They couldn`t have been more wrong
22.08.2007 - 04.09.2007 0 °F
Ok, so after a few weeks recovering in Mexico I started worrying about my travel schedule and the rainy season in C.A. and S.A. A little internet browsing and I found cheap tickets to Peru, which convinced me to change my itinerary and head straight to S.A. visiting C.A. on the return leg. 5 Days later, BAM! The most devastating earthquake to ever strike Peru, and on the exact same day we went to the Peruvian Consulate to get the tourist visa. With only a week before the flight it was a bit of a scramble to get all of the details organized, especially because Brenda was going to be traveling with me, and had only just decided to do so a few weeks prior.
The two weeks in Mexico were extremely relaxing, and I took advantage of the opportunity to go to the local market and buy all fresh meats and produce. I think I fell in love with that place when the butcher hand sliced the bacon right in front of me. It is the little things you start to miss, and I hadn’t had bacon in almost six months. Much less thick sliced! My stomach definitely thanked me for easing up on the picante, and enjoying a steady diet of fresh foods. The apartment I rented was in a laid back middle of the road type neighborhood. Needless to say I stick out like a sore thumb there. And I was quickly recognized by everyone in the local markets, cafes, etc... But after two weeks of that, I was ready to get moving.
We arrived at the airport all set to hop a plane to Lima. It occurred to me that I would rather start in Bogotá than Lima, and so the change was made on the spot and we went to Colombia instead. With all of the negative publicity that Colombia receives, I was definitely a bit nervous to arrive at 10 p.m. without reservations. All of that was quickly resolved in the airport however and off we went to our hotel. First impressions are everything and I was thoroughly impressed with Bogotá. I was expecting more of the same as what I have seen in capital cities of other Latin American countries but this was nowhere close. The city is extremely modern, and dare I say, safe? By Latin American standards that is. It definitely is not the prettiest city I’ve seen, but I was expecting far worse. Little to no street vendors, beggars, or fire eating acts at traffic lights. It seemed almost European, or Eastern European.
This is the Plaza Bolivar, and a young girl chasing the birds. I`d never seen so many birds, and I kind of wanted to do the same thing
The Sanctuary of Montserrat is a traditional church set on top of one of the many hills surrounding the city of Bogotá. Every Sunday there is a precession of thousands who climb the 500+ steps to the top, starting from sunrise until about noon. There is music being played, singing and chanting, and overall a pretty impressive sight to see. It was described to us a typical Sunday in Bogotá so I though we’d check it out. There is a cable car that takes you to the top, but we elected to walk up with everyone else then take the cable car down.
Here is a shot of the hillside
The most famous musem in Bogota is the Gold Museum, with over three floors of gold on display. On the third floor there is a circular room which has thousands of gold objects behind a glass wall. Once inside the lights go downd, and the gold is illuminated from behind creating a three dimesional view, and covering the whole room with a golden glow. As I would soon find out, gold is a major part of Colombian history and would play a major role in their relations with the Spanish.
After picking up a travel guide for Colombia we started forming out a rough itinerary. After Bogotá we headed north to a small town called Zipaquirà. Zipaquirà is famous for its salt mining and to this day exports more than 500 tons of salt daily. The biggest attraction is the salt cathedral which is a series of 14 salt sculptures is a non working section of the mine. The large cathedral is 180 meters below the mountain peek in the mine, and has a capacity of almost 3000. Almost everything is made out of salt, except for the occasional marble floors. Backlights are used to illuminate the dome ceilings and crosses. It is extremely impressive, and an interesting work even to those not of the Christian persuasion. You can only enter by guided tour which gives you a fantastic appreciation for the time and effort. All of the crosses were made by the miners, and some of them way as much as 4 tons.
While having dinner one bight in Bogotá the owners of the restaurant sat with us for three hours discussing the various things to do in Colombia. One of the things they said we had to do was go to the Laguna de Gautavita. This is a sacred lake to the Muisca Indians. The legend of El Dorado (the golden man) says that every so often the head of the tribe would take a boat out to the center of the lake and deposit a hand carved solid gold statue into the water. This ritual was practiced to help restore equilibrium in the universe and was considered a gift to the gods. The Muisca believed that when things started to go wrong in the world, it was because the world was falling out of equilibrium. Often times the head of the tribe would cover his body in gold dust and dive into the lake to offer himself to the gods, thus the legend of the Golden man. Needless to say the Spanish found out about this legend, and set out to recuperate the gold from the bottom.
The lake is unusual in the sense that it is not fed by any river or body of water. It is completely surrounded by hills on all sides. The first attempt by the Spanish was to cut into the hillside and drain the lake, that didn’t work, later teams of divers and excavators arrived from Europe, but still no dice. As it turns out the lake is fed by an underground current that devoured the heavy gold pieces almost as soon as they hit the bottom. This is a source of great pride for the Muisca Indians as only a few small pieces were ever recovered from their sacred lake. The guided hike around the lake was conducted by one of the Granddaughters of the Muisca Indians who did an amazing job describing the significance of the lake, the flora and fauna of the area, and the way of life of the Muiscas in modern times.
Colombia was impressing me more and more as we made or way north. The countryside was spectacular and the amount of organization in and preservation of natural parks, transportation, and tourism in general was unlike any I’d seen in Latin America. I was definitely beginning to question just about everything that I had heard about Colombia. All of those who don’t travel to Colombia for fear of propaganda (usually politically motivated), just leave the country a little less crowded and more preserved for the rest of us to enjoy.