Contrasts in Bogota

Bogota is an ugly city with mostly grey buildings and terrible traffic, but with incredible graffiti. In fact, I think it’s downplaying the quality of the works to call them graffiti  because they truly are amazing. Bogotans have embraced street art in a big way, recognizing it’s the best way to cheer up an otherwise architecturally uninspiring city.

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Bogota rooflines.

I shouldn’t be too harsh, since I’ve only seen a small fraction of this massive city, and even that has some attractive parts. But the two things that stand out are the dynamic street art and the vibrant, hectic city life. It’s a huge, diverse city, with a big middle class and lots of life. It definitely struck me as having moved on from is violent past, though politics is still ever present, especially through the street art.

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Bogota street art is usually political. FARC is a communist group that recently struck a peace agreement with the government after decades of conflict.

Last night, I wandered about with two guys I met from the hostel, popping our heads into several bars, until we finally found one with a few seats available at the bar. It was a tiny little dive, with salsa music blaring and couples dancing in the cramped spaces between the tables. If I have one stereotype about Colombians so far, it’s that they all know how to salsa. You hear the music everywhere and today in Plaza Simon Bolivar there was an old man dancing away for hours while random people came up to join him.

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Carretera 7 on a Saturday is filled with pedestrians and street performers.

I’ve been in Bogota for three days and could probably spend more time here, but I’m eager to get going on my bike trip. I flew in on Wednesday afternoon and assembled my bike at the airport, right by the entrance. I thought security might question me but no one even so much as spoke to me while I worked away. An hour or so later, I was wheeling my bike out the door in search of the path that would supposedly take me downtown from the airport. I was told it would be about a 45 minute ride, but it took almost two hours in the end as I weaved in and out of traffic, got lost a few times, and had to deal with a rack issue (I didn’t tighten one of the bolts enough and it came loose). I made it to my hostel just before dark, found some greasy street food, and fell asleep for 12 hours.

While here, I’ve done a bike tour of a small part of the city, a graffiti tour of an even smaller part of the city, and hiked up to Monseratte, the cathedral built on a mountain overlooking the city, where I ran into a “rag tag group of international misfits” I had met the day before. Bogota sits at 2,600 metres above sea level and the hike brought us up to 3,300 metres – a good warm-up for my bike ride, I presume. The bike tour and graffiti tour came recommended and both were enjoyable but I’d say if you were going to do one, do the bike tour, since you’ll see more of the city and learn a little more about Bogota and Colombia’s history.

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Street art on the Bogota bike tour.
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The graffiti tour is very popular.

I also checked out the fantastic gold museum and the wonderful (and free) Botero museum. And I’ve slept incredibly well – far better than back home. Must be a lack of stress and deadlines.

Tomorrow I’m going to hit the road. As I said, I could spend more time here, but I’m chomping at the bit to move on and start rolling. I’m both excited and nervous to get going. I have no idea what to expect. I’ve never done a bike tour before, so to do my first one in South America, where I’m far from home and barely speak the language, is a little daunting. My plan is to head upwards and eastwards out of the city, then follow country roads north to Villa de Leyva. I expect it to take me two days to get there, but who knows.

Here’s some more photos from Bogota:

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Bogota street art.
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Bogota street art.
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Bogota street art.
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Bogota street art.
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One way to use old tires.
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Bogota street art.
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Bogota street art (note the 3D effect with the lamp post).
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Bogota street art.
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Bogota street art.
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The gold museum.
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The view from Monseratte.
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The view from Monseratte.
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Me, on Monseratte
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The crew on Monseratte
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Plaza Simon Bolivar.
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Botero Museum.

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