Unfortunately I was ill for a fair amount of my time here. But, if I had to get poorly somewhere, then this wasn’t a bad place for it. I spent a couple of days in bed and then a couple more feeling a bit sorry for myself. That’s not too bad considering I’d been travelling for four months by this stage.
Look on any map and you might be forgiven for thinking that Salento is just a short drive from Ibague, what with it being a mere seventy miles along a main road. But, as I travel around Colombia, I am beginning to realise that maps are not always a reliable way of estimating travel times. This is especially true when the route takes you through the mountains.
My journey was on a public bus that spent most of the time following a succession of large trucks that were slowly insinuating themselves up and down the hillsides. Passing places seemed to consist of any straight stretch of one hundred metres or more, and overtaking manoeuvres were very much reliant on the good nature of the drivers of any oncoming traffic that the bus encountered.
I tried to keep my head in my book as much as I could.
AirBnB enthusiasts often speak about how the site helps you have a closer experience of a country by meeting your hosts and getting to know local customs. Whilst this can happen, I think it is sometimes exaggerated.
In the case of my Ibague stop this was certainly true though as, within a few minutes of my arriving, my host had introduced me to herself, her dog and her wooden leg (in that order).
The combination of a Latin American sense of personal space and a lack of any sense in her right leg meant that I inadvertently kept standing on my host’s shoe. I must have appeared to be a stereotypical Englishman abroad, repeatedly apologising to her for no good reason.
While I was in Bogota I took a day trip away from the hustle and bustle of the capital, out to the medium sized town of Zipaquira to visit its enormous underground cathedral, which has been carved out of a salt mine.
Before going down the mine I had a walk around the town, which has a very large central square. After downtown Bogota it made a pleasant change to wander around such a sleepy, relaxed place.
Walking out of the town I climbed the hill that leads up to the salt cathedral. The salt mines have been created by drilling horizontally into the mountain. This means that you do not have to enter using a lift going down a shaft, but by walking down a long corridor that is also high and wide. It also means that the entrance is on the side of the hill and not at the top. Phew! Continue reading Zipaquira Salt Cathedral
After the relaxing environment and bright sunshine of Pasajcap, coming to Bogota was a bit of a shock.
The city stretches across a valley 2500 metres above sea level where the weather can change very quickly. It is normal to walk along in the bright sunshine and then be hit by a sudden downpour. Think UK April, but a bit warmer.
So, the weather was a bit shittier, to say the least.
On top of that I had booked a hotel in La Candelaria district of the city. It is a pretty and popular tourist area in the city’s historic centre with many hostels and hotels.
The latter is a free museum containing a range of paintings and sculptures by Fernando Botero, a Colombian artist from Medellin. His figures typically have exaggerated dimensions making them look out of proportion to their surroundings as well as a bit on the chubby side.
Just down the road from Museo Botero is the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Cultural Centre. Gabriel Garcia Marquez was a Colombian author and journalist who invented the Magic Realism style of writing.
His cultural centre houses another art gallery, a bookshop and a nice cafe where you can drink coffee, eat cake, leech off the wifi and people watch.
So far, so cultural. However, at night La Candelaria can get a bit on the hairy side, so much so that it has been granted its own special slot in the UK government’s security advice for citizens visiting Colombia:
Street crime is a problem in major cities, including Bogota, Medellin, Cali and Santa Marta. Mugging and pickpocketing can be accompanied by violence.
British nationals have been robbed at gun point in the Candelaria area of Bogota.
As if to emphasise this, the hotel I stopped at, Tip Top Casa Hotel, had it’s front door permanently locked and bolted, as did most others in the streets close by. The owner, Maria, was also keen to recommend a “really good” restaurant for my evening meal that was suspiciously close to the hotel.
Maria was really friendly and helpful and she was very happy to suggest a range of activities for me to do during the day, reassuring me that they were “segurro”. This included going to Montserrate, the mountain above the city, visiting various museums and taking the Transmilenio, something that a number of online sources viewed as being anything from a bit dangerous to an out-and-out suicide mission.
I’ll say a little about the Transmilenio in another post.
On the Sunday, taking Maria’s advice, I went for a walk down “La Septima”, the road that goes from Plaza Bolivar to El Parque La Independencia. The first couple of blocks are pedestrianised anyway, but continuing on from there the next dozen blocks ar least were taken over for a street market. Attractions ranged from clothes stalls to juice vendors, from music/DVD stalls to pavement side Virtual Reality gaming.
At one point I was enjoying an old live performance of Daddy Cool by Boney M when I was distracted by the crowd at the next stall falling towards me. Two lads wearing VR headsets were standing in front of a pair of screens which showed them attempting to complete some kind of “Bungee jumping through a cityscape” game. Unsurprisingly, one of them had become a bit unsettled and wobbled into the crowd, scattering them into our video zone.
Best of all was the guinea pig betting.
There were a good three or four examples of this punctuating the street fair and they seemed to be the equivalent of a Find The Lady game.
Twenty or so upturned washing up bowls are set out on the road, each one has a number on it. People place bets as to which bowl the guinea pig will go to. A bloke with a Bluetooth mike stands about 15 metres away with his little group of guinea pigs. On his say so one of them hares it along the road and vanishes into a washing up bowl. If you’ve placed money on the bowl, you’re a winner.
I watched these games for a while and realised that the Bluetooth hucksters each had a number of guinea pigs by their side. Cynic that I am, I wondered if each one was trained to go to a particular colour of washing up bowl. It would certainly weight the odds in their favour.
I had a good stroll up and down the street market until it started to get dark, when I made my way back to the hotel.