Driving into Bogota yesterday, we were both a tad bit worried. How shall I say this? Compared to the other places we have been, Bogota looked a bit grim. The city looked run down, the city felt dirty, and, at first glance, nothing was going on. Plus, we are pretty sure our cabbie screwed us out of a few pesos. (OK, we know he did, the question is how many, as the cab system here is really crazy with additional fees for airport pick-ups, Sundays, and who knows what else).
But we shouldn’t have worried. Twenty-four hours later and I was asking Robert if we could hire an auctioneer to sell everything in our storage unit so we could move to Colombia. He didn’t say yes, but he didn’t say no either….
So, what turned Bogota around for us?
Well, for one thing, the dogs. There are dogs everywhere here. Big dogs, little dogs, young dogs, old dogs, dogs walking, and dogs being carried. And plenty of the dogs are wearing cute outfits. People seem to really love their dogs here.
For another thing, the ciclovia. Every Sunday and on public holidays, over 120 km of the streets in Bogota are closed to cars. We aren’t talking side streets — they close major streets. The streets are open to bikes, roller skaters, street performers, vendors, etc. We got lucky because yesterday was a Sunday, today is a holiday, and the street right outside of our hotel is one of the streets that close. So, we stumbled upon the ciclovia as soon as we left our hotel room.
And the streets closed for the ciclovia are full of food, glorious food. Tons of sausages, juices of all different varieties, arepas, cotton candy and a variety of other things. But you have to try the obleas. The vendor schmears yummy goodness all over one wafer (kind of like what wafer ice cream cones are made of but really thin) and puts another wafer on top. In my case, I had caramel and nuts schmeared all over my wafers. So good. I will be looking for these guys every day we have remaining in Bogota… (What I won’t be looking for are the guys selling something that resembles taffy — it is absolutely disgusting and is apparently made by boiling the feet of cows and using the gelatin that rises to the top. Wish I had known that before I tried it…).
You know what else is on the street during the ciclovia? Guinea pigs! Yep, guinea pigs. No, not the kind you eat. The kind you bet on. Yep, some guy puts a bunch of bowls in the street, people put money on top of the bowls, the guinea pig is released, and whoever put money on the bowl the guinea pig hides under wins. We didn’t bet, but we did watch one round. It was entertaining for a few minutes and the local kids seemed to be having a blast. I’m not so sure the guinea pigs were enjoying it…
The streets are also full of street art. I think we will take a street art tour later this week, but we were able to see a bit of the street art today just walking around on our free walking tour. Unfortunately, there is a ton of just plain graffiti on the walls as well. Apparently, many property owners have been paying decent artists to put up big murals rather than have their property covered with the tags of not very good artists.
We also like Bogota because the museums are dirt cheap or even free. For example, they have an amazing Botero museum here and it is completely free. Botero donated a bunch of his own art, plus his personal collection of art. Botero owned art by Picasso, Monet, Calder, Miro, Ernst, Renoir, Dali, and a variety of other famous artists.The museum is small, but first class.
We also visited the free money museum where they show the history of Colombian money. I was bored, but Robert seemed to like it.
We also love the restaurant food in Bogota. Right next to our hotel is an Asian restaurant. Ordering Thai and Vietnamese food in Spanish was an interesting experiment. Let’s just say Thai and Vietnamese is not pronounced the same way here as it is in Thailand and Vietnam…but we managed to get some pretty decent khao soi and banh xeo nonetheless.
I know, I know, you are thinking “why are they eating Asian food in Colombia?” We wondered the same thing (especially since we are headed back to Asia in a little over a week) and today we stuck to Colombian food. We knew before arriving that we had to try the ajiaco. So, try it we did. And it is delicious! Ajiaco is a soup made with three kinds of potatoes, chicken, corn on the cob, and some local herb. It is served with avocado, capers and cream (don’t worry, you can leave them out, I did) as well as rice. We will be having more ajiaco before we leave. In fact, I’m pretty sure it is my new favorite comfort food (and it would go amazingly well with a fried peanut butter sandwich on the side…).
And we also love the numerous bakeries/cafeterias/pastelerias. Nothing like stopping for a nice cup of coffee (for Robert) and a macaroon or a cookie (for me)!
Finally, we like that they have crazy things we would have never tried if we hadn’t come here. Today’s novelty was chicha, a fermented drink made with corn. According to our walking tour guide, the “traditional” way of making chicha is for someone to chew the corn up in their mouth to get it soft, spit it out, and then let it brew for a few days. Thankfully, it is now made in a much less “traditional” and much more sanitary manner…It kind of tastes like a sweet beer. Surprisingly, not that bad.
We are looking forward to our remaining time here (and, especially, the Colombia v. Argentina match tomorrow).