Larry & I arrived in Bogota, Colombia on Saturday night on a recruitment trip for Oglethorpe University, trolling for new international students. Because we were heavily scheduled with recruitment meetings on Monday (don’t you hate when work interferes with travel?) Sunday was our one day to get out and explore.
At 8,612 feet in altitude, Bogota is naturally breathtaking (or breath-gulping) but it’s also a surprisingly easy city to adapt to. Sure, there are 8 million Bogotanos living here– but instead of being caught up in overwhelming traffic and chaos, most of them seemed to be out walking their dogs, taking a yoga class in the park…
… or biking, rollerblading and practicing their high-wire tricks in the multitude of city parks.
Bogota is called The Athens of South America for its plethora of museums (58), libraries (33), theatres (45) and universities (106)– but we weren’t going inside for culture; we just wanted to wander.
First stop: the Carrefours Supermercado, simply because the fruits on display looked so enticing. Eventually, the polite employees did kick me out for taking photos, but not before I got my fill of exotic tropical fruits you’ve probably never seen in the USA (who knew there were 11 kinds of mangoes??)
Next, we bopped over to the colonial enclave of Usaquen to check out my two favorite words in any language: flea market — a Bogota Sunday tradition and my destination to replace the genuine fake Dior sunglasses I bought in China (duhhh!) that naturally broke in half upon my arrival here.
We found lots of things to like in the market stalls: a new wallet for Larry to replace his bedraggled one, and a chartreuse long wallet for me to replace my 25-year old Tumi model. I’m a bit nervous that my new wallet is so bright & pretty, I’ll trash it out in a matter of weeks… so knowing me, I’ll just admire it and keep on using my old black indestructible model. (This type of thinking drives my husband nuts.) True to my original mission, I scored a cool pair of shades (not fake Dior) to keep me from squinting all day long, and only had to go back and return them once because a scratch on the lens was making me dizzy (my habit of returning things that I just bought likewise drives my husband nuts). Along the way, I fell hard for a beautiful leather purse for Lulu (hope she’s not reading about her surprise here!)….and succumbed to the charm of a super cool juicer that was bought as a present but that now I don’t want to give away (a constant moral quandary that I face when buying adorable things — which also drives my husband nuts).
All that spending (a whopping $75) and resisting the urge to clobber me gave Larry a big appetite — so he treated himself to a gorgeous paella whipped up in a giant wok alongside some delectable sauteed mushrooms ..
…and I demurely dove into a custard cake that was pure coconut heaven.
Fortified and shopping-satiated, we jumped in another cab and headed out to El Campin stadium to watch the Millonarios professional soccer club play. Now that was an experience — aural, visual and physical. First thing you notice: Bogotanos don’t just watch soccer – they jump up and down in place for the entire game (and why NOT take your shirt off, while you’re at it??)
They also those blow non-stop on those insanity-inducing vuvuzelas, bang on timpani and kettle drums that they lug to the game, and holler at the top of their lungs over every play. For my husband, who routinely watches the most obscure games from around the world on GOL TV, it was a trip to paradise and even though that generally drives me nuts, I was a good wife and threw myself into the spirit of the game.
Back at our cute hotel, I collapsed from the 6 straight hours of walking & intense shopping/sporting and watched Joan Rivers on “Fashion Police” while Larry went up to work out on the three antiquated fitness machines that make up the rooftop “gym.” We finished with a delicious Italian dinner in the T-Zone at Luna, followed by a quiet stroll through Bogota’s streets.
The obvious question is — “Whoa! Is Bogota really that safe to wander around? ” And the answer is — for the most part, Si! In the 1990s, Bogota was considered one of the most violent cities in the world (an unenviable claim now held by Caracas next door) with a murder rate of 81 per 100,000 people. Today, that rate is down to 17 — a 500% dramatic reduction accomplished by putting a staggering number of policemen on the streets and rigidly enforcing an integrated security policy. I have to mention that there has also been a forceful campaign to ban carried weapons on the city’s streets — and guess what? It actually works.
So far we love Bogota, even if we do now have to go to work. Stay tuned for more Colombian travelogues as we fly on Wednesday morning to Medellin (famed for having the most beautiful women in Colombia — but we’ll let Larry be the judge of that!), then onto Barranquilla on Thursday night. Hasta luego!