and they were impressed with my Spanish. The meal was large and delicious as always. Afterwards the woman came and asked me if I would like to see a very special place. Sure! Why not? I grabbed my bag and followed her out a door and up a back stairway to the roof. It was an amazing view of the tiled roofs and the bell towers of the cathedral. She told me they have had many romantic dinners and marriage proposals at this spot. It was a place they shared with patrons. It was a beautiful and different view io the cathedral and Bogota. 
On Easter Sunday, I decided to take a journey to Usaquen, a small traditional village north of Bogota. I walked to the bus stop and was told the bus would not stop here today, it was Sunday and the street was closed for ciclovia. This is a weekly, city-wide, car-free day in Bogota that opens 76 miles of roads for citizens to cycle, walk, run or skate. It has been running since 1974 and has spread to other cities in Colombia. 

I loved it! Why don't we do this in the USA? So many people were out getting exercise and enjoying it! I was told to go down 2 streets to catch the bus. Not a problem. I took the 45 minute bus ride to Usaquen. I had read the Sunday market was fantastic and would be able to buy some last minute gifts. It was an easy ride and the driver let me know when to get off. The market has many arts and cultural gifts in addition to food and great shops and restaurants. Next trip to Bogota and I would stay in Usaquen. I was walking through the park and saw an Easter procession which I watched before continuing on my way. It was a nice change of pace to get into the village and explore the local artwork and shops.

As I returned to the bus stop, I saw this car. Colombians take any business opportunity they get to start a business. This man was selling everything...panela (sugar), cookies, cheese, nuts and sandwiches.

When I returned to Bogota, I decided to walk down to the cathedral one last time. I love that I can walk down the street and buy anything I wanted.
A delicious fresh cup of coffee, fresh fruits or coconut water.
How often does a man stand on your street chopping open fresh coconuts for you to drink? Mmmm. I walked and ate my way down the street until I arrived at the cathedral. It was busy as usual. Children were running and adults were watching the street performers. It was a good day. Everyone was relaxed and enjoying life...even the llamas.
I love the joy, warmth and happiness in this culture. Colombia feels like home and I am sad to be leaving all that I love. I know it is time...but it is difficult. This is the end of an amazing journey. I walked back to the hostel the long way. I wanted to savor ever minute of this city and all that I feel here. I walked back thinking of all of the amazing people I have met and places I have visited during my journey. I am blessed and have lived my dream. I am so happy I followed my gut and did what I wanted rather than what society expects from me. I know I am a better person for this experience and amazing things lie ahead. What? I do not know. I found myself on this journey. I learned to love myself and this amazing world. Nobody can ever take this experience and the joy I gained from this. I returned to the hostel smiling. I accomplished a dream. Nothing feels better. I will sleep well knowing I had amazing 14 months.

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