Bogotá: The 1 and 2/3 Mile High City

For breakfast this morning I accidentally ate horse. I thought the word caballo sounded familiar, and it wasn’t till after I had eaten a couple bites when I remembered what it meant. I’ve never had horse before, and despite being tougher than my sandals it actually didn’t taste half bad. If I wasn’t as hungover I probably would have remembered sooner, but alas it was meant to be.

Horse steak, however, is only one the many things Bogotá has to offer. Being the capital of Colombia and its biggest city, sitting at 8700 foot elevation, this place is chocked full of beautiful people, amazing food and some wild, wild nightlife.

I didn’t get into Bogotá until 10pm, so my first night was spent flexing my Spanish muscles and, unfortunately, talking politics. I was in Fulano Backpackers, a great little hostel in the Chapinero District about five miles from downtown. It reminds me of parts of Brooklyn, strangely enough, will little parks dotted around and outdoor bars and restaurants dotting the sidewalk. My taxi driver Fernando picked me up at the airport, we stumbled our way through a conversation in Spanish, I was amazed how much I’d forgotten in the four years since taking classes.

But eventually we arrived at the hostel and parted ways. Fulano is a large brick mansion off the main road, surrounded by little bars and restaurants. I met a few friends in the room, like Mélie from Belgium, Sam from Ireland, and Harley from England. We hung out on the patio and played guitar, drank some beers, and listened to an incredible harmonica player blast his way through the blues.

Later on, Esteban, a local Colombian, showed up and joined our little crew. He heard my accent and immediately guessed America. My Minnesota brogue really does show my true colors right away. Esteban was incredibly excited to talk about Trump and hear my thoughts on it. I told him that Trump is a moron. He loved it.

Esteban really, really wanted to politics and kept injecting our talks with bits about gun control, North Korea, and healthcare. I felt more like I was on CNN rather than hanging in a hostel, it was like being interviewed by a Colombian Wolf Blitzer. He must not talk to many Americans often.

The next day, I sauntered off on my own to Monserrate, a mountain peaking at 10,340 feet with a lovely 17th church built on top. Back in those days, Monserrate was used a spot for religious ceremonies, pilgrims hiking up the 2,000 feet elevation to pray and do whatever else it is that pilgrims do. Eventually, as with most things, it turned into a tourist attraction, and now is accessible by funicular and cable car. Of course, being me, I said no way to the funicular and decided to hike up. A stone lined path leads all the way to the top, past stalls selling questionable pieces of meat an dogs lounging on the steps. Having flown in from Florida, the high altitude was already playing games with my lungs, and after about ten minutes of hiking I felt like my heart was about to leap out of chest in protest and return to the comfort of sea level.

After numerous breaks, however, I summited the mountain and looked out over the city. You can really see most of Bogota from up top, the cities 8 million people sprawled out from the mountains in the east. Fun fact, Bogota is considered an “alpha” global city according to the Globalization and World Cities Research Network. What does that mean? I have no clue, but it sure sounds important. From up on Monserrate, looking down on the city, I totally agreed.

Near the base of Monserrate is La Candelaria, a neighborhood that is the Old City of Bogota, featuring 19th century architecture, massive cathedrals, and Bolívar Squarewhich that day was hosting a large crane that lifted up a dining room table into the sky, so people can eat while dangling on a cable I guess. The women selling ice cream in the square seemed quite terrified, one even clutching her face in horror. It was a day of firsts for her too.

I walked around the neighborhood and spent the afternoon soaking into the sights, old churches and houses spread out along cobblestoned streets, palm trees sprinkled throughout. At one point a group of student stopped me and asked to interview me on video for their English class. They were terribly nervous, one girl even having her lines fed to her by a friend off camera. It was pretty adorable.

For my first real night in Bogota, we wound up at the club Teatron,  wild multi level multi room club that features a bunch of different music. You pay 34,000 pesos to get in, roughly 12 bucks, but with that you get free drinks all night. Literally, all night, its open bar. I couldn’t believe it. Harley and myself went with a French girl and her Colombian friend, and we danced the night away till 4 in the morning, when I joined a group of strangers in their cab to drive me home. As First Nights go, this one was pretty grand, and a hell of a way to start off a trip.

And now, hungover and questioning my life choices, I embark on new adventure. There’s a store somewhere around here that sells “the perfect milkshake.” We’ll see about that.

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A discouraging trail map

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A horse surveying Monserrate

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Monserrate Church

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The sprawl of Bogota

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Houses sprinkled on a hillside

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Dinner on a crane

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Bolivar Plaza

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La Candelaria

 

 

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