Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Bogotá, Colombia

Bogotá - Big and Beautiful

This photo from the top of the Teleferico  shows the sprawling city of almost 10 million people.

Like the rest of Colombia, Bogotá's murder rate has plummeted in the last 25 years, from 80 per 100,000 inhabitants in 1993 to 15.8 in 2015. However, "street crime in the capital is among the country's highest," (www.colombiareports.com, Jan. 2, 2017). I was surprised to read this last fact, though, because we had great experiences with the people in Bogota, such as:

  • the man who gave us his transit card (with 30,000 pesos remaining on it - about $15!) after we asked him where we could buy one
  • the man who not only told us  which stop to disembark from the Transmilenio, but led us to our destination
  • the policeman who led me most of the way to my destination, after I asked him where Parque de los Periodistas was
Granted, we didn't stray far from the main tourist areas. Candelaria, the historical district, had zero murders in 2015 but a high robbery rate of 1884 per 100,000 people, about the same as Detroit, Michigan. I never felt threatened, and people generally ignored me, even though I was obviously a tourist. 

As in the rest of Colombia, law enforcement has progressed in recent years, and as in Medellin, la policía were everywhere. Perhaps this accounts for the low murder rate in Candelaria (can't get much lower than zero!), but doesn't stop the pickpockets. None of the three of us had anyone try to pilfer our belongings. 

La Policía

1. On Sundays, Bogotá closes over 100 kms of its road to vehicular traffic, and in the left photo a Policeman joins the throngs. 
2. Many policía have dogs accompanying them.
3. Policemen patrolling a vacant street.


In recent years, graffiti in Bogotá has not only been condoned, but the city even commissions grafiteros  to adorn walls. In fact, in order for graffiti to be legal, the artist needs the permission of the owner of the wall. There are still "taggers," of course, those who scrawl on walls, but most of the graffiti is a work of art. 

On the Sunday we were in Bogotá, I went on a free 2 1/2 hour graffiti tour with Bogotá Graffiti, mostly through the Candelaria area. It was a fascinating tour, and the guide not only covered the stories behind the artwork and the grafiteros, but also touched on some of the political and social problems that Bogotá faces. 

Statues are in unexpected places in Candelaria. In the bottom photo, the street sign is incorporated into the cat's face. The right mural is by Crisp, the founder of Bogotá Graffiti, who says that the city's policy regarding graffiti enables artists to work during the day, thus producing more elaborate works, (www.fushion.net  3/3/15). 

The bottom scene is political, rare for the artworks, because the city does not condone them. In the bottom drawing, the man with the pig's snout "ridicules the capitalist greed that ruled the armed conflict."

The bottom left mural asserts, "Todos contamos," (We all count.) This refers to the fact that many of the impoverished people living in rural Colombia have to travel up to 20 hours by bus just to cast their votes! The middle drawing is also political, with the caption, "Trabajo sucio, pero trabajo" (Dirty work, but still work.) This alludes to the poor people who sort through the garbage in the city. The bottom right mural is composed with "tag proof" paint. It's a glossy finish to which spray paint won't adhere and can easily be washed off. 


There are many imposing colonial buildings in Bogotá, including Iglesia Carmen, top left, and the buildings surrounding Plaza Bolívar. The plaza is a main tourist attraction. The Cathedral (lower right) is about 200 years old, and the square throngs with people, especially on Sunday afternoons. 

The statue (lower left) is of Símon Bolívar (1783-1830), who was instrumental in the formation of Venezuela, Peru, Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador as independent states (Wikipedia). 

Making a Buck

And what would a Latin American city be without vendors and entertainers hustling for a buck? 

Care for a llama ride anyone? The woman in the bottom right is selling corn, to be used as pigeon food, left. 

The "statues", photos 3 and 4,  danced after you donated to the cause. 


The teleferico rises 800 meters up Mount Monseratte, to an elevation of 3152 m above sea level. It completes the trip in only 4 minutes, hauling up to 40 passengers at a time, and provides a panoramic view of the city. 

The Other Side of Bogota

Clockwise, from top left: 1. Most of the streets in the historical district are clean, but there are occasional heaps of trash.  
2. If you look closely, you can make out a man passed out, leaning against the wall behind the trash container. Homelessness seems to be a severe problem. I saw countless men passed out, even in the afternoon. 
3. The police were brutally throwing women into the back of the van; for what, I don't know, but maybe because they were homeless. The area know as "The Bronx," just a few blocks south of the presidential palace, was a haven for homeless addicts and crime bosses until police raided it last May. Of course, that only forced the addicts to find homes somewhere else. 
4. This man was sleeping, in a pile of garbage, at 1 p.m., right near Carrera 7, the main pedestrian street in Candelabria. 

Hasta Luego

Colombia exceeded our expectations in almost every way, but especially the people's kindness. I highly recommend a trip to this wonderful country.  

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Villa de Leyva - A quaint Colombian colonial city

Looking down at Villa from Mirador del Santo

On Monday, January 23, we flew from Manizales to Bogota, (1 hour), and took a taxi to "Portal Norte," a bus stop on the north-east outskirts of Bogota. Upon leaving the taxi, the first busita (van)  had "Tunja" displayed on the front window. We managed to snag the last three seats and the 15-passenger van left shortly after. It was a smooth ride most of the way to Tunja, and we marveled at the agricultural development alongside the divided highway. 

Once we departed the van in Tunja, we thought we'd have to search for a connection to Villa de Leyva; however, we had just retrieved our luggage when a man approached saying "Leyva." He grabbed Susann's and Christa's suitcases and we followed him to another van. This one too was almost full, and departed soon after. And one hour later we were in Villa de Leyva. 

Located away from major trade routes in a high altitude valley of semi-desert terrain, and with no mineral deposits nearby to exploit, the town has undergone little development in the last 400 years. As a consequence, it is one of the few towns in Colombia to have preserved much of its original colonial style and architecture: the streets and large central plaza are still paved with cobblestones, and many buildings date from the sixteenth century. This has resulted in Villa de Leyva becoming one of Colombia's principal tourist attractions, and it was declared a National Monument on December 17, 1954 to preserve its architecture.[1] The town and the surrounding countryside, which contains several sites of interest, are popular weekend destinations for citizens of Bogota, and attract an increasing number of foreign tourists. (Wikipedia)

We stayed 4 nights at Santa Maria de Villa de Leyva, a cute boutique hotel on the main road into Villa, and three full days was a little too long for the town, although it was nice to have some time to relax and not feel we had to get out and see as much as we could in the short time we were there. 

The #1 attraction in Villa, according to Trip Advisor, is Plaza Mayor, believed to be the largest cobblestone plaza in South America. The cobblestones might be nice to look at, but they weren't much fun to walk on! And yes, the plaza is big, but it has no benches, one little fountain, little for artwork, and the surrounding buildings, although attractive, are not impressive. The church, Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Rosario, is quaint.

Plaza Mayor

The plaza was more interesting in the evening, with more people hanging out. 


The spire of Iglesia del Carmen, a small parish church, is visible from the main  plaza. The truck of soldiers was there the whole time I took photos - about an hour. In front of the church in Plaza Mayor, they have funeral notices, and the photo I took of the inside of the church was of one of the funerals. 

Street Scenes

Construction techniques are primitive compared to ours. They are replacing some of the cobblestones -- it looks like they've making sidewalks out of smoother rock. Students parading over the cobblestones. 


It's very much a rural community. They graze livestock in any convenient location. And, as in many other places in Latin America, dogs have the run of the town! These four congregated on the main street, one block from the plaza. 


There was an outdoor activity center near out hotel, and people were using it early in the morning and until dark. I liked the boys playing soccer - a wide range of ages. I don't know if we see that in Canada. 


Villa is blessed with a profusion of flowers.


On the outskirts of the town there are palatial estates - I figured wealthy people from Bogota buying up property. And in amongst these mansions there are still some little farms and other less stately homes. I wondered if the house in the top right was in disrepair or under renovation.


This restaurant, Aromas de la Villa, offered authentic meals. We had "El Ménu del Día," a small salad bar, lentil soup, juice, the main course of pork, rice, vegies, and yucca, and a piece of cake with caramel sauce for dessert. A great deal for 11,000 pesos (about $5), and a nice little restaurant. Not all our meals were that inexpensive, though. In fact, in a Peruvian restaurant the day before I thought I was ordering us each a "cerveza," but somehow we ended up with an expensive (about $8) pisco sour. It did taste good though!

The Countryside

Besides hiking up to the Mirador, I made some other walks around the town. I used Google Earth to scout out one trail, and went up over a hill and came down into farmland. I had to walk through a farmer's field at one point and came upon the cow in the photo below. It didn't seem too menacing, so I continued on my way, but hoped I wouldn't enrage a farmer by trespassing.

Hasta Luego!

The view from out hotel roof-top terrace

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Manizales, Colombia--Jan. 20-23, 2017

Friday, Jan. 20, we took "una camionetta" (a van) from Medellin to Manizales. Although it's only 200   kms., it took us 5 1/2 hours, due to the often tortuous highway.  And it would have taken longer, but for the driver's tactics.

Yes, passing on a double solid line with a curve coming up. Common place in Colombia!

There were beautiful and interesting sights along the way, too.
Wow! Expansive!

Tasty looking fruit.

But nothing as interesting as seeing this man hitching a ride on the back of this truck

A modern-day hobo?

And since the truck was pulling into a gas station, I guess the man decided to hop off. 
We finally reached Manizales, and from the bus terminal we took a taxi. It was about a 15 minute ride and cost 8,000 pesos (only about $4 Canadian).

Recinto del Pensamiento

We only had two days in Manizales, and on Saturday we went to Recinto del Pensamiento, a nature reserve not far from our hotel. We opted to pay the extra $3 and ride the chair-lift up for the tour, and we were glad we did, as there was a beautiful view from there.

And the chair-lift went slowly so we could enjoy the view.

We then had a guided tour, in Spanish, but we were lucky to have  a 14 year-old girl in our group who spoke excellent English translate for us. (She goes to a private school; she says the kids in the public schools probably don't learn English as well.)

We really enjoyed the park, for the beautiful flowers,

the hummingbirds in the Mirador de las Aves

the butterflies in the Observatorio

A glass-winged butterfly
And the trails through the different forests, Asian, tropical, and cloud forest.

Vine city!

La Catedral Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Manizales

After the tour through the park, we took a couple of different buses to reach La Catedral in El Centro of Manizales. The cathedral is the third tallest in South America at 113 meters, and has withstood three earthquakes. It was begun in 1929 and completed 30 years later. We found out, though, that in order to climb the stairs that go almost to the top of the spire, you had to take a 75 minute tour, in Spanish. Susann and Christa opted out, so I joined a group of about 10 Colombians and off we went on the tour. And was I ever glad I did!

Looking down into the Basilica on the way up.

Manizales is a city of about 400,000, spreading up the hills that surround it. 

Looking down, way down!

"Hey hey, good lookin'!"

Whoa! You don't want to go down these stairs too quickly!

The stairs  run inside the spire and then you take a vertigo-inducing set of stairs on the outside.

A nice view of the Basilica on the descent.

And wonderful stained glass. 

The next day, I returned to the cathedral at dusk to capture it being illuminated at twilight. 

Lots of tour buses stopping, but other than that a quiet plaza. 

Hacienda Venecia Coffee Tour and Tasting

On Sunday we had a coffee plantation tour. We started off with a one-hour explanation of the history of coffee cultivation, along with, of course, a cup of delicious expresso. We then went on a tour of the plantation. (It's actually difficult to get a good cup of coffee in Colombia, because most of the top-grade coffee is exported.)

They prune the coffee plants to keep them at a manageable size for picking by hand. 

Because of global warming, the hacienda is having to diversify - at lower elevations, where it's now too warm for ideal coffee-growing conditions, they are planting banana trees. The ones behind Susann are only 7 months old!

They do a lot of hand sorting, sorting the beans according to color and density.

This machine also helps sort the beans.

The coffee plants are started in the nursery before being planted in the plantation.

The Manizales Gondola

Manizales is a hilly city, and roads twist and turn around the hills. So, in 2009, the city opened its Cable in order to provide quick and inexpensive transportation between key points in the city. As in Medellin, the Cable has not only become a panacea for its transportation woes, but has become a key tourist draw as well.

The cable that I took is 2.1 km long and connects the city center with the bus terminal. It was a smooth, scenic ride, and for only about $1.50. 

Hills, as far as the eye can see. There are actually three snow-capped mountains that are visible on clear days. 

Interesting slides down below!

And the sun sets on another great day on our journey through this wonderful country.