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.)
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.
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.
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.