A Travellerspoint blog

"Like Commonfolk?!" - The Day We Survived Public Tours

Guest appearance by Jessica Meagan

Yesterday, Colombia celebrated the Feast of Corpus Christi. The actual day was Thursday, June 15 but Colombians like to observe holidays on Mondays. They apparently just like holidays in general - Colombia observes 18 public holidays, second only to India at 21. The next two Mondays are also holidays. These people know how to live.

The #bitchesinbogota shook off our beer / wine / vodka hangovers, and headed down to Parque de los Periodistas (Journalists' Park) for the highly-recommended Bogotá Graffiti Tour. The tour company began in 2011 when an Aussie and a Canadian decided they wanted to share Bogotá's unique and prolific art scene with the world; they got drunk a few times, picked their favourite walls, and the rest is history. This tour is now frequently the highest-rated activity in Bogotá; after doing it, we know why. There was some initial apprehension: the bitches had to mingle with other tourists. We all share an aversion to public tours; our lack of patience and general dislike for others makes tours insufferable; however, we sucked it up given the strong recommendations. And we are SO glad we did.

There's no way I can do this tour justice - you should just come to Bogotá, and experience it for yourself. But I will try and hit the high points.

In 2011, a 16 year old artist named Diego Felipe Becerra was shot and killed by police while painting at night. His death and the subsequent cover-up (the various trials are ongoing, even today) sparked outrage in the community and empowered artists. The government slowly began relaxing its approach to graffiti; however, the efforts were inconsistent. Enter, of all people, Justin Bieber. After a 2013 performance in Bogotá, Biebs received a police escort to tag a wall. Understandably, the artists who had been on the receiving end of fines and police brutality for years lost their collective shit. They organized a 24-hour "graffiti marathon", which received strong support from the local neighbourhood.

Until recently, the police / government and the graffiti artists have enjoyed relative, albeit uneasy, peace. Graffiti has been legalized in some areas of Bogotá, and there have been many city-sanctioned collaborations with artists. Unfortunately, the recently elected mayor of Bogotá is less supportive of graffiti than his predecessors. Enrique Peñalosa Londoño was mayor from 1998-2000, and was re-elected in 2016. His government is undertaking an effort to restore the historic La Candelaria district to reflect its Colonial roots, which doesn't include graffiti. Within the last couple of weeks, the government has painted over a number of walls in the district. Our guide pointed out the two major flaws with this approach - first, the government is essentially creating a blank canvas for graffiti artists, and cutting down the costs significantly by handling all the prep work. Second, the government likes to share the location of these blank canvases on social media, making it easier for artists to plan retaliation projects. So it sounds like the next few years should be interesting for Colombia's famed street art.

Our guide, Jay, was excellent - he used the art as a springboard for providing fascinating insight into the socioeconomic and political influences of Colombia. To recap it all here would take too long. Instead, I recommend just booking a trip to see it for yourself.

Here are a few of my favourite pieces:

This is a collaboration between four artists: Dj Lu + Toxicómano + Lesivo + Guache. Dj Lu is a fine arts graduate who keeps his identity secret as he's concerned his politically-motivated pieces will jeopardize his "day job" as an architect and a professor. Toxicómano is actually a collective defined as a "group of antisocial scientists in a fight against stupidity, ignorance, morality and faith through healthy visual attacks." Lesivo is one of the community's most controversial figures; his work is often removed also immediately due to the polarizing messages. Guache is one of Bogotá's most famous artists; he often explores indigenous themes in his work. Together, these four artists created a beautiful piece that represents many facets of Colombia's socioeconomic issues: corruption, greed, irresponsible tourism, unsustainable resource extraction...the list goes on.

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Deela Roca is incredible. One of her pieces was on a wall the government painted over; everything was white-washed except for her art. I hope they just couldn't bear to cover it up.

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Kiptoe is an American artist who, while on a South American tour, made a repeat visit to Bogotá because he fell in love with a Colombian girl. He dedicated a mural to her - "Hasta que nos encontremos de nuevo." / "Until we meet again." Turns out I'm a sucker for romantic gestures.

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After the tour, we trotted up the street for a bike tour of Bogotá. We were certain we would be "over" the public tour thing after the graffiti tour, so we opted to pay an extra 10,000 pesos (~$6) per person for a private tour. Imagine our surprise when we showed up for a tour with 30 of our closest friends...

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Our faces when we don't get to go private.

One benefit of being in a large group - strength in numbers. Like I mentioned earlier, there is no right-of-way in Bogotá. However, while one tourist doesn't pose much threat to traffic, a horde of clueless people on bikes is reason to yield.

We started in the Plaza de Bolívar, which is at the heart of the city. The square is surrounded by historical buildings: the Palace of Justice, the National Capitol, the Primary Cathedral of Bogotá, and the Liévano Palace, seat of the mayor of Bogotá. Then we rode to the Paloquemao market, where we sampled a number of local fruits and vegetables, to varying degrees of enjoyment. As expected, the produce is incredible here - full of flavour.

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Still super thrilled with being part of the general population.

After the markets, we got back on the bikes. Our guide turned to us, and stressed the importance of staying together, and not stopping to take photos over the next few blocks. We were slightly confused, until we realized we were riding though Bogotá's 'red light district.' To go from avocados to prostitution is quite the jump, but we rolled with it (literally - we had no choice). We got to witness an older white man in a Mercedes propositioning a very young girl, multiple drug deals, and quite a few people taking naps in the street.

Adjacent to the red light district is the Cafe de la Fonda coffee factory, which walked through the roasting process and offered coffee for sale. Geri and I are actually doing a very robust coffee tour later this week, so expect more details then. The tour also included a trip through the La Merced neighbourhood, which features very European architecture, and the Símon Bolívar park, which is a large greenspace with sports and entertainment complexes.

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We were also introduced to tejo - a 'sport' involving throwing rocks at gunpowder. Think of it as cornhole with explosions. Adopting this would certainly change the dynamic of quite a few tailgate parties.

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Overall, the bike tour was okay. We had the benefit of socioeconomic / political context from the graffiti tour, which helped. We would have appreciated more explanation on the tour, but that's difficult to provide in such a large group.

We really crammed in the activities yesterday, as we left the bike tour and immediately went to Doña Elsa's house for some authentic Colombian cooking. We also booked the cooking tour through Bogotá Bike Tours. We obviously needed to source some vino tinto, which Mike from Bogotá Bike Tours both found and purchased, as a "sorry" for the bike tour mix-up. Thanks Mike!

Elsa is a wonderful lady who guided us through the preparation of ajiaco, a traditional soup typically made with chicken, three varieties of potatoes, and the Galinsoga parviflora herb, commonly referred to in Colombia as guasca. Cindy and I got a little overzealous, and ended up grating a variety of potato that was supposed to be cubed. But other than that minor incident, the food was delicious and Elsa was incredibly accommodating.

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No night in Bogotá is complete without a couple more bottles of wine. But the bitches took it easy, as today was another big day of activities - something I will let Cindy recap for you next time.

Posted by imalazyj 20:16 Archived in Colombia

Fonda la Chismosa

Google translate says that means "Fuck the Gossip"

semi-overcast 16 °C

Where does one begin? We have experienced two full (very full) days in Bogotá since we last blogged and all of us are brimming with excitement about what we have learned and experienced. Let's start with where Jess left off (Jess, Cindy and Renata will all be contributing to this entry).

June 18, 2017 - second full day

We had a 9:30 am start (and surprisingly we all felt pretty decent following the previous evening's activities) and off we headed to the Usaquén Market, a street market and fair taking place every Sunday in the Usaquén neighborhood of Bogotá. Numerous vendors come out and sell quality locally made handicrafts, as well as cheap trinkets and various food items. Jess sourced our guide, Diana, from 5Bogota and we all instantly fell in love with her. Excellent English, knowledgable, sweet and funny, all excellent traits in a guide. First stop was breakfast sourced from a local, hole-in-the-wall establishment where we sipped Colombian Hot Chocolate (hot chocolate with marvellous mozzarella cheese in it, don't knock it until you have tried it) as our guide quipped, "Chocolate without cheese is like love without kisses". We dined on Pastel de Huevo (pastry filled with egg and meat) and Mantecadas, are a type of spongy pastry similar to a muffin (butter, flour and sugar I think are the ingredients), but flatter and tasted very much like pound cake. Stuffed full we headed into the market where Diana showed us the local crafts (and we may or may not have sourced some new jewelry to return home with us). We wandered for a couple hours before heading towards home but not before trying local corn on the cob (done on an open flame grill) and Obleas con Arequipe, a very sweet waffle cone type pancake with caramel in the middle dessert.

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Most of the afternoon we kind of went our own ways. Jess went off to acquire random knowledge about the history of Gold, at the Gold Museum, Cindy & I toured the local gym down the road (gyms look and smell the same no matter what country you are in) and Ren took it easy catching up on some work at the condo.

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Shockingly (not really for anyone who knows us) by the time we all reconvened we were hungry and thirsty so off we went to another local BBC (Jess mentioned this in her post, and has an addendum to her contribution, BBC was sold to AmBev in 2015 (Brazilian and the biggest brewery in Latin America and the fifth in the world)) to source some fuel.

The evening progressed fairly typically for us, nachos and beer, bottle of wine, new location and another bottle, turns out the Colombian Soccer Finals were last night, Atlético Nacional vs Deportivo Cali Results here in Spanish, which made for exciting time at the pub before we headed to the Wok for dinner. Asian fusion with Colombian and it was delicious (and cheap). As we strolled home to our condo, we passed Fonda la Chismosa, an odd establishment with mannequins on the outside. Once we popped that into Google Translate and it came back with "Fuck the Gossip" we had to go in. After a full pat down from security we were led upstairs to the oddest little dance club? bar? gay club? we still don't know but it was highly entertaining people watching. FYI - hard alcohol is sold by the bottle here but you can take leftovers with you, convenient.

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I'd like to say we went home to bed but I think we went home and another cocktail (watermelon, vodka water) and some popcorn. Vacation time after all.

Until next time,

  1. bitchesinbogota

Posted by imalazyj 18:27 Archived in Colombia

Guest Appearance with Jessica Meagan

overcast -16 °C

G1 has given me control of the blog for the day; this is an action she will surely regret.

We've done an excellent job at sampling Bogotá's food offerings so far. They had to move us to a bigger table to accommodate all our ordering at 14inkas, and while walking home, Cindy and I convinced the others that we just needed "one more drink" at the Bogotá Beer Company Bodega, which is conveniently around the corner from our Airbnb. The craft brewery is actually the second largest brewery in Colombia; what started as a $25,000 investment in 2002 has grown into a ~$50 million enterprise with nearly 30 locations.

Given our enthusiastic support of the food and beverage industry, we thought we should do something slightly active to ensure the pants we brought fit for the duration of our trip. Enter Cerra de Monserrate, a mountain in Bogotá that rises 3,152 m (10,341 feet) above sea level. At the top is the Monserrate Monastery, a religious site that dates back to the pre-Columbian era. Before the Spanish conquest, indigenous people considered the mountain sacred; it became a site for religious ceremony in the Colonial period of the 1600s and now it's a Catholic shrine / full tourist zone.

There are three ways to get up the mountain: a cable car, a funicular, or by hauling your ass up roughly 1,500 steps. We assumed this would be fine for four fairly active women. Unfortunately, we forgot about a fun element called elevation. Bogotá is at 2,644 m (8,675 feet) - Calgary is a mere 1,045 m. Turns out oxygen is important. Luckily full tourist zones have restaurants with wine, so we were highly motivated. Two bottles of wine and some authentic Colombian food later, we elected to take the cable car down.

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Geri and I felt the need to learn something (DO ALL THE ACTIVITIES), so we hopped in an Uber and headed to the National Museum of Colombia (Museo Nacional de Colombia). We were hoping to learn get context for Colombia's history of violence; however, the museum is entirely in Spanish. So we just wandered around and looked at weird shit for an hour, and wondered what all the paintings of old white dudes meant.

After the museum fail, we decided to swing by the Andina Shopping Mall to pick up SIM cards for our phones, because Telus is terrible. Tragically, after we left, a bomb was detonated in the women's bathroom, killing three. We're fine, but it's a grim reminder of Colombia's violence. [Don't worry Mom, we are being smart.]

Last night's adventure was Andrés Carne de Res, which has gained near mythical status for anyone who has been to Bogotá. It's one of the 50 best restaurants in Latin America, for good reason:

Alice-in-Wonderland meets Moulin Rouge, Andrés Carne de Res is a mind-boggling trip of bright lights, theatrical service and colourful ceramic cows. A party place like no other, the dining room extends into an indoor and outdoor discotheque for late-night revellers … a must for any hedonist.

This outing was only made possible by Alejandra, Cindy's good friend from her TSX days and just a lovely human being in general. She took charge of ordering, because we were incapable. She's a woman after my own heart; immediately, a bottle of Absolut showed up and then rounds of food. Then more Absolut. Then crowns and sashes, identifying us as visitors. This was unnecessary, as it was very clear that the asses of Canadian women do not move like Colombian women. Luckily, we had enough liquid courage on board to enthusiastically hit the dance floor, to the amusement of pretty much everybody.

There are other photos and videos that will stay in the vault forever, but here's the non-incriminating taste of our evening.

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Thank God for electrolytes and good Colombian coffee... We're heading out for a tour of Usaquen market, which should be slightly less hedonistic.

  1. bitchesinbogota

Posted by imalazyj 06:42 Archived in Colombia

#bitchesinbogota

overcast 15 °C

Proof of life and after our first few hours here we can tell you we feel pretty safe in Bogotá (safer than I did sometimes in Chicago). Travel day went off with almost no incidents. Air Canada Rouge premium class was a wonderful way to travel for the 51/2 hour flight from Toronto (for all you chic flick lovers out there Table 19 was entertaining and I discovered the TV series, New Girl). We had a small snafu with the transport from the airport to our lodging having accidentally sourced two drivers, so we split into two groups and headed off. Ren and I headed out first followed by Jess and Cindy (who may or may not have had an authentic Colombian experience being in a small fender bender (no one was hurt except the driver's wallet as he paid the guy off that he hit)).

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For our lodging in Bogotá we have rented a charming condo in a very nice neighbourhood off Airbnb (clean, quiet, safe (24 hour doorman) and cheap!). Hangry moods set in relatively quickly after arrival and we set-off to source some food. First stop, Bogota Beer Market, a local beer (which they add fresh fruit juice to odd but yummy) and a sampler plate of local faire (mini potatoes, Chorizo, empanadas, and beef kabob). Food and beer took the edge off we sauntered back towards our condo with a stop at a local produce market and a grocery store to stock up on some basics. The grocery store could have been a store in Calgary, minus when the clerk speaks to me I have no idea what they are saying and they do have security at the doors.

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For me first impression of Bogotá, very much like Santiago, which means very much like any large city of 8 mm people. You can brush your teeth with the water here, my barometer of infrastructure development. And for all you worried it feels very safe. There is a bit more visible security (men in uniform, large dogs but nothing shocking). The neighbourhood we are in feels very much like something we find in North America so we need to get out and see more of the city before we pass too much (naive) judgment.

We have laid out some activities for the next few days, tomorrow we are aiming to hike (climb the stairs) of Monserrate. The mountain that dominates the city center of Bogotá. Sunday we have reserved as a bit of a recovery day as tomorrow night we will be hitting Andres DC, which I suspect could be a bit of a long evening. Monday through Wednesday have been allocated to a graffiti tour, a bike tour, coffee tour, street food tour, Salt Cathedral and some odd amusement park Jess has found and maybe the Gold Museum (I am generally leaving the planning to the other A types we have on the trip).

We are back at our little abode, wine in the glass, snacks sourced and getting organized before we head out for a light dinner and an early night.

Until next time,

  1. bitchesinbogota :)

Posted by imalazyj 16:33 Archived in Colombia

Proof of Life - Colombia

Travel Day

rain 16 °C

So as I sit sipping coffee I debate whether to take on blogging this adventure. Handful of reasons, first and foremost I am actually traveling with some very good and witty writers which makes me feel even more self-conscious publishing a journal of our activities (perhaps I can convince them to make guest appearances in the form of entries!). Second, it is an all girls trip so no G^2 and because I am traveling with one party that has been to Colombia several times and another party who is more dedicated to research on activities than me (she actually creates spreadsheets with categories) I have done zero research or prep on our destination. All that said, people are relatively concerned when I say we are headed to Colombia so publishing a daily account of our adventures and proof of life is likely warranted.

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So here we go, yup we are headed to Colombia, 4 girls. How did this come about? One of said girls used to travel to Colombia frequently for work and wanted to go back one more time for fun before all her contacts moved on (one of her contacts works that Embassy seems like a good guy to know). And thus, someone had an idea and now we are on our way. We head to Toronto today for an overnight stay before heading out to Bogota tomorrow am. Direct flight, 6 hours seems pretty civilized. As mentioned we come armed with a spreadsheet of activities to do but nothing firmly in place as of yet. We have rented a sweet looking condo (yes, we verified with independent sources it was in a safe neighbourhood) on Airbnb so we are going to try to live like locals (yeah, right 4 white (really white we haven't seen the sun much in Calgary yet) Canadians will fit right in). We are in Bogota for the majority of the trip and then head to Cartagena for the last few days.

So what do I actually know about Colombia? Well, all the details learned from watching Narcos of course (first season, haven't gotten to the second yet). Turns out that isn't much so here I go armed with Wikipedia and google. So far I have learned Colombia is a actually derived from the last name, Columbus (in Italian it's Colombo). It is a constitutional republic with 32 departments, the 17th most diverse country in the world ecologically (rain forest, grassland, Caribbean and Pacific coast lines) and is the 4th largest economy in Latin America (the order is Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia). I did know without research Colombia is well-endowed with minerals and energy resources (coal and oil). So as you can tell I have some work to do.

So off we go, I will endeavour to post highlights of our activities.

Until next time,
Girls*4

Posted by imalazyj 07:28 Archived in Colombia

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