It is big. It is modern. Bogota is a huge, bustling city with efficient public transportation- all above ground (no subway). So far we haven´t seen many indigenous people. To me, people look healthy; Colombians are taller than people in Ecuador, Peru, or Bolivia. In the city one realizes there must be a lot of poverty even if we didn´t see the huge, poor neighbourhoods located in the south of the city. I overhead a guide say that 50% of Colombians live on or below minimum wage.
In the streets of the capital there are many people selling just about everything imaginable… from candies to telephone cards, to used clothing and other recycled objects. People and dogs go through everyone´s garbage bags every night. Then city workers come along, pick up what they can and sweep up the mess. In general the city is extremely clean if you don´t count the air pollution.
In the centre where we stayed, I was shocked to see four fully-armed soldiers talking to a neighbour when I looked out the window early in the morning. When we went out for breakfast, there were two posted at every corner. Everyone reassured me that they were there to protect the near-by government buildings and were friendly and made their neighbourhood much safer.
We have been lucky to have Colombian friends in Canada who have introduced us to friends here in Colombia, and these new friends are introducing us to their friends in the places we are going to visit. It is always interesting to meet people who actually live here. One couple kindly took us out last Saturday for a drive to nearby towns north of Bogota. It was a very enjoyable day.
We also met up with a Colombian couple who were living in Cairo when I was there. We had a great time catching up while eating dinner at their apartment and then going for a walk around their rather chic area of the city.
Even though Bogota must be an interesting city to live in with all the cultural activities, we were happy to enjoy the quieter charms of the small city (13,000) of Valle de Leyva.
At a lower altitude, it is warmer and sunnier than the capital. Villa de Leyva is a get-away colonial town almost entirely dedicated to tourism for Colombians and foreigners. We were sorry we only had two nights and one full day to enjoy its colonial attributes.
Bus travel is colourful and slow in Colombia, although one would get to their destination faster in car, I am happy not to drive on their curvy, narrow, mountainous roads. Cyclists are particularly brave (or foolish) to venture out along with cars, trucks, buses, and fool-hardy motorcyclists.
What would have been a 3 hour drive from Villa de Leyva to Barichara took us almost 8 hours in three different buses.
Barichara is even smaller than Villa de Leyva. At 1,6000 meters the weather is warm and pleasant. We are now in the region of Santander: mountainous, rocky, lots of dry, tropical forests. Perfect for raising goats and cattle.
Yesterday we walked 6-7 kilometres mostly downhill on rocky path called El Camino Real (The Royal Road) to the village of Guane at 600 metres.We were really hot, red and sweaty by the time we got there two hours later, but the views were well worth the effort. This little village abounds with fossils of all sizes which they try to hawk from every other doorstep. They also sell chicha, a fermented corn drink, and roasted ants which have big rear ends (hormiga culona) and look like small black berries when roasted. One seller told us they tasted like peanuts, but we weren´t tempted.
Well enough for now. We are hoping to sleep well tonight on a first class bus to Santa Marta on the Atlantic-Caribbean coast, in seat that reclines almost to a horizontal position. Then we will know what real heat feels like along the coast.