Visit to Bogota. Part One
After only about one hour and a half we landed at El Dorado airport. It was already dark outside and incredibly cold. For the first time in a very long time we found ourselves in a place where people were wearing jackets and hats. We followed the crowd from the airplane and got to a bus stop. After some asking-around we were on a bus to a cheap hotel I had found online near the Canadian Embassy. The hotel was suspicious and smelled of cigarettes. I explained to the small greasy guy with bad teeth at the reception that we only had $30 and he accommodated us in a room on the fourth and last floor with one double bed. That’s what you get for $30… The three of us squeezed in the bed and that’s how we slept the first night in Bogota.
In the morning, wearing all the clothes we had with us, which were not enough, we got to the Canadian Embassy. There, we filed our applications for passport renewal, paid the fees and left our expiring passports to a nice lady who could speak French, English and Spanish perfectly. Our passport mission was completed. We had three days left to explore the city and its surroundings. Three days are not enough to see all there is to see in Bogota, this large megapolis in the center of Colombia, one of the 25 biggest cities in the world with huge territory and over 12 million citizens.
We started for the most visited part of Bogota- La Candelaria (the Old City) with narrow streets, numerous churches, cathedrals and colonial buildings housing museums, galleries, libraries, universities, restaurants, hotels and institutions.
To get there we took a TransMilenio. The local bus system impressed us a lot. There are 12 bus lines spanning over hundreds of kilometers, with over 1,500 buses, many double-ones imported from Germany and Scandinavia- Mercedes Benz, Volvo and Scania with capacity of 270 passengers each, circulating one after another- a constant flow of red and yellow buses. This is the largest express bus system in the world! Built on the model of Curibiti in Brazil but on a larger scale, the TransMilenio is like a subway system with exclusive lanes and elevated closed bus stop platforms accessible via tunnels and bridges over the highways. The doors of the platforms and the buses (which are too about a meter over the ground) open simultaneously. The building of the TransMilenio was completed in 2000 at the cost of $6 million dollars…per kilometer… A bus ticket costs 1,800 Colombian pesos (1 $US= 2,400 pesos) or about $ 0.70 and you can change many buses as long as you don’t get out of the platforms. We quickly got used to it and traveled all over Bogota cheaply and much faster than cars and taxis, which stay in traffic all day.
The people were polite and told us which bus to take at which station and thus we got to Hotel Continental in the early afternoon. But of course we kept walking past the big hotel and towards the small cheap hostels (which are many in the area), where all backpackers, traveling students, hobos, and other poor adventurers sleep. For us “the cheap way” is “the only way”. As we didn’t have reservations we only managed to get places in the dorm of a small charming hostel in the middle of the Old City for $10 per bed, in a tiny room without windows where only three bunk beds could fit.
The skinny woman at the reception was very nice and promised not to put any more people in “our” “room”, so that we would have the dorm to ourselves. Thus, the first night in Bogota we slept three people in one bed, and the second night- three people in six beds!
We left our backpacks in the room and went exploring around. We expected that the noon sun would heat up the air a little bit, but even during the day the temperatures remained low. Bogota, at 2,640 meters in the Andes, has a subtropical mountain often unpredictable climate with yearly temperatures between 6 and 19 degrees Celsius. The day here may begin with sun in the morning, followed by a storm in the afternoon and end windy and humid. These unstable conditions are due to the high altitude and mountain climate and the effects of El Nino.
But in case of bad weather you can always seek refuge in one of the many museums and galleries, libraries, cafeterias and restaurants, or cathedrals. Our first destination of the “must-see” list was Botero’s Museum, just couple of blocks from our hostel.
Fernando Botero, born in Medellin, Colombia is a world renowned artist making paintings drawings and sculptures with unique style, influenced by the baroque cathedrals in Medellin and later by the Renaissance paintings which the artist studied in the museums of Paris and in the Art Academy in Madrid. His works of art (many of which Botero donated) are represented in the permanent collections of museums and galleries everywhere, including in some of the most prestigious ones in New York and Paris. Today, Botero is 83 years old and he lives in Paris with his third wife, but he insists that he is “the most Colombian of all Colombians.”
His subjects have always been chubby men and women. Botero says that his attraction to the forms of fat people is subconscious and purely aesthetic. I think that his decision to paint large short bodies is a great compositional advantage. The figures are perfectly composed and take up the entire space of the canvass in this format, where as a tall skinny figure would only occupy one third of the space. This is my personal observation and I love Botero’s painting precisely because they are “full-bodied”.
The museum opened doors in 2000 when the artist donated 208 works of art- 123 of his own and 85 of international artists. There is no entrance fee. Admission is free. We got lost in the galleries which walls were decorated with paintings by Botero, Dali, Braque, Picasso, Monet, Matisse and other famous artists. We spent the entire afternoon amidst soft shapes and colors.
For Maya, 11, our visit to Botero Museum was awesome. “I think that Botero likes food. Besides fat people he also painted a lot of fruits and other tasty stuff. And even though most paintings were of fat naked women, I liked them! My favorite ones are “Fat Mona Lisa” and “Fat Jesus”. I think his art is funny and childish (no offense..).”- said Maya.
It was late in the afternoon and the sunlight was trying to pierce through the dark rainy clouds, when we got out of the museum and continued down the street to Plaza de Bolivar, where amidst crowds of people and hundreds of pigeons we were greeted by the heavy Cathedral de Bogota- the biggest cathedral in the country, built between 1807 and 1823. And then a miracle happened. The sun finally managed to peek under the clouds in the west. The Cathedral became shiny with gold light,
crowned with a bright rainbow. Everyone present: the people out for a walk after work, the tourists from all over the world, the street vendors selling juice, candy and small corn pancakes, the young couples kissing by the statue of Bolivar, the homeless beggars, the woman with the llama for pictures, the guy in a wheelchair selling colorful balloons, and the lady selling seeds for the pigeons- they all held their breath and, facing east, looked up at the gold of the cathedral and the rainbow above it, which did not disappear until the sun descended behind the mountains to the west.
*Next time I will tell you about our hike to the top of Monserrate, our visit to the Gold Museum and the Botanical Garden in Bogota.