Bogota - whoever I told about my upcoming Colombian adventure would start on some words about Bogota, Medellin and the drug conflict. While Colombia is still producing a considerable amount of cocaine, there is a lot more to this country than drugs and guerrilla groups. I'll share more on the recent progress concerning the drug conflict in a different post.
A lot has changed in Bogota in the recent years making its city center a vibrant neighborhood with colorful streets, great street food and fusion cuisine restaurants and coffee bars that allowed for an easy transition into holiday mode after an exhausting 14 hour flight. La Candelaria, the historic city center is pretty safe to walk around if one sticks to the rules and uses some common sense ( e.g. no unnecessary swinging around of large DSLR cameras at night, no walking around at night on your own, only take accredited cabs...).
We stayed in a beautiful hotel called Anandamayi Hostal in a calm street in La Candelaria. The old colonial building with white washed walls and turquoise doors has four different patios all boasting flowers, plants in every shade of green and some hammocks to relax in. The place is run by women only, especially single mothers are employed with flexible shifts to allow for a sustainable income.
Downtown, we visited the Museo del Oro that has an impressive exhibition on the gold crafting art of Colombia and South America in general. You can easily spend a few hours in there, mesmerized by the delicate golden jewelry on display.
Obviously, we had so sample some Colombian coffee as soon as possible and were not disappointed by this cups we got on a coffee stall on the street. Everyone was so friendly and talkative (although only Spanish is spoken here) and people seemed genuinely interested in us and our appreciation of the country. I felt immediately at ease with the people and the country and this feeling did not cease throughout the whole trip.
In the afternoon, we embarked on a bike tour with Cerro Bike tours to discover some other Bogota neighborhoods where you would usually not walk to as a tourist. The graffiti scene is big in Bogota with a few graffiti collectives being paid my the government to paint some murals. There are different themes to different collectives, anti-war or crime messages, ecological or social headlines.
The bike tour was a great way to cover bigger distances in a day and still learn something about the city and its history.
We stopped at a coffee roastery for a cup of freshly-brewed Colombian coffee. At first, I thought this might be a typical tourist trap thing. However, unlike in India, where we often felt obliged to purchase something at these kind of stops, this seemed a lot more relaxed. Our bike guide also ordered food and a coffee and paid for it just like us. The roastery and the accompanying café have existed and had their customers before the tourists arrived so it just felt normal to step by, have a look and enjoy a cup of coffee while everyone was pursuing his or her business. I gladly realized that in Colombia, not everything is revolving around the tourists. On my last travels through India and Nepal I got so accustomed to the fact that tourism was the only source of income that it took me a few moments to realize the differences in Colombia. It has been eight years since my last trip to South America. In-between I have mostly traveled around Asia and Africa where tourism often plays a bigger role in the country's economy. Additionally, as a fair European you stick out a lot more. With its diverse cultural and ethnic heritage Colombia is a multi-racial country, with Caribbean, Afro-American and Hispanic influences. Although poverty is still a major economic problem, there is a sound Colombian middle class and the minimum wage is on the rise.
Being a tourist was a lot easier here since you could blend in more easily and experience more of Colombia's culture on your own, chatting with the locals on the bus, in a bar or at the beach.
Later on, we stopped at the fruit market where we sampled a few, even new-to-me, fruits. Delicious!
All in all, it was a great start into our Colombian adventure. The day was perfectly rounded up with a dinner at Capital Cocina. A tiny restaurant with little wooden tables and minimalistic interior that could sit in New York or Berlin all the same, where we ordered octopus salad and some nice meats at the price of a New York cocktail. Bon appetit!