Thursday, April 3, 2014

Touring Bogotá, Colombia's Capital for a Day

Bogotá, as seen from the top of Monserrate Mountain
While teaching a group of Korean ten year-olds recently, I noticed a misspelling of Colombia in the textbook. When I pointed out the mistake, the kids insisted that it was spelled correctly, showing me a  Korean-English dictionary entry on a smartphone for places like British Columbia and the District of Columbia. I asked the students to spell Colombia again, with the second "o". They finally saw Colombia, the country.

"Oh teacher! You are a genius!!" Well, I try.

I taught English in Bogotá, Colombia for about seven months. It was my passport to the beautiful country. If you're interested in teaching in Colombia, you can learn more here. But this entry isn't about teaching there.

From Bogotá Resident to Tourist

My mom made plans to visit me in July, 2012. As a result, I purposefully avoided the majority of Bogota's tourist attractions until she came. I wanted to see them for the first time with my mom to keep it interesting.

Bogotá is the capital city of Colombia. Left is El Norte and Right is Bolívar Plaza
For her visit, I allocated only one day for Bogotá. Why? Because even though Bogotá is an enormous city, there really aren't that many interesting touristy things to see. For the average tourist, I think one to two days in the capital are enough.  In the end, we did about a day and a half in Bogotá, with the half day being the same day she flew out.

My mom flew into El Dorado International Airport in the evening, and I picked her up by taxi. It was great to see her again after so long! The taxi driver then took us to Los Andes Hostel in the Zona Rosa neighborhood of the city. The majority of hostels are located in the La Candelaria neighborhood, but I knew that neighborhood wasn't known for its safety, especially at night. I wanted her to be in a place where she could be comfortable and be her usual self without being targeted. She had a single room with a nice bed and her own bathroom, without paying an arm and a leg for your typical hotel. That night, I (unfortunately) had to walk to my place in Chapinero.

In the morning, I picked her up, and we were ready for action! We immediately hopped on the Transmilenio and headed for La Candelaria.

La Candelaria

This neighborhood is the old, historic part of the city. It is full of colorful, simple buildings with traditional Spanish architecture. The streets are made of stone, giving it a real, colonial feel. I wanted my mom to see that. It can be reached by Transmilenio by going to the Museo del oro station.

Exploring La Candelaria, the colonial neighborhood of Bogotá
I was here, all day every day for the month of April, 2012 to get my CELTA. This meant I was pretty familiar with it. I knew just where to get some breakfast.

We went to the little kitchen directly across the street from International House Bogotá. It's run by a nice lady who made the most amazing empanadas. My favorite were her beef empanadas, which reminded me of the Argentinian version of this snack. My mom, on the other hand, preferred their soups.

Inside the Primary Cathedral
After eating, we walked around a bit to take in the atmosphere. Eventually, we made our way to Bolívar Plaza (or Bolivar Square), which is easily found at Calle 10 and Carrera 8. Bolívar Plaza in Bogotá is mostly a big square full of pigeons, vendors and tourists. Important buildings are lined around it, including the National Capital, the Palace of Justice, and the Primary Cathedral. There is a statue of Simón Bolívar, who was an important political leader in the struggle of independence from Spain.

Next, we made it to the Bogota Primary Cathedral. It's the big catholic church that we can see from Bolívar Plaza. Spectators can usually walk inside, look around and take pictures. If there is a church service, the public and walk in and worship. There's no cost to get in. The Cathedral looks pretty nice on the inside. We stayed for about ten minutes and went to our next destination.

Botero Museum

We went to the Botero Museum, which is a museum dedicated to the Colombian artist, Fernando Botero. He is a painter and sculptor who was born in Medellín. It's located at Calle 11 and Carrera 4, #41. The museum was just a short walk away, still in La Candelaria.This museum is free, which is definitely a plus!
Botero Museum had some interesting art!

We walked into the museum, which was located on a luminous courtyard. They had many of his paintings on display, which incorporated his signature style. The paintings were mostly of people and situations in an exaggerated state. So, all of people and some objects appeared to be large. The art was captivating, and it was interesting to know that the artist has pieces located in some of the world's famous places, such as on Park Avenue in NYC.

Visitors were allowed to snap photos of the museum's art, as long as the flash was turned off. There was also an iconic hand that everyone typically photographs!

The Gold Museum

Our next stop was at the Gold Museum. The Gold Museum features indigenous art from regions that are now considered Colombian territory. It's located on the corner of Calle 16 and Carrera 5. It has its own Transmilenio station, called Museo del oro (Gold Museum). It was within walking distance, since it was in the same neighborhood.  Once we got there, we bought our tickets, which were only 3,000 Colombian pesos each. Quite cheap! If you happen to go on Sunday, it's free.

Scenes from the Gold Museum in Bogotá

Colombians often would tell me about it, so I brought my mom with me to check it out. It's large enough, containing about 34,000 pieces of gold and tumbaga (mixed gold and copper). We walked through this museum for a little more than an hour, which had some gorgeous artifacts from the indigenous populations and thorough explanations. They had information in Spanish and English, teaching us about the history of the pieces, which populations created them and how they were used. Not bad at all! It's a nice museum, even if it is just to look at pretty gold.


Eventually, it was time to go to Monserrate. This is a mountain visible especially from the city center. It also happened to be a tourist attraction. From La Candelaria, it is within walking distance, but it can be tricky to find if you don't have a map on you and you haven't been there before. However, we still made it.
Monserrate Mountain

We paid for tickets to take a cable car. That costs 15,800 pesos in the day, but 17,500 in the evening. On Sunday, it's much cheaper, costing 9,200 pesos. There's another option for the cable railway, but it wasn't available when we were there, at least to go up. Walking is an option, but probably not recommended. We had to stand in line for quite a bit, somewhere around 40 minutes to go up the mountain. Finally, it was our turn and we went up!

The top of Monserrate was developed beautifully. The walkways and parks were well maintained. There was a church up there, along with a museum and restaurants. Of course, we took pictures once we were at the top of the mountain. It had a great view of Bogotá, with other mountains in the background. After that, we walked on a trail through the park, which has all of the stations of the cross illustrated with statues. We were also lucky enough to catch a rainbow!

I've been on similar cable car journeys in Santiago, Chile and Cochabamba, Bolivia. Despite that, I think it was worth it.

The residencia. Chapinero's not as pretty, but it's a fun neighborhood.

I then took my mom to the residencia I was staying at in Chapinero. We found some time to relax, and eventually ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant called La Frontera, which was a quick taxi ride away at Carrera 4a and Calle 26c. It was totally worth it! My mom was also introduced to Club Colombia, red, which became our favorite beer for the rest of the trip.

The next morning, mom checked out of the hostel and we headed to the bus station in the city. From there, we bought tickets to Armenia, starting our 9 hour bus journey to the coffee region.

...And Back to Bogotá

On the last day of our trip together, mom and I flew back to Bogotá from Cartagena. After the very short flight, we figured that we had some time left. I decided it might be worth it to check out the Usaquén neighborhood, located in the north.

Usaquén neighborhood and Park 93 in Bogotá

When arriving, I got a little bit mixed up due to not paying attention to the avenues. Eventually we made it though. The neighborhood turned out to be a small place that had its own charm. Firstly, we walked around the main square and I checked out the church for a minute or two. Then, we walked down one of the streets toward an artisan market. On the way, we checked out a couple of bakeries selling delightful treats such as flat crackers topped with dulce de leche.

Eventually, we made it to the artisan market, called the Mercado de las pulgas. They come to Usaquén sometimes in different locations every so often, at least once a week. I'm pleased to note that this market was genuine. They were actual artists selling goods that they made themselves, unlike other "traditional local markets" where they sell identical crap made in China. I ended up buying a red suede hairpiece that I still wear today. My mother bought a cardigan that she loved.
Shopping in Usaquén

When we finished, we headed to the Park 93 area TGI Friday to eat our last lunch together. Then, it was time to send her off to the airport! We picked up her baggage and I hailed a taxi for her from the street. I informed the taxi driver that my mom didn't speak a word of Spanish and to call my cell phone number if there was any trouble. I didn't get a call until mom arrived back to the US, meaning she had a smooth trip back!

Despite our troubles along the way, this was a great trip I had together with my mom. Sometimes when I'm traveling, I have the desire to show things to the people I know best, my parents... and I don't often get a chance to do that. After hitting a small streak of bad luck, my mom recently secured another job position. Hopefully, I will get to show her around Korea soon. Perhaps, once day I'll get to go on vacation with my dad, too -- but it's trickier with him since he has a whole another family to care for, which makes costs add up. We'll see.

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