The streets of Bogota

Steve and I woke around 7 and opened our wooden shutters to see actual blue skies and sun! We strolled around our neighborhood before breakfast and felt increasingly confident our bike tour would not be rained out (as the online weather forecasts made it seem would be a certainty.)

Our neighborhood, La Calendaria, is filled with narrow passages adorned with vibrant street art.

This mural was elaborate three-dimensionally.

That proved to be the case. We took the 10:30 a.m. Bogota Bike Tour (highly recommended by a friend who did it last year), and throughout the five-plus hours, I never felt more than a sprinkle or two. Other things, too, made me feel we had lucked out. 

The tour company, which was started 9 years ago by an American journalist named Mike and which today routinely gets listed on the best things to do in Bogota, was amazingly well organized. We showed up at the company’s shop at 10:15, and by 10:30 our group of 18 was pedaling off. We quickly learned that although today was a Monday, it also happened to be a national holiday — the feast of Corpus Christi. (Mike the guide pointed out that Colombia has more paid national holidays than any other country.) Because it was a holiday, that meant a huge number of streets were closed to car traffic, which made the biking vastly easier than it otherwise might have been. 

Over the five-plus hours that followed, Mike led us to all sorts of experiences we would never  have had otherwise. He passed around the “big-assed ants” (hormigas culonas) that people eat fried and salted.

I ate this guy, which at first tasted like a salty snack but had a creepy aftertaste.

Mike had us stop in one of the city’s big parks to watch Colombian kids play roller hockey with speed and ferocity. In another park, we listened to two neighborhood kids rap against violence and plea for more opportunity for common folk. We paused near a large group of people protesting against the government’s recent decision to sell off the state phone company to a private operator. And we watched another crowd, almost as big, dance en masse to Zumba-style exercise moves led by a pair of local exercise gurus.
Throughout the day, we rolled by canvas after canvas of street art, some works privately initiated and others commissioned by the government.

Mid-afternoon, we took a break at a coffee-roasting shop that served up excellent cappuccinos and pastries. Then we pedaled through the Santa Fe neighborhood, one of the areas of Bogota designated as an official “Tolerance Zone” for “high-impact public activities” (translation: this was one of Bogota’s legal prostitution areas, one or perhaps the only one in which the sex workers can flaunt their offerings on the street, rather than just in discreet bordellos.) Mike warned us not to take any photos; he said it made the hookers angry. 
We finished up with two more stops: one at the Macarena fruit market where Mike introduced us to some of the many exotic crops grown in this country.  (Ever hear of tree tomatoes?) 

But it was the final stop that will probably linger longest in my memory. It was a place where Bogotanos play “tejo.” Tejo is the official national sport of this country, so designated by the Colombian legislature. 

The paper triangles are filled with gunpowder.

Michael takes a shot

Basically, you toss metal disks at a target made of clay. But attached to the target are little package of gunpowder. If you hit the gunpowder, it triggers an ear-shattering boom and you get a point. If your disk also lodges in the innermost circle, you get 2 more points. All this is done while the player swig bottles of Poker brand beer.
Steve and Mike and Stephanie all took a turn throwing, but they all missed. One member of our group did hit the bullseye, accompanied by a deafening explosion. I never tried; the booms made me too nervous. But I later reflected that it was kind of fun to be in a place which makes Americans look like pacifists. 

We may have only had two days in Bogota, but I feel like we learned a lot about it. Tomorrow we’ll say goodbye, heading for a taste of the colonial countryside.

A damp start

I started checking weather forecasts for Colombia a few weeks ago, and what I saw made my spirits sink. It looked like this for the foreseeable future in Bogota — and pretty much everywhere else we were planning to travel:

How could this be?!?!  When settling on the dates for this trip (LAST summer!), I’d consulted guidebooks about the best time to travel in Colombia. What I vaguely remember of their advice was that the answer to that varied dramatically from one part of the country to the other (since the country’ geography is so varied). But I think the guidebooks agreed that early June was a mostly good time — one rainy season would be ending and it wouldn’t be too hot anywhere.

And now the weather sites seemed to be promising endless rain. Was this the fault of El NiƱo? In Bogota, the activity to which I’ve been looking forward most Bogota was a bike tour of the city about which I’d heard rave reviews. A few days before our departure, I emailed the bike tour company to ask if they operated in the rain. Their reply conforted me. “It  hasn’t rained much, unfortunately, as we’ve had a drought,” a guy named Mike wrote me back. (It makes me wonder if Mike and Accuweather might want to talk to one another.).        

When we landed at Bogota’s El Dorado Airport last night, it felt like Accuweather had a better read on the situation. Cold and blustery, the night felt more like dead winter in San Diego than summer in South America (NOT very far from the equator!) But this morning, it’s cool but dry outside. 

Not that I’ve seen much of the outside world. It’s already 10:15, and we haven’t yet seen Michael and Stephanie. We’ve read that Bogota’s famous Gold Museum is not open at all on Mondays, so I don’t think we’ll be squeezing in the bike tour today. Still, we have a full day tomorrow too, and I’m reminding myself that a focus on the present moment makes weather forecasting a silly activity.

Hail, Colombia!

Saturday we’re flying to Colombia. When I’ve mentioned our destination to a few people, I’ve been asked if I was referring to the city in Ohio. That’s probably a nice place to go, too, but instead we’ll be traveling in the large nation that’s the first country you get to in South America, as you leave behind Panama and the rest of Central America. (We’re flying there, not driving, although that would doubtless be even more interesting.) I’ve also been asked why Colombia, a land that in the 1990s and early 2000s was plagued by shocking violence that flowed from left-wing guerillas, right-wing paramilitarists, and assorted other thugs. But by all reports, the violence has abated and tourism is surging. Several friends and acquaintances have traveled there in the last few years, and their accounts have been enthusiastic.
Now we get to see for ourselves this land of dramatic contrasts. For me, Colombia will be the 51st country I’ve made it to (assuming that one counts Tibet and Palestine as countries. Which I do.)

At least one of the things that will made this trip special is the fact that Steve and I will be traveling for most of it with our son Michael and his girlfriend Stephanie. What could be better?
On a darker note, the blogging software that I’ve used so happily for years on the road has, sadly, gone off the market. I’ll try to make the technology work using other tools. But that could get ugly.