. Indeed I proved to be no exception to this as my planned three days stay in Bogota rapidly turned into a week before I finally managed to drag myself away.... there were others staying in the hostel who seemed to have been around for weeks and to some extent I can understand why. Naturally I have spent a fair bit of time exploring "La Candelaria" (the Old Town) with its wealth of interesting buildings.The heart of this area is Plaza Bolivar which is flanked on its four sides by the Cathedral , the Capitolio Nacional (Congress) , the Supreme Court and the Mayors Office. In the centre of the plaza is a statue of Colombiaīs "Grand Liberator" from the Spanish , Simon Bolivar , that is reportedly his first ever statue & gives the plaza its name. The plaza has the ubiquitous mass of photographers , ice cream sellers and damn pigeons .... aswell as the usual risk of aerial excretial bombardment , there are people who sell little packs of food for the pigeons so when someone buys a packet and feeds them its quite a sight as all the pigeons whizz over and you really have to make sure you arenīt in the flight path. Behind the Congress building is the Presidents House (Palacio de Narino) which is very highly impressive building (certainly more imposing than our Number Ten , probably more on a par with The White House) and naturally surrounded by heavy security - you arenīt allowed to walk on the pavement past the house and they search your bags pretty thoroughly before you can walk past the house. Numerous interesting churches are dotted around within a few blocks of the Plaza Bolivar such as San Agustin , San Ignacio , San Francisco and La Veracruz but the most extraordinary from a visual perspective is the Iglesia de Maria del Carmen which is an enormous and very striking neo-gothic red and white building. I visited a few of Bogotas museums aswell ... the Gold Museum is listed in the guidebook as one of the Top 6 "Must doīs" for Colombia but unfortunately at the moment the actual building is closed for renovation and you can only see a temporary exhibition in another building - which frankly I didnīt think was that great - the gold museum I went to in San Jose Costa Rica was definitely more impressive
. For me the best museum was the Botero museum - this shows lost of artwork and sculpture exhibits by the famous artist who made the sculptures in the main plaza in Medellin (his birthplace.) Boteroīs artwork is quite unique and easily identifiable as he seems to paint or sculpt distortedly fat people and animals in all of his pieces. Bogota has a few hills which are to the East of the city quite near to where I was staying in the hostel and itīs possible to go up to the top of one of the hills , Monsserate , by catching a funicular railway up and a cable car down. The views at the top over Bogota are super impressive and you can really get to see how vast Bogota actually is as it spreads almost as far as the eye can see . North Bogota is the more modern area with taller buildings,commerce,shopping malls & businesses , whilst south and west of the old town you can see the huge mass of poorer areas where you are advised not to go walking. At the top of the Monsserate hill is a large church and almost a mini village with shops , restaurants , cafes and street vendors which makes it an interesting place to spend an hour or so. Then at the foot of Monsserate is the "Quinta de Bolivar" , the former home of Simon Bolivar , so I took a look around the house and gardens - it was OK without being super impressive considering we are talking about Colombia's "Grand Liberator". One of the highlights of my stay in Bogota was undoubtedly a day trip outside the city to nearby Zipaquira where there is an underground cathedral carved out of a salt mine
. Itīs mightily impressive and lives up its billing as one of the must sees of the country. I actually heard an American guy telling someone else in the hostel that they should skip Zipaquira 'cos its not much to see - quite extraordinary & I'm not sure what other sights the guy has seen or what planet he lives on because for me it was amazing ... in general I have learnt on my journey to be wary of putting too much trust in negative comments from other travellers - I'd rather go and find out for myself and be disappointed if need be. Anyway you walk down underground into the salt mine past 14 stations of the cross carved out of the salt , all designed by different sculptors and telling the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus. After the stations you come to the salt cathedral itself with a giant illuminated dome underground and a very large cross , which is actually an optical illusion ... when youīre far away it looks like two circular poles but actually itīs a carved space into the rock so the cross is hollow. The underground subtly coloured lighting and eerie music adds to the extraordinary ambience as you walk along each of the cathedrals three naves. The cathedral is actually quite new , being built in 1995 , as the old underground cathedral had become too unsafe either for tourists or for its actual purpose of worship by the workers from the nearby active salt mine. Zipaquira town is also worth a short look around - there is a "Centro Historico" with a central plaza (Plaza de los Comuneros) flanked by the Cathedral de San Antonio , the Episcopal Palace and City Hall
. Thereīs also a market in the town on Tuesdays , the day I visited , which seemed to consist mostly of fruit and veg stands , but with the all their wares laid out in very carefully made attractive piles of produce rather than just slung on the stall - guess they have to do something to try and differentiate as there are so many vendors you wonder how any of them make much of a living. In order to get to Zipaquira I got the chance to try out Bogota's award winning bus transport system called the Transmilenio which opened in 2001 to try and unclog the traffic problems. Its basically almost a tube or metro like system with set routes and stations but using double length articulated red buses that actually use specially cleared traffic lanes on the city streets. Its pretty efficient , gets you a long way across the city cheaply (anywhere for 40p) and the stations are modern designed glass fronted buildings that are kept very clean , light and safe with the presence of members of "La Policia". Colombia seems rather progressive when it comes to travel within itīs big cities such as when I think of Medellin's metro aswell as the Transmilenio. When I arrived at the "Portal Norte" transmilenio station to get the bus to Zipaquira all the bus platforms were clearly labelled so it was a breeze to find the right bus - never saw anything close to this in the chaos that was the bus stations in Central America. Still some work to do on the efficiency of the inter-city buses given my endurance-test experiences so far but here there are some natural geographical issues to solve aswell as the country's security situation which makes this more of a challenge
. Naturally I couldnīt visit the country's capital city of Bogota without sampling the nightlife and enjoying a party night or several. The hostel I stayed at was a complete Party Zone ... I gathered what I was in for when , after I had arrived in the early hours of the morning from Medellin & got to bed at 2am wondering why the hostel was rather empty , about four hours later the hostel crowd rolled in from the clubs , pumped up the music and continued to drink and party in the little courtyard until about 10am. Every night the pattern seemed to be music and drinking , with the hotel staff , the hotel staff's guests and other people from the hostel next door all joining in so there is absolutely zero regulation of noise ... basically if you want a quiet nightīs sleep you really need to move somewhere else so there is no option but to join in. Bogota's local people , just like the whole of Colombia , are just so extraordinarily friendly and naturally warm to foreigners itīs really quite touching - basically I get the impression that they really do not like it that the world's general perception of Colombia is that it's just this dangerous , scary and hostile place which is entirely defined by it's (although very real) problems with the drug trade and associated internal violence. So when foreigners come to visit , not only do they bring valuable tourist income which helps boost the prosperity of the country , but they get to experience the reality of normal daily life in Colombia and hopefully go out and give that message to the rest of the world ..
. ie. that Colombia and Colombians are fantastic ! Guys come up to you in bars and want to chat to you , usually starting with an Americanised opening line such as ... "Whats up Buddy , Where you from ?" , the local girls want to talk to you in bars or even in the internet cafe where I had a girl wanting my email & phone number within about 10 mins of talking ... this simply doesnīt happen in England or anywhere else for that matter, well not to me anyway :) One night out in Bogota I met a very nice Colombian girl , Monica, and got chatting , then went on with her & her three friends to another club... itīs fun to hang out with just locals rather than the hostel travellers crowd every now & then. Agreed to meet up with her & another friend of her's a couple of nights later in the "Zona Rosa" and again had another really fun night ... the two girls had actually hatched a plan that I should leave the hostel and move into the spare room in Monica's friend's apartment so that I would be able to stay on in Bogota and hang out with them for longer. A tempting offer and at times like these , just like when I was in Xela in Guatemala at Spanish School for three weeks , you do have one side of you wishing you could just enjoy life & friends in one place for a while ... but this year I have made a conscious decision to be a traveller , have many other super-exciting destinations to come to and as I was already way over my planned stay in Bogota I had to politely decline. Time is moving on and I need to travel to my next destination which is in Colombia's "Zona Cafetera" (coffee zone) and more specifically a little town called Salento.
Finally arrived in Bogota in the early hours of Sunday after another painfully long bus ride. There was a bridge on the main road which is under some sort of reconstruction work & the traffic was getting across very very slowly - this meant we were delayed for over 5 hours , for most of which we were just sitting there on the highway in a queue of traffic. I left the Medellin hostel at 10 am and arrived at the first hostel in Bogota at 1.30am , which was full , so I went to another hostel , which was also full. Cruising around Bogota in the middle of the night is not the greatest of ideas at the best of times , let alone when you are carrying all your gear - but luckily my taxi driver from the bus station was a real star and waited for me each time to see if they had space in their hostel - thankfully I finally managed to get a bed at the third hostel. Bogota is a really fantastic city to visit - itīs a really compelling mix of sights, nightlife, culture, shops, friendly locals and general big city bustle that tends to suck travellers in to staying longer than they anticipated