Our flight to Bogota was short, but I was happy to land. This was to be a two-day excursion, in a city that was notorious for violence and danger for most of my life, but has since grown safer, cleaner, and more navigable for tourists. It was my first step into South America, and also, it turns out, the highest point I had ever been to on land. My ears did not pop or unpop, but I was greeted with a slight shortness of breath whenever I ascended a flight of stairs or even went up an elevator. The weather was correspondingly temperate, and I took to wearing my sweatshirt in the evenings, though days were warm with highs in the mid-70s. We arrived at our hotel in the Parque 93 neighborhood, which was an upscale, modern section of the city’s northernmost reaches. The hotel had a heated pool on the top floor, which we rushed to immediately. Overlooking the city, and the mountains on this new continent, I enjoyed the leisure time, but eager to explore. At sunset, we walked a dozen blocks or so south of our hotel, to a restaurant called “Local by Rausch.” In a cozy, upscale atmosphere, this restaurant and bar offered appetizers based on Colombian favorites, and we ordered the empanadas and arepas along with the local Club Colombia beer.
The following morning, a Saturday, we attempted to see as much as we could of Bogota, as it seemed like all the city’s tourist attractions were on the complete opposite end of town, about thirty minutes away. We took Uber there and back, as I had heard of taxi cabs kidnapping tourists, and found each ride to be safe, professional, and affordable. We started at the free Fernando Botero museum, which housed over a hundred of the artist’s paintings, as well as a couple of Picassos and some other Spanish-speaking artists. Afterward, we strolled just a few blocks to the grand Plaza Bolivar, which reminded me of the Grand Place in Brussels. From there, we walked to the Museo del Oro, which likely had thousands of pre-Columbian gold trinkets and tools. We spent a couple of hours learning about the history of gold’s role in the indigenous cultures of what is now Colombia.
After walking around the museum, we were naturally ready to sit and take a rest. We found a cafe and got coffee and juice made of lulo (a fresh orange-like fruit with a lime-like taste). Our final destination for the day was Montserrate, a tall mountain that forms the eastern boundaries of the city. This mountain, which can be ascended by foot, cable car or funicular, has a small market, a church with a shrine, and impressive views at the top for any tourist looking to make the journey. We purchased round-trip cable car tickets, and first made a stop in the church. Next, we wandered through the market, buying all kinds of little snacks. My favorite was a slab of a wet cheese that was topped with caramel and a strawberry spread. We also ate tamales, plantains, and local Colombian ‘champagne’ soda, which for the uninitiated is more like a cream soda. With the remainder of an afternoon left, I sat in a Parque 93 McDonald’s catching up on my journaling as the neighborhood kids tried to sell me light-up Christmas toys.
That evening, our last in Bogota, we walked twenty blocks down to the neighborhood of Zona Rosa. This four-block area is Bogota’s pub district, with dozens of upscale restaurants and ‘cervecerias’ scattered about. My mother expressed how she had a craving for seafood, so we walked into Central Cevicheria after wandering for a half hour around the neighborhood, comparing menus, and peeking into the various restaurants and bars. I ordered a plate of prawns and potatoes in a lemon sauce, but was not impressed. To drink, I ordered the surprisingly palatable “aguardiente,” which is the Colombian rendition of moonshine, with a couple bottles of Club Colombia to chase, one of which was mixed with a fruit juice into a “refajo” or shandy, not unlike the michelada with which we had started our trip in Mexico. We stumbled home and turned in early. The four countries of travel had likely caught up with us.
The following day, the only event we had scheduled was a 4 pm flight to Mexico City, from whence we would continue on to New York. We spent practically the entire day at the Bogota Botanical Garden, lounging amongst the trees, and I further caught up on my writing. The garden offered an array of different plants, from evergreen forests to the desert cacti of the Andes, and had a calming energy. I believed this to be the best way to conclude our nine-day Latin American expedition.
Victor Bernabei is just another millenial travel blogger. But here's the twist: He isn't a millenial! His goal is to see as many countries as he can, and spread the message that the world is not as scary as the news wants you to believe, and that there is beauty in all people, places and things.