09 December 2011

Final Day

We started our last day in Bogota with a trip up to montserrate, a church on one of the highest peaks in Colombia. Much to the chagrin of our cab driver, I pronounced it without the "e" on the end (like in Barcelona), and because of that he almost wouldn't drive us.

They may explain how crazy he was driving, though. There were several times I thought we would plunge right off the side of the mountain we were zooming up. As our cab had no seatbelts, I was grabbing onto the handle in the back like it was my job. The church is rather high up there, so even after the huge climb in the car, you still have to go up further,  either by cable car, funicular, or walk. We certainly weren't going to walk, and since the cable car wasn't open, our choice of the funicular was made for us.

The view from the top is pretty spectacular...I imagine even more so if the skies are clear. Being so far up, it is probably kind of foggy up there most days, but yesterday we had the added bonus of rain. It was still very pretty! Since it was a holiday, there were lots of local families hanging around up there, and there was a mass going on (feast of the immaculate conception, I think). While the names are similar, this Montserrate didn't remind me much of the one in Spain; where that one felt like an overhyped tourist trap, in Bogota it felt more true... It didn't feel so commercial, prices weren't completely jacked up. There were lots of vendors selling traditional food...I had a hard time walking through that part as I watched them unfolding intestines. No, really, intestines.

After a while of walking around, the cable car opened (and funicular closed), and we headed back down the hill to catch a cab and head back to our hood.

Again, our life was in this driver's hands, but luckily this time there were seatbelts. This dude was screaming down the hills, weaving in and out of traffic...my heart was in my throat throughout the ride. When we got back to the Parque 93, we had some trouble understanding the cost of the cab, and he then chastised me for my Spanish.  In fairness to him, it wasn't totally correct and I'm totally rusty, In fairness to me, I was trying really hard, and after week of constant translating, I was a bit tired.

At any rate, I wanted to spend my last day walking around, checking out our neighborhood and another nearby. Bill went to get some tea and hang out near the park. I tried to go to the Usequen (sp) neighborhood, thinking it was just 10 blocks or so away...I was wrong, it was more like 20+! Once I realized this, I turned back around to head back to my hotel and reset my day. On my way, I passed a bunch of very young members of the Colombian military, cruising the streets with huge automatic weapons.  Needless to say, this was a bit intimidating!

Back to the Zona Rosa (Zona T on the maps) I went, and decided to grab a beer a the local brewery. Bogota Beer Company is the kind of place my dad would have loved...lots of good home brews on tap, dark wood bar, locals hanging out watching futbol. This area is definitely the place to be, and where I would recommend anyone visiting bogota stay (or Parque 93, just a few blocks away). Tons of bars, restaurants, shopping, and local life. The Candelaria seemed like it would get quite seedy at night, whereas the area we were in felt super safe. On this particular night, it was hopping by about 4, since it was a holiday, the sun had made an appearance,  and the Colombian national championship soccer game was on.

Soon we were done with dinner and on our way to the airport...another hair-raising cab ride, in which I grabbed the oh shit handle so much, my hand was sore! All the flights have been without incident..I lost Bill somewhere between customs and the transfer area in Houston; he sped outta there and our flights were in different terminals.

Overall, I enjoyed Colombia. It's fun going somewhere rather unexplored, and the heat in Cartagena forced me to really relax a bit and lounge; a nice transition between jobs! I loved getting lost in the old part of the town,watching the inner workings when not many tourists were around. The availability of fresh fruit, sliced,whole, or as juice, at every corner, was awesome. And so inexpensive! Then experiencing a version of the paseo, where the people of neighborhoods all seem to gather in the local plaza  in the evening to eat and socialize, seemingly the only time of day they can do this and not be absolutely done in by the heat...it was a great way to get to know the city. And, of course, our roof pool was the bomb.

It was also cool to see a city like Bogota, which has so much history and so wants to start attracting the tourist dollar, but has some ways to go before it does (and, speaking as someone from a heavily touristed city, there are ways to do this-- carefully-- without pushing out those who have lived there a long time...and the infrastructure improvements and money coming in could be beneficial, once they ready). A guy that was staying at the same hotel in cartagena remarked to me that many people compared Buenos Aires and Bogota, and he felt Bogota had more charm. I could see that. Nestled there in the mountains, the landscape is just lovely. I think, someday, they could both be vying for the same tourist monies.

07 December 2011

Día de las Velitas, Bogota

Tonight was a big celebration throughout Bogota (and Colombia), and I wanted to make sure to get in on the action! 

We headed down to the Zona Rosa, where the guy from our hotel recommended we go. Sure enough, it was crackin'. The restaurants were spilling over, and there were tons of people enjoying the "snow" on the street.

We ate and walked around a bit...by the time we left the area, people had finally started lighting the candles (las velitas). We came back to our hood and Parque 93 was all aflame with candles,and teeming with people. It was very cool to see...while the candles gave it a solemn feel, the holiday music and cheer made it very celebratory!

La Candeleria de Bogota.

Well, today got off to a roaring start, literally, as my travel partner got sick somehow (flu? Altitude? Food? Who knows.). He was definitely not up for touring, so I headed out to La Candeleria district. This is the old center of the city, and has lots of churches and sites.

Getting there was an adventure all its own. The cabs here are...well...loco. There are a million of them, they are cheap, but they drive like maniacs and have no seatbelts in the back. We to ok. A shortcut over some hills, which was nice, but wow, was I a little nervous!

The sun was trying to peek its way out when I arrived to La Candeleria. I walked around quite a bit, past the Plaza Bolivar, into the First Church, and then through a few streets. I ended up getting myself a bit turned around and wandered into a rather sketchy hood! Once I figured this out,though, I turned myself right back around and continued to explore.

I spent quite a bit of time in the Museo de Oro, or Gold Museum.ot has a super extensive collection of Colombian gold artifacts,and is laid out in a way that tells a very good story. I spent a couple of hours in there,and by the time I can out, it was POURING. It soon passed, and I once again climbed into a cab to get back to our neighborhood.

This cab ride was scary as all get out. The traffic here is also a it nutty -- they have marked lanes,stop lights,right-of-ways,but no one seems to follow them. Add the rain to these facts, and,well, that oh shit handle got plenty of use by me!

Tonight is the Día de las Velitas, the kick off to the Colombian holiday season,and then tomorrow is a holiday (the guy I spoke to at the hotel yesterday told me Colombians will use any excuse for a holiday), so if bio is up to it, we'll head down to the zona rosa and watch the festivities.

06 December 2011

¡Hola Bogota!

We arrived to Bogota today, and by the time we left the hotel, it was rainy and rather dreary. So it was kind of a lazy day. 

But this lovely image of Bocelli and the muppets met us when we walked through the park near our hotel. And,to me,nothing says Christmas like the muppets.  

El Final Día en Cartagena

I think yesterday may have been my favorite so far. It was cool(er), the city was rather peaceful, and I fell a bit in love with it.

I woke up, mowed down un desayuno tipico, and headed out on my merry way. The level of tourists had reduced considerably, and I felt like I was experiencing a more "true" Cartagena. 

I decided to put myself on a little "Love in the Time of Cholera" tour, so my first stop was Fermina Daza's house and the bench from which Florentino Ariza watched her...also known as the Parque de Ferdinand Madrid. We had been there a few nights before when we went to the Wiskeria Zorba, but I loved seeing it during the day. I could imagine Florentino writing love poems from this little bench underneath the lush trees, pining in the heat for his crowned goddess.  At the same time I was t asking this flight of fancy, there was a huge argument ensuing between an older woman, a male driver, and the police. When I arrived, there were only about 5 people involved...after I had walked around a bit, there were probably 20 or so, and the argument had moved around the block. 

After that, I think I walked up and down every street in the walled city. I loved it. I got to see people lounging, people at work, tourists getting screwed, mass in session, tourists enjoying themselves...I feel like I finally got a good sense of the city, and it was lovely.  

I felt I had to try as mush of the street food as possible...but it was so hot I wasn't ever hungry in the least.  But I was thirsty, and I had the most delicious orange juice (.50$). Then, I finally had a small appetite, and chowed down on some underripe (delicious) mangos with salt,pepper, and lime (1$). It SO hit the spot.  I continued my wandering, and eventually decided I should head back to my hotel for one last pool afternoon-- as someone who lives in  SF and is from the inner Bay Area, a pool is a real treat! -- I found this cool bar in an old fortress part of the Wall. It wasn't open, but the security guard let me take a look and take some pics (I put the self-timer on for the one above). That as about two blocks from our hotel.

Instead of heading back though, I decided to gab some money. From the ATM, then get some coconut water.  Coconut water is a rather new thing in the states (at least...it's suddenly more popular), and while it is not my favorite, it looked so delicious in its bolsita (little bag). And, .50$ later, it was soooo yummy!

I headed back to the pool for a few hours, reading the Steve Jobs biography...I was pretty into it and had a hard time tearing away! For dinner we went to a little German bar then back to the Wiskeria Zorba for a nightcap. Eventually, it was time for bed, since our flight to Bogota was early this morning.

I must say...while I am not sure I would ever go back, my last day definitely gave me a case of the smittens with Cartagena!

05 December 2011


Look, there I am!

What you can't see in the pic is that I am nice and crispy from the sun... Three days walking around in 90 degree heat will do that to even the most well-sunscreened person. (Don't worry, mom, it'll turn to brown and fade soon enough.)

Yesterday we took a loooonnggg walk all the way to the other end of Cartagena -- Bocagrande ("big mouth"). It's where all the high-rise hotels and resorts are, and the beach. The ocean breeze felt nice, but other than that... I think we made the right choice to stay in old town. Bocagrande lacks the charm of this side of town, and mainly feels like an old Hawaii or something.  I think there will be a lot of updating happening in the next few years as Colombia becomes more of a destination; it will be interesting to see how that area changes. 

We came back and once again it was siesta time for me by the pool. I was up there for a few hours reading, and was joined for a bit by two other guests at the hotel... They were originally from the Caribbean, but were currently living in NYC...for about a month, then going to Brasil. They were super nice and gave me some background on the hotel (owned by a coworker of the man's) . 

For dinner we went back to the old town for some street food...unfortunately there weren't many options on a Sunday night! After that, there was just a lot of hanging out and drinking beers.

 A struck by how many stray dogs there are here. It is rather sad...some look healthy but most are pretty raggedy and emaciated. They are all pretty friendly, and a few follow the police officers around as they patrol the streets.  Last night one sat at my feet for a while as I ate a snack...I gave her a few pieces and she was my new best friend!

03 December 2011

Storming the Castle

I did not pack well for this trip, at all. I think I'll be ok when I get to Bogota, but I am not quite sure what I was thinking when I packed for Cartagena. Apparently, I forgot what heat + humidity is like. And neglected to take heed when a friend, who has been down here the last week, said it was so hot he hadn't worn a shirt in several days. No...I simply packed like I do for any other trip: a few tops, skirts, capris...

I realize now I have no real clue how to deal with hot weather, and certainly do not have the clothes for it. In SF, it gets not for a day or two, we whine, out on a cute dress, and get sunburned. It usually works of to; it's not humid and only lasts until nightfall. That is not the case here. Lesson learned. 

We kicked off today with a desayuno tipico de Colombia -- a bunch of delicious tropical fruit, arepas, patacones and a bunch of other delicious fried things, and café Colombiano. It was so good and filling, we haven't had but some fruit since. (it's 5.30pm)

Off to Castillo San Felipe we went. This is a 17th century fortress not too far from the old town (and visible from the roof of my hotel). It's a pretty extensive castle, lots of nooks and crannies to explore. W found a few pockets of cool... There was one tower where the windows formed a sort of wind tunnel; somehow the air was cool and it felt like our heads were next to an air conditioning unit. We hung out there for a while - largely because we found some shade and couldn't move much more!

After a bit,we headed back down to el centro to cruise around the wall. The old city of Cartagena is surrounded by a huge wall, and you can walk pretty much the whole thing. We found that it was about beer o'clock,and luckily came upon a supermarket that had cans of Aguila. Once procured, we headed back on the wall and continued our walk.

It was a pretty cool way to see the city. The views were awesome and we got to see a few hidden alleys I'm not sure we would have otherwise seen.  I found myself wondering if there was ever a time where the city cools down and gets quiet, and one can just wander without being covered in sweat?

We eventually ran into the end of the accessible wall, and landed in the old city. I grabbed some mango with salt and lime (fruit with salt,lime & sometimes pepper, is sold all sliced up on the streets for just about 1-2$ US), Bill got some local  candy, and we headed back to the sweet airco of our hotel. I decided to take my siesta again by the pool (and actually took myself into the pool!), and have been up here reading and enjoying the music since!

Drinking like a Local

A margarita?

Nope...this drink combines two of my favorite things -beer & salt - along with lime juice to form a michelada.

I had heard of these drinks before...an old co-worker swore by them, but they always included tomato juice (or clamato)...sort of like a bloody Mary sans vodka plus beer. I think that's the typical way in most of Latin America.

But here in Colombia, it's much simpler (and more to my taste). Threw back a few of these last night, using Aguila Light (Colombian beer...tastes kind of like Amstel light).

It's nice that much of the food here is corn-based (more on that deliciousness later) so I can enjoy the beer (balance the gluten intake). In fact, it's only 10am, already hot as hell, and I'm ready for a nice michelada already!

02 December 2011

And We're Off!

First, I must comment on this... Our cab ride from the Cartagena airport to our hotel cost about 5$US. This is astonishing to me. First, because Bill was ready to book us a car for 40$. And second...5$!?

Whew, with that out of the way...we made it safe and sound to Colombia. Not without some issues, of course.  My flight out of San Francisco was late by about 25-30 minutes...not a great thing when I only had a 50 minute layover. The flight attendants on this United/Continental flight were very nice, however, answered my questions about the tight connection and even comped me a drink.  I was sure I couldn't be the only one trying to make that connection, but it turns out, I was. Or, at least, no one else was running through the Houston airport on the same path as me.

Luckily, the flight from Houston to Bogota was also late, so I made it there as they were boarding. Whew, crisis averted! The second flight was very bumpy, with very ornery flight attendants who lost patience with some customers because they couldn't decide what they wanted to eat ( 1. It was past midnight and we had no clue they'd be throwing food at us, 2. They never told us what it was that they were throwing, 3. We were on our way to Colombia, and many of the passengers didn't speak English and thus had no idea what the flight attendant was yammering on about.) Shame, United/Continental.

Once we arrived to Bogota, we had lots of time to kill between flights. And our flight was delayed. The lack of concern by the airplane staff led Bill & I to believe that this delay is a normal thing. Eventually, after what seemed like forever (at least an hour delay), we were on our way...and hour after take off, we were touching down in Cartagena. 

After our amazingly cheap cab ride, we arrived to the lovely air conditioning of our hotel. Man, this place is HOT. And humid. Those two things, plus approximately 1.25 hours of sleep in over 24 hours do not a happy Annie make. I needed a nap!

After lunch, that is exactly what we did.  I went up to the roof deck and laid by the pool;  Bill enjoyed the air conditioned room.  That was about 5 hours ago... I am still by the pool. HOT, I tell you!