Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Colombia - La Candelaria - Bogota

Landed safely in Bogota yesterday to start our trip around South America, after a little bit of trouble about visas on the way over.  Our first impression of Bogota was a very smoggy and congested city, we had a bit of a hair raising taxi ride in from the airport in the mad traffic.
There are police and private security and soldiers absolutely everywhere so they are definitely trying hard to clean up its image and welcome tourists.  All the Colombians we have met so far have been really welcoming, you can tell that tourism is a fairly new thing here.  Even in the tourist areas we rarely see any other foreigners.  It does seem like quite a cosmopolitan city though, there are loads of different restaurants to choose from and influences from everywhere.  The altitude is definitely noticeable, we've both been a bit out of breath and even on a fairly cloudy and wet day have been sunburned.

At the moment we're staying in a hostel in La Candelaria, which is the old part of Bogota.

Empanada Jamon y Queso
There is an area with lots of shops selling religious statues...
which is right beside the emerald selling zone. They mine lots of emeralds in Colombia apparently.
It seems that a lot of the shops are divided into zones like this in the old part of town, we also saw a street selling hats, one selling suits, and one selling what seemed to be a lot of stolen goods, cameras, phones etc...

More random photos from the area....great colour combinations.
Colombian lunch: Spicy Tamale filled with chicken and corn and rice and wrapped up in a banana leaf.
and Mazamorra de dulce: Corn soup sweetened with sugar cane and served with two bread rolls and a huge wedge of cheese.
Brian was a little bit too tall for this restaurant.

To tackle the congestion they have streets that are only for these 'transmilenio' buses...
After trying for ages to figure out the city's baffling address system - we finally found the Museum of the History of the Colombian National Police. In a place with such a chequered history we suspected we might be in for something special, and sure enough it turned out to be possibly the best museum experience ever. In Colombia, all males must do a year of military service as soon as they turn 18, many of these young guys act as guides in the museum. When we arrived at the museum we were ushered into a room to wait for an English speaking guide, there we were seated next to the crew of a Colombia sitcom, scenes from which were being shot in the museum for some reason. Turned out to be just the two of us on the tour and the guide was great fun. He just seemed to be delighted to be doing something as everyone else in the place seemed to be wandering around aimlessly, sipping coffee.
The place was amazing. After a coffee and a chat about life in Ireland, we got an interesting history lesson about the Colombian armed forces before being shown into a room full of guns dating right back to the Old West. Then it was up onto the roof of the building for an incredible panoramic view of Bogota where our guide kindly pointed out the areas and streets we should be careful to avoid. As it turned out we had just come through one of them looking for the place.

Then it was down to the business end of things - Pablo Escobar. We headed down to the basement where the first thing on display is the pimped out Harley Davidson 'El Doctor' owned. All the rooms are full of surveillance equipment, guns and mugshots of Escobar, his gang and their rivals, including loads of fairly graphic ones of them after the law tracked them down. Escobar was shot dead whilst fleeing across rooftops in Medellin and they even had one of the bloodstained rootiles on display, along with an effigy showing how he dressed to look like your average man in the street. It was a pretty bizarre display. A wonderfully weird couple of hours was had. Unfortunately due to a camera malfunction we don't have any photos.

Here is the main square in Bogota, Plaza Bolivar, there is a statue of the liberator Simon Bolivar in the centre surrounded by the Primate Cathedral, the Palace of Justice, the Seat of Congress and millions of pigeons.

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