Sunday, February 1, 2009

Getting to know you

Bogota and its surroundings have been home now for almost two weeks. It is a fantastic city, probably my favorite in Latin America. Our host has been a young guy named Jeisson who is a physics teacher and traveller. He has spent the last four years travelling in south america and when we met him he was just coming back to Colombia for the first time. His hospitality has been outstanding; we have our own set of keys and come and go as we please. Our neighborhood, called ChapiƱero, is quiet, tranquil and located in the middle of Bogota. It is a short bus ride into the downtown area of the city.

Many of the days are spent wandering different barrios of the city, exploring all sides of the city. My favorite part of the city is by far La Candelaria which is Bogota´s colonial heart. Small cobblestone streets with candlelit cafes, and a very bohemian feel. There are several universities in the area and the streets are filled with youth. On weekends the place is full of steet music and revelry. Zach and I have found ourselves sitting in El Gato Gris, a very tranquil spot where we can sit for hours and sip Colombia´s finest coffee, read, and write.
Other parts of the city, quite the opposite of La Candelaria, include La Zona de Tolerancia (the zone of tolerance). Just go off of the name to get a greater idea of the place. It was Jeisson´s idea to take us there because as he says, ¨It is good to know both sides of the peso.¨ Talk about shady. I went to my first nude bar! It was terrible, absolutely terrible. But we were being hosted and didn´t want to be rude. The streets are lined with prostitutes and brothels. Popular in the zone of tolerance are public ¨swimming pools;¨ we didn´t even want to know. The walk back was not pleasant and it was through a very shady part of the city, but it felt good to know that this place existed. Other favorites of Bogota are the incredible grafiti that is prevalent on any possible open surface, and a multitude of parks. From small stealh art spots to massive murals, the city has very talented street artists. In the center of the city the national park offers great hiking in the mountains and a relaxing break from the chaos of downtown. My favorite park though is Simon Bolivar Municipal park. On weekends the place is packed with soccer matches and families having picnics. There are lots of running trails around a lake, and the coolest playground I have ever seen. Ultimate is quite popular in Colombia and there are a few games hidden among the hundreds of soccer games.
Outside of Bogota the best spot has definitely been Villa de Leyva, an unbelievably beautiful colonial city filled with cobblestone plazas, hidden streets and some of the best Spanish colonial architecture i have ever seen. It is a bit on the touristy side, with many foreignors and colombian tourists too. The hills around the town are some of the most scenic and tranquil agricultural lands i´ve seen on this trip. Unfortunately there is a serious development boom, as wealthy Colombians are flocking there to build second homes. We took a day trip with two friends we met while camping in town to a series of seven waterfalls knows as La Periquera. Talk about amazing! The seven falls are huge and the mountain vally deep. An amazing way to cool off and a great place to relax in a super beautiful place.
Tonight I finally leave Bogota and start the journey north towards the Carribean side of the country. Zach and I are still travelling together and we plan to until I leave for the US in just over three weeks. It is great having a travel buddy like Zach, we have become good friends and travel really well together. I´ll try to write more in a couple of weeks.

One of my favorites
¨Without boss, without client¨

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