At the base of Monserrate there is a funicular or as they call it the “teleferico,” which is basically a little railway car that goes almost straight up the hill. They also have a cable car as well, but it was closed until after 12 noon. In the interest of time we decided to take the funicular up the mountain and the cable car down. We had to wait in line for about 40 minutes before we could catch the car up the hill.
On top there is a church, a little village, a market, a couple of restaurants, and one incredible view of Bogotá!
I had seen a picture of Bogotá in a book over 6 years ago and promised myself at that time that someday I would make this trip. It was an incredible feeling to see the skyline from a point that was probably the same spot from where the picture in the book was taken.
Bogotá is a city of 8 million people and is surrounded by mountains on all sides. Often times there are clouds hanging around the mountains which can obscure the view. Fortunately for us, the clouds cleared and we had a great view of the city below. From up high you get a feeling of how really large this city is. Check it out:
It was lunchtime and we were right on schedule. The plan was to eat lunch and be off the mountain by 1:30 because we had to be back at the hotel at 3:00 for our ride to the airport. We got a window view in the restaurant that sits right on the edge of the cliff. We both had “Ajiaco” which is the special soup dish of Bogotá….incredibly delicious and very filling.
We started down the mountain around 1:30, this time in the cable car. On the car we met a woman who could speak a little English. She wanted to know what our plans were and I told her we were going to try to at least see the Zona Rosa which is the upscale area I referred to in an earlier report. She validated our choice but insisted we not hail our own cab. So, what did she do? She gets one of the many soldiers standing around at the cable car station and asks him to hail a cab for us!! She waited with us and told the cab driver where to take us and the rest is history.
Here is the cable car ride down the hill:
When we arrived in the Zona Rosa area we knew we were in the big money part of Bogotá. Very nice looking condos and hotels in the area. The Lonely Planet guide had suggested visiting an enclosed mall. The mall was full of high end shops. We walked through it, and then strolled outside through the myriad of sidewalk cafes filled with people. We finally stopped, had some dessert and Colombian coffee, and watched Bogotá walk by in their designer clothes. Life was good!!
By this time it was 2:30 and time to head back to the hotel. We had a 30 minute taxi ride back to the hotel and knew our airport driver would be waiting for us. We had seen a lot of the city in a short time and in a fun and exciting way. When we arrived at the hotel, they gave us our bags and signaled our driver we were ready. The hotel staff was very pleasant, asked us to return someday and wished us luck in our travels the rest of the way through Colombia.
Next –the airport in Bogotá and meeting Dr. Olga
The next big question is……is it possible to see everything we wanted to see in Bogotá in 10 hours of daylight? The answer is yes, but you have to have a plan. I knew from the beginning that a trip of this magnitude would require precision planning if we were to accomplish everything. Staying on schedule would be imperative. I had used the Lonely Planet guide to plan the days in Bogotá and Medellin. I tend to like their books the best.
That morning we were up by 6 a.m., at breakfast by 7 a.m. which included an impromptu English lesson with our waiter, packed, and ready to be on the streets at 8 a.m… A final check with the desk clerk assured me our travel plan was sound. We left our luggage at the hotel and they arranged for a car to be ready to take us to the airport at 3 p.m. when we returned in the afternoon for our 6 p.m. flight. Great service at the Hotel de la Opera!
For me, there is no greater excitement than to step into the streets in any city in Latin America and start walking! It must be a combination of the language, the colors, the street vendors, the people, and the music that makes it so exciting. It makes my heart race!! For those of you that have traveled to Latin America you will know exactly what I am saying. This is the scene as we left our hotel:
While our hotel neighborhood may have been a little spooky at night, there was plenty of activity on the streets in the a.m. Our first stop was the Plaza Bolivar which is a famous landmark in Bogotá. We hung around the Plaza taking pics, talking with street vendors, asking directions and in general just being tourists. There was not another gringo in sight!!
From there it was off to what I was anticipating to be one of the highlights of my Latin American travels…….the world famous El Museo del Oro (The museum of gold). The regular museum was closed for renovation but they had a lot of the collection on display in a temporary location. It was incredible. This photo will give you an idea:
The goal was to be out of the museum of gold by 10:45 a.m. so we could take a cable car up the 2,000 ft mountain by the name of Monserrate. The Plan was to have lunch in one of the two restaurants at the top that were supposed to offer an incredible view of Bogotá. Since it was a little rainy and cloudy that morning we wanted to make sure we made it up to the top while there was still a decent view of the city. Fortunately it just a short cab ride to the base of the mountain. We took our first stab at hailing one of the street taxis ourselves. At least it wasn’t the driver that was doing the stabbing!!
The system of taxis in Bogotá is interesting because they have a meter that counts the number of units they drive and there is a chart in the back seat that cross references the fare to the number of units. The taxis don’t expect tips in Colombia and the other Colombians don’t want you giving them tips either otherwise it spoils it for them. Marino had told me that if you give a tip in a taxi you are immediately tagged as “the gringo”. I’m gringo enough; I didn’t need to add to my reputation.
next–Bogotá-Seeing Monserrate and time is running out.
Getting the hotel reservations nailed down was the easy part. The trip from OKC to Bogotá was tough. It was a grueling 14 hour trip through DFW with a connection in Mexico City where we changed airlines from American to Avianca for the final leg. The Mexico City airport always seems to be in a state of chaos, but for some reason I like chaotic airports, and this one fills the bill. What I had not counted on was that in order to change to Avianca, we both had to clear immigration and customs in Mexico City, and then had to stand in line for 2 hours at the Avianca counter just to be told the only seats left were the “dreaded” middle seats. What started out as a comfortable 3.5 hour layover in Mexico City turned into a race for the gate to make our flight.
Once on the plane, I was ready to start practicing my Spanish, so I introduced myself to my seatmates. Seated on my left was Marino, a lace salesman from Bogotá whose biggest client was Victoria’s Secret and no, I did not ask him any personal questions about his work!! Marino spoke very little English, but he did help me modify our Bogotá itinerary by giving suggestions on how to maximize the 23 hours that Jay and I planned to spend there. My other seat mate was Samantha, a beautiful girl from Peru who spent the better part of the 4 hr. 20 min. trip trying to convince me that she was not guilty of the visa fraud that she had been charged with by the U.S. govt . She had apparently been living in Miami and left the U.S. briefly to return to Peru to finalize her divorce and was told by U.S. officials that she was suspected of visa fraud and could not return to the U.S. She blamed it all on her ex-husband. Her story seemed pretty flaky, but since she was a “knockout”, I decided to believe her. My wife says it was very shallow thinking on my part.
We landed in Bogotá in a heavy rain. The Avianca pilot bounced the 757 on the runway 3 times before he finally came to a stop. By the third bounce I was wondering what the headlines might say about the crash of Avianca flight #73 from Mexico City!!!!
We had been advised by the language school in Cartagena that we should take advantage of the hotel’s private car service in Bogotá for security purposes. Since we didn’t know the city, and it would be our first time to visit, we thought the private car was a good idea. The rain and chaos of the Bogotá airport made for a real mess so we were very glad that we had a driver there to meet us.
Our driver, named Vladamir, was a law student who spoke fluent English (thank goodness). He was able to give us a quick summary of the city without us having to labor through Spanish that we probably would not have been able to translate correctly, especially since we aren’t real fluent.
Vladamir took us on one of the fastest, wildest rides that I have ever been on. He almost hit two guys that were standing in the middle of the road trying to flag us down. Finally I asked him why in the world he was driving so fast. He said because we were in a dangerous area, and he was afraid of being stopped by anyone like the two guys we had just seen standing in the middle of the road, so he was driving fast to get through the area. We weren’t sure that we believed him, but it made for a fun adventure.
Have to admit, when we finally drove up to our hotel in the dark, the area looked a little dodgy. A lot of security on the streets. Vladimir told us there was so much security because the Presidential palace was nearby. The Hotel de la Opera was beautiful and very Latin. Small, 24 rooms. The hotel employees were extremely nice to us and very protective. They advised us about what security precautions to take when on the streets. Their suggestions incuded: not flashing cash or expensive watches and to be sure to leave our original passports in the room safe. They also said they would call taxis for us. Nice touch!
Here is a pic of the front entrance of the Hotel de la Opera. Nice, huh?
For dinner we took a taxi from the hotel to the Gato Negro (black cat) restaurant in Parque 93 on the recommendation of Marino my seatmate on the Avianca flight. Bogotá seemed very much alive as we took the 25 minute taxi ride through the city to the restaurant. When we arrived it was raining, but two big bouncer-looking types in suits and wired with security earpieces came out to the taxi with umbrellas to keep us out of the rain. For a minute we were wondering what we were getting into.
Once inside it was obvious why Marino recommended it. This joint was jumping!! The restaurant walls were vibrating from the sound of the Colombian band that was entertaining the diners.
The beat from the band was electrifying. Every now and then, a couple would just jump up from their table and start dancing to the Latin rhythm right in the middle of the restaurant, while the rest of the crowd sat in their seats swaying to the music. Holy cow!! 24 hours earlier we were packing our suitcases in Oklahoma City and now we were in the middle of the Latin beat on a Friday Night in Bogotá, Colombia!!
It was a great restaurant with white tablecloths and extremely polite waiters moving around at a quick pace. Jay ordered a fried cheese plate, and based on the waiter”s recommendation, I had the seafood special.
When it came time to leave, the restaurant insisted on calling a taxi for us as opposed to letting us hail one on the streets. Seems to be a little bit of a security issue.
We finally returned to the hotel around 12:30 a.m. Bogotá was still jumping but we weren’t. We were done.
Next time—Bogotá, the city—it’s what we came to see, but how do we do it in 10 daylight hours?