Colombia 2014 Post 1

Bogota – Villa de Leyva – Barichara, Colombia
January 23 – 30, 2014 from Barichara

We’ve been in Colombia for a week. We have been continuously amazed at how developed the country is. The transport system in Bogota, a city of 7.4 million, is very efficient. The long distance buses run in dedicated lanes in the center of the expressways. There are bike/pedestrian lanes that run the length of the city. Local buses run frequently. It’s much more developed than in Portland. We spent 3 days in Bogota seeing the sights and getting oriented: cell phone setup, exchange money, reservations for the next few days, etc.

We stayed in the old town area so we would be close to the major museums, squares, and attractions. The most impressive is the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum).  It has more than 55,000 gold objects from the major pre-hispanic cultures in Colombia. We saw the gold museum in Lima, Peru, and thought it was impressive. The Bogota museum is very well laid out and has a greater number of objects; though many of the Lima pieces were beyond impressive with their mass and gaudiness.
Another museum Deni particularly liked was the Museo Botero. It has an impressive collection of works by Fernando Botero whom we had never heard of before. All of his pictures and sculptures are of very chubby people and things. They made Deni laugh out loud.

On another day we visited Cerro de Monserrate which is a white church on top of a peak on the east side of the city. We had views of the 1700 sq km capital city laid out in a large valley. Some of the younger folk walked up the 1500 steps to the ttop. We took the cable car. After descending, we visited a house that Simon Bolivar, the great liberator, lived in 423 days over 9 years. There were many interesting pieces of furniture and clothing from the 1820s.

Ok, that’s enough about the sights. Now, how is it in Colombia? We’ve been wandering around every evening trying to find restaurants open for dinner. The pickings have been very slim. It finally dawned on us that Colombianos eat their main meal in the middle of the day and just have pastry with coffee or beer in the evening. Our guide, Lonely Planet, has nothing to say on this subject. So we were confused. We are here during low season. So perhaps it is different during high season around the holidays when there are more tourists. We had our first lunchtime main meal today. So it’s taken us awhile. No matter what time of day we eat we’re having a hard time staying low carb. There is a lot of eating of bread, rice, plantain, and (unfortunately) the wonderful small potatoes that are super yummy. Luckily we are walking a lot and hope to keep off the weight.

Villa de Leyva
On Sunday for our trip to Villa de Leyva we took a taxi to the very modern bus station. It looked like a small airport terminal and was nearly as efficient. The modern bus took us to the town of Tunja where we caught a smaller bus to the beautiful colonial village of Villa de Leyva.
It’s a quaint town with a huge cental square, one of the largest in the Americas. Other than the churches the most interesting things are outside of town. A short walk took us to a crazy house – Casa Terracota. It was built by an archtect who wanted to construct a house out of clay. It is totally unique with rounded walls that merge into ceilings. There is tile work throughout. It’s interesting to look at. But when you think about living in it you scratch your head. It would be a beast to keep clean. It’s not currently occupied, but you can rent it. Much of the remainder of the day we spent wandering around trying to find a restaurant that was open for dinner. What we finally found was a really good organic restaurant. But it was never open again. Deni says it was like Brigadoon. It merely rose from the mist.

(Oh, thinking about mist. We are not having any trouble taking the sunny days with an occasional cloud buildup in the late afternoon. The one short rain dried up almost immediately. Bogota is over 9,000 feet in elevation, so it was quite cool in the evenings. But Villa de Leyva is a bit lower, so it was slightly warmer. Currently in Barichara it’s even warmer with warm nights.)

Because meat seemed to be constantly on our minds, we took a short bus trip to Sutamarchan, the longaniza sausage capital of Colombia. It was a typical small Colombian town, but the smell wafting from the various sausage grills was intoxicating. Our plate of sausages, ribs, and potatoes (those dangerous little potatoes again) served both of us and cost only $5. We were very happy.

We visited two other attractions: a 12 meter baby kronosaurus fossil, the world’s most complete specimen, and an astronomical Stonehenge-like site with many penile stone monoliths vertically erected in the surrounding area . Deni felt it was all just bragging on the part of the ancient Muisca male leadership.

On Wednesday, yesterday, we sampled many modes of transport to get to Barichara, our favorite colonial village so far. We started at 10am in a van going over a mountain on an Africa-style dirt and rock road. Next was a small bus to get to a major town. There we caught a very fancy bus with ensuite bathrooms to San Gil. There we had to take a taxi to the termalita (small terminall) to catch the small bus to Barichara that dropped us off at the main square where we crammed into a three-wheel taxi that delivered us to our hotel at 5:30pm. We like using public transport because we get to see how local folks travel, and it’s cheap. The cost of the whole trip was $17.50 apiece.

We’ve spent the day here exploring the lovely colonial town. We’ll probably stay for 3 or 4 days. The town is known for, among other things, hormigas culonas, literally fat-bottom ants, which are considered a delicacy. We had hoped to eat at a restaurant that features the ants. But it was closed, so we will have to satisfy our ant-eating needs by buying fried ant snacks in a corner grocery store. We’ll report on that delicacy later.

Deni continues to improve her understanding of what people are saying. Then she defers to me to talk with people about our needs. I spent the two months previous to our trip doing some intensive refreshing of my imperfectly learned Spanish from high school.The study really helped. I had my first impromptu conversation with a bus passenger. We talked about our families and shared pictures on our tablets. I am also making phone calls to make reservations, which I could never do before. I’m not fluent by any means. But I can at least carry on a basic conversation. Hurray!

Oh, qand electronics. Wireless is good everywhere. And cell service is fast 4G. Colombianos are as wired in to their cellphones, computers, and tablets as we are in the US. Everyone is carrying.

That’s all for now. Further adventures await.


2 thoughts on “Colombia 2014 Post 1

  1. Kristine

    Bob & Deni, I enjoyed reading about your trip so far. I really like the Botero paintings. Sounds like a really interesting country to visit.

  2. Barb Smith

    Sounds (and looks) like you are having a great time! Don’t worry about a few little potatoes… you probably need the energy! Thanks for sharing… it’s fun to travel along with you!


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