Bogota: the city that hazed me

Recently I experienced the feeling (previously unknown) of being indecisive. A couple of weeks ago I was in Colombia. My first stop was Bogota. There’s so much I could tell about the city but still I can’t decide whether or not I liked it.

Let’s start from the beginning. Before setting out on a journey I always do the same things in order to prepare myself properly for the trip. First, I read a little bit about the place I am about to visit. Not too much! Just the basic information I can get from the cheapest guidebook (usually borrowed from the public library). Secondly, I make a quick list of things to do, places to see, food to try. In the case of Bogota not only did I make my “to dos” list, but I also made a list of neighborhoods I shouldn’t go in order to not to get mugged (…killed. Before the trip I would have used the word killed). To be honest with you, never before had I felt so stressed out about my vacations. One of my experienced traveler friends suggested not bringing with me things (read: fancy clothes and shoes) I would miss if stolen. So I prepared a big suitcase stuffed with old cloths.

– “Hey, my old clothes are getting a second life. Good for them” – I thought trying not to freak out.

Once in Bogota, while heading from the airport to the hotel, I actually stopped being worried and started to enjoy the view from the car window instead. It was early in the evening and it was getting dark. The tall crystal skyscrapers were all covered in silver lights. The whole city was lit with so many colors. Everything looked new and kind of luxurious. It wasn’t so late so there were still people on the streets waiting for a bus or trying to stop a cab. And then out of the blue, the taxi driver started his crazy dance – there was a huge traffic jam so what he (as well as the other drivers) did was trying to jostle between the other cars and the pavement. Always beeping at everyone. All the time. It made me feel dizzy. Free roller coaster, not scary whatsoever! At the end I was kind of impressed, he didn’t even scratch his cab.

The thing that freaked me out the most was the presence of armed Policemen downtown. They were everywhere, scaring the crap out of me. It was recommended not to leave your hotel after 9pm.

I really thought I would hate the city. But I didn’t. Kind of. Well, I am not sure. The truth is that not until I was there, did I realize the city has so much to offer. You can find there whatever you are fancy to. But then you casually cross one wrong street and you get mugged. And  suddenly it starts to rain, heavily. And deep down you are starting to hate the city. Then you swing by the first bar you see and they serve you a great cup of Colombian cafe with buñuelos and empanadas for 1 or 2 €. And once again you start getting along with the city.

It was raining almost all the time
The lovely stormy sky above Bogota

Eventually it stopped raining for a moment and I was lucky enough to visit the great neighborhood of La Candelaria. It is Bogota’s Old Town. All houses and buildings have Spanish Colonial and Baroque style, painted in dark green, light yellow or blue. Most of the buildings are in a good condition however some of them are deserted and run-down but still preserving their charm, something that makes them look special. Maybe it’s the sky above that makes them look so marvelous? Bogota’s sky is almost always light grey/dark blue with a sunbeams coming out from time to time.

La Candelaria (Source)

The churches of La Candelaria are sort of unique. Not only do they look incredible from outside (basically they are tiny palaces with old soul), they are also decorated with splendor inside. The gold is steaming down from the walls. I have never seen so many valuable pieces of sacred art in one place.

Basilica of Our Lady of Candelaria (Source)

The little squares are full of trees, palms, benches where you can sit and rest (if it’s not raining). As a matter of fact, you shouldn’t stay in one place for too long unless you want a random hawker to come by and make you buy some useless stuff. Never before had I seen so many people trying very hard to sell me something. It seems like 75% of the population of Bogota sell shitty items for a living. Quite a few museums are located in the zone and you can visit them all if you’re that kind of tourist. The tickets are rather cheap. But honestly I prefer to get to know the city by wandering around.

Bolívar Square, downtown

After a day and a half I had the feeling that I was being hazed by the city. Like in High School. The cool kids would haze you before they let you join their cool kids club. I think I passed the test, I humbly got used to the traffic, beeps, the changeable weather, the constant fear or being assaulted. I also learned by heart the city zones I should never pass by and I almost got rid of the symptoms of  altitude sickness. And somehow I made it to the Monserrate Mountain (note: while climbing up you will find it difficult to breathe if you  are experiencing altitude sickness. I recommend taking the cable car instead of getting there on your own feet. It’s 3,152 m/10,341 ft for God’s sake! Once you are up there you will have the chance to admire a breath-taking view of the huge city and the mountains that surround it. Just put on a hat, it’s a pretty windy and cold place.

– “Gosh, After all the city indeed has a charm” – I thought almost starting to fall in love with the city.

And then I was hazed again. On my way back to the hotel I got to be on the public bus. In fact I am still having bad dreams about me being smashed by people in the bus (and I wake up screaming). Imagine 10 million people trying to get into a tiny bus. No, I am not exaggerating! There were people everywhere…on your head, under your feet, lying on your back, sticking to your arms, touching your most intimate body parts with their elbow and knees. Everybody pushing and jostling. There was hardly a breath of air. Was it Bogota’s way to say lady, you will never get bored here? Because with this amount of adrenaline it’s hardly possible to be bored in the city!

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