Monday, June 30, 2014

Colombia/Panama Day 3: Bogota- Bike Tour

The bike tour was almost canceled again!  But I just stood there, speaking with the owner, confused as to what to do, for about an hour.  30 minutes after the tour was supposed to begin people began showing up.  Era un milagro.  The owner had already given my money back!  
Bogotravel Tours is a great company.  They have local guides (the other bike tour company has guides from the States which to me does not sound as fun).  The tour was in English as everyone else in the tour was from the US.  I wish the tour was in Spanish but I should just be happy that there was a tour since I leave tomorrow!  

Today was La Ciclovía as well.  It is a holiday, although the owner of Bogotravel Tours was not certain why.  It sprinkled a little initially but it got sunny soon after.  The weather changes quickly in Bogota.  It is hot and sunny one moment, and cloudy and cool the next.  

The goal of Fernando, our tour guide, was to make us feel like Colombians.  When we were at la plaza Bolivar he called over two men from a fruit cart to speak with us about their experiences in Bogota.  They are from Tumaco, Colombia, and came to Bogota to make a living because the economy in Tumaco is bad.   In an anti-drug campaign funded by the US government since the 1990's the Colombian government has been using an aerial fumigation tactic to combat coca plants and coke production.  This kills all crops (bananas, pineapples, coffee) and has killed animals and contaminated rivers (posing serious health risks to those living in the area, including indigenous populations).  Tumaco is one town of many located on the Pacific coast that is sprayed with pesticides regularly.  

During la Ciclovía makeshift bike shops are set up on the side of the road.  

Part of the tour was la Plaza de Toros, a bullring built in 1931 that is no longer in use due to the regular protesting because of the inequity between social classes.  

We rode to Simon Bolivar's park for lunch.  I never would have come here on my own, and it was the best food I have had so far.  

These arepas were so good I ate two.  They were different than the one I had before, it was thin like a crepe and the cheese was melted on top and folded in half.  It was one of the most delicious things that I have had in my entire life.  

I tried many juices (and am crossing my fingers I don't get mono) like borojó and lulo and other fruits I had never heard of.  I got a cut mango in a cup (why get something new when I know what I love?).  
Part of the tour was of the local graffiti scattered around the city, and the interpretation of the political and social messages. 

This large mural is dedicated to Jaime Garzón, a very well loved Colombian figure who was assassinated in 1999 by paramilitary forces because of his political activism.  He was a journalist, lawyer, comedian and peace activist.  The quote on the right says "desde aqui las sonrisas pais de mirda".  It is based on what his journalist friend said while on the air.  In frustration and anger, after announcing that his best friend was dead, he signed off by saying 'pais de mierda'- country of shit.  

The bike tour ended with Fernando pulling a stencil and spray paint cans out of his bag, and telling us that we would now be making graffiti ourselves.  We all just looked at each other in shock, especially after hearing that when Justin Bieber was here for a concert 7 months ago he decided he would do graffiti without permission and Colombian graffiti artists freaked out and covered it up immediately.  Apparently there is a new law that you can do graffiti on any public space.  Some of us on the tour were discussing this as we watched the stencil being put up, doubtful that a new law was put in place in the last few months.  Most of us participated in helping to paint the soccer ball.  I was the first to volunteer.  
Graffitiing was the last thing I expected to do on a bike tour, but I suppose it was apropos.  

When in Colombia... 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Colombia/Panama Day 2: Bogota- Museo de Oro y Catedral de Sal

I started my morning thinking I was going to go to the museum of gold and then participate in La Ciclovía (La Ciclovía ended up being postponed a day).  La Ciclovía is a weekly event when 300 km of roads are shut down to traffic for use by cyclists and pedestrians.  The government started the program in 1974 and has expanded it periodically throughout the years.  Now it is the world's largest biking network.  La Ciclovía takes place every Sunday and holiday, and it is highly utilized.  

I wandered on my way to the museo, and even passed the street walking twice as far as I should have because I was paying attention to everything but street signs.  
I found la iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Las Nieves, originally consecrated in 1585, although it has been rebuilt due to an earthquake in 1917.  

Found it!  
El museo del oro was really fascinating.  It covers the world's history of metal use in general (beginning over 10,000 years ago), the process of extracting metals, metallurgy, and 3 stories of indigenous people's artifacts, showing how they have perfected metal manipulation over time.  It is crazy to think of the uses of metal (from tools, to art, to status symbols, to war, to technology), along the fighting and corruption that has resulted in the exploitation of these natural resources.  

I did not realize when making my plans that the museo is free to the public on Sundays.  Had I known I may have saved it for a different day.  It was packed and hard to see some of the exhibits.  It would have been fine if people were cognizant or concerned with others in the museum (I do not like being bumped into).  The museum only costs 3,000 pesos (about 1.50$) so it is not as though I saved a lot of money by going on the free day.  

This gold conch was made over 2,000 years ago.  A goldsmith wrapped a shell in thin sheets of gold.  The shell has since deteriorated.

The original way to repair gold was to sew it.  

This is a shaman, practicing a ritual of waving palm fronds.  To me it looks like shamans may have invented jumping rope and didn't want to share the game with others.  
I am going to spread a rumor that shamans are selfish.  

During ceremonies twinkling ornaments helped shamans communicate with gods.   

After the museum I walked to the Bogotravel Tours only to find out that the bike tour was canceled because I was the only one signed up.  I quickly changed my plans, deciding to go to Zipaquirá.  I had to walk back to my hotel to pick up some more cash, enjoying La Calendaria where my hotel is located.  This neighborhood is so cute.  
Bogota is incredible.  

La iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria.

Zipaquirá is a small town about 45km from Bogota.  It is famous for the salt cathedral but it also has a cute zócalo (public square).  It is a bit of a trek to get there.  First I had to figure out how to use the Transmilenio (a rapid bus system that has its own lane on the street).  It is kind of like a subway system but less efficient, and multiple buses arrive at one stop.  You have to pay attention and ask for help...  
After a short walk, two Transmilenio transfers, a brief moment of panic and return to the original station only to realize that I was on the right bus, a city bus, and a cab ride I made it to Zipaquirá.  It took me two hours but only cost a total of about 6$ (or 12,000 Colombian pesos).  

The main attraction in Zipaquirá is the salt cathedral which was built within a halite mountain that has been mined for salt by the indigenous Muisca since pre-Colombian time.  The salt deposit was formed 70 million years ago when this area of the Andes was covered by a sea.  

There are 14 small chapels depicting different points in Jesus' life (that is Hey-zus, not Jeez-us).  The entire cathedral can hold 10,000 people at one time.  
The salt cathedral was started by miners in the 1950's but since this part of the mine was active there were safety concerns.  In the 1990's the current cathedral was inaugurated 200 feet under the old one, 590 feet below ground (mining continues in a different part of the mountain).  250,000 tons of rock salt had to be extracted from the largest deposit of rock salt in the world.  

Many of the statues are carved directly into the halite.  

I paid a few dollars more and did la ruta minero, which is a 30 minute glimpse into the life of a miner.  

I did not know this is where salt comes from.  Its pretty.  
In order to purify the salt it must be mixed with water, making a brine which is later evaporated. 

After la mina de sal I walked down the hill and caught an insanely packed bus to the Transmilenio.  It was after 8pm when I returned back to my hotel (breaking my 'don't stay out alone after dark rule' but I made it without any issues, with the assistance of countless Colombians. Everyone is so nice.  
I think that anyone nervous about traveling in Latin America should make Colombia their first trip.  It is incredible here.  

 You have to be aggressive when its busy on the Transmilenio, bus doors open only briefly.  

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Colombia/Panama Day 1: Bogota- Cerro de Monserrate y round 16 de la Copa del Mundo

I have only been in Colombia for 15 hours but so far I am impressed.  While on the plane I read that Colombia is the best Latin American country for women to travel alone because Colombian men are not stereotypically machismo, and so far that has been true.  My cab driver from the airport was very cordial.  He didn't ask me for a hug or tell me the seat leans back if I want to take a nap (after mentioning I was tired and had no interest in going to a party) like taxi drivers in Michoacan have done.  He waited until my hotel opened their door after ringing the bell out front (it was 4:30 in the morning) before he left.  
Men do not gawk on the streets, and employees are not aggressive in getting you to buy their goods.  It is very different from other Latin American countries.  

Zohar hotel is located in la Candelaria district. very close to the capitol and so is highly protected by the military, and assault weapons. 

I left my hotel and started walking to Plaza de Bolivar.  The hotel owner suggested that I go there to view round 16 of the World Cup.  There is a screen set up outdoors for everyone to watch and I wanted to get my bearings before exploring.  
I didn't get very far, just two blocks, before finding one of the most amazing cathedrals I have ever seen.  ¡Rayas rojas!   

La iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Camen is a Catholic temple completed in 1928 after 12 years of construction.  

This is the plaza where the futbol match will be in just a few hours, as you can see the Colombians are not as interested in Brazil vs Chile.  

I needed a snack.  

These poor pigeons in front of la catedral Primada have no idea that they are about to be displaced.  

Apprently Colombians love meat kabobs with a single potato as a topper.  

I walked about fifteen minutes to the ticketing office for el cerro de Monserrate (a gorgeous view of Bogota and a church awaited).  There are three options of transport, you can walk (which I didn't feel safe doing alone), take the teleférico (a cable car constructed in 1955) or take the funicular (the slow train that was functioning almost 20 years earlier than the cable car).  For 8$ I chose to take the funicular car up and the cable car down, its the same price no matter which ones you choose (except walking is free) and I had an irrational idea that it was better to take the cable car up versus down in case the breaks went out.

Bogota is the second highest capital city in the world.  
The top of Monserrate is 3030 meters, or about 10,000 feet.  

Tinto is very common in Colombia.  It is a cute cup of coffee.  I think this size should be offered in the States.  I will have a cutie please.  Yep, that sounds right.  

I explored a little more on my way back to the plaza.  I suppose I wasn't in too much of a hurry predicting I would get a massive headache from all of the blow horns and loud kazoos that everyone purchased for the game.  I needed a little peace before heading back.  

 I trusted this man and his magical cotton candy machine bicycle to make me a pile of pink sugar on a stick. 

At half time (is that right?) everyone went to get a snack.  What to choose...

Not this...

I went with this popular Colombian treat, arepa.  It is cornmeal flat bread stuffed with cheese and grilled, with butter basted on top.  

I suddenly want another one...

So in the end Colombia won.  It was so hectic, exciting, and LOUD.  

The video is poor quality because I took it on my cell phone but you get the idea.  

The only bummer about being in Colombia for this particular futbol game is that no liquor is sold in the entire country!  You cannot buy it at a store or a restaurant, and it is illegal to drink in public.  ¡No me gusta la ley seca!  People would riot in the States if the government pulled this, but apparently Colombians rioting after the game is more of a threat.  I guess they are okay with it, but I think that tourists should be permitted a ley mojada card upon entry to the country when these days exist. 
¡Cuando soy la presidente de Colombia habrá cambios!