Bogota, the capital and largest city of Colombia, has a somewhat notorious reputation. It's as big as one and a half New York Citys, with over 8 million inhabitants. It's also the third-highest capital city in the world, sitting at an elevation of 2,640 meters. Visiting Bogota is generally safer today than you might think, although it did present us with some less-than-glamorous aspects. Nevertheless, we spent several days there because a true road trip across the Americas is never complete without a few mechanical hiccups.
Friday, September 8th, 2023
After our off-road adventures at the Nevado del Ruiz volcano, where we discovered a significant leak under the chassis, we arrive in Cota in the late morning. Cota is a charmless town in the suburbs of Bogota. However, this is where Daniel's garage is located, a mechanic recommended to us by Juan, whose contact we found on IOverlander, the traveler's app. Many travelers have brought their travel vehicles to Juan, including some we've met during our journey. So, with confidence, we leave Jeepy in the care of Juan and Daniel for several days.
Meanwhile, we go to visit Bogota, which is about 1 hour and 30 minutes away (due to traffic). When we arrive at the cheap hostel, it's a shock: the place is unsanitary and outdated. There's a gas smell in the room, which doesn't have a window and does have hairs in the sheets! Yuck! 😧 But a miracle happens: we can't stay. Following an official inspection, the hostel is prohibited from accommodating guests. We don't need to know more, it's a stroke of luck! We pack our things, get a refund, and leave that awful hostel. This time, we upgrade and book three nights (which will turn into five nights) in a proper hotel: the Virrey Hotel. The room is bright, with a beautiful view of the city, and the private bathroom is spotless, with plenty of hot water. We're going to be comfortable here! 😀
Saturday, September 9th
After a hearty breakfast at the hotel, which will be our daily routine for the next five days, we order an Uber to go to the north of Bogota. Our first stop in Bogota? Decathlon! 😆 We're very excited to set foot in our first Decathlon since Mexico. We'd like to buy trekking equipment, specifically a tent and mattresses. However, the prices are much higher than in France, so we decide to skip it and leave empty-handed. We then head to Simon Bolivar Park to stretch our legs. It's one of the largest urban parks in the world! This massive park welcomes weekend strollers, families, and Bogota's sports enthusiasts looking for a bit of nature in the midst of this huge metropolis.
Back in Bogota, we wander the streets. This walk gives us a chance to soak up the atmosphere of the neighborhood. Our hotel is located in the heart of the Candelaria district. The Routard guidebook says, "Its colorful buildings, numerous churches, and history make this colonial district the most touristy in the capital, with artisan shops, many typical restaurants, and charming bars." One thing is for sure, we didn't see the same face of Candelaria as the Routard! 😅 Day or night, we never felt comfortable in this dirty neighborhood where the smell of urine wafts around every corner, and where junkies and homeless people openly smoke crack. As for the "typical restaurants and charming bars," we didn't see any of those!
At 5 PM, we head to the main tourist attraction when visiting Bogota: Cerro de Monserrate, a mountain at an altitude of 3,152 meters that overlooks the city. To get up there, we take the cable car. There are only two: one that goes up, one that goes down. So on a Saturday, for the sunset, the wait is long. So long that we miss the sunset and arrive at the top when it's already almost dark. But the view of Bogota is still well worth it!
To head back down, we have to wait for an hour in the cold to board an overcrowded cable car. We arrive in the center of Bogota at night. During the day, we don't feel very comfortable, but at night, it's a different story! Thankfully, we pass through the university district, which is very lively on this Saturday night. Interestingly, all the young people are dressed in black, in a gothic/metalhead style. Is this a style in Bogota? No! We find out that a metal concert has just taken place. That explains the dark look of all the young people we've seen during the evening! 😅 We have pizza at a restaurant before heading back to the hotel. It's not a good idea to linger at night in Bogota, even in the city center!
Sunday, September 10th
It's Sunday, and in Bogota, it's flea market day! Local residents sell all sorts of things on the ground. It's funny to find this French tradition here in Colombia!
We continue to explore Bogota with a visit to the La Perseverancia fruit market. There, in the midst of neatly arranged fruits and vegetables, we meet Radia and Jason. Radia used to be Rémi's manager at his previous job in Canada! We left her in Montreal 16 months ago, and we never thought we'd find her here, right in the middle of Colombia! Radia and Jason are in Bogota for their vacation in Colombia, just when we happen to be in Bogota too! Perfect timing! 😀 We all set off together to discover Colombian fruits like pitayas, mangosteens, guanabanas, and passion fruits. Then, we taste the local dish of the region: tamales, a meal cooked in banana leaves.
After lunch, we head back to the city center to explore THE museum in Bogota: the Gold Museum. We're not big museum-goers, but we've heard great things about it. Plus, on Sundays, it's free for everyone! Another good reason to visit the Gold Museum in Bogota! 😀 Do you know the legend of El Dorado? The Eldorado? Well, it was here, in the heart of Colombia, that this famous legend, which obsessed the Spanish conquistadors, has its origins. Indeed, this myth was born in the Bogota region in 1536, spread by conquistadors who were astounded by the opulence of the indigenous peoples and their perfect mastery of goldsmithing.
The story of El Dorado begins long before the arrival of the Spanish in South America. The pre-Columbian civilizations that lived in what is now Colombia discovered the art of metallurgy around 200 BC. And in Colombia, there were plenty of metals to work with: tin, copper, silver, and of course... gold! The Gold Museum in Bogota showcases an incredible collection of over 50,000 finely crafted pieces made from gold (but not only gold). The details on some of these pieces are amazingly intricate. It's fascinating to think that they were created so long ago! All these objects are evidence that the pre-Columbian civilizations possessed incredible knowledge and expertise in metalworking long before the arrival of the conquistadors.
For indigenous communities, gold wasn't a precious metal in the modern monetary sense. What made it precious was the long and meticulous craftsmanship required to create a beautiful piece, the hours of labor involved, the offerings made with it, and the symbolism it represented. Throughout the visit, we learn that gold was precious because it symbolized the sun, a significant celestial body for pre-Columbian civilizations. The reflection of the sun on gold was considered a means of spiritual communication. Gold also symbolized power and authority, which is why it was worn by the political and religious elites of different civilizations. The museum showcases a vast collection of gold jewelry, including necklaces, earrings, bracelets, nose ornaments, brooches, and more.
But the museum also houses impressive death masks, everyday tools, decorative items, and objects of worship. All these objects gleam in their display cases and trace the history of various civilizations' relationship with gold. When you see the stunning details of some objects, you can't help but be impressed by the craftsmanship of the artisans of that era.
We found the totem from the French Survivor! 😂
The Gold Museum of Bogota is a vibrant tribute to the indigenous peoples living in Colombia before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. The art and craftsmanship of each Colombian ethnic group are represented through incredible pieces. Although the Gold Museum's collection is impressive, it is important to note that a large majority of the gold from these civilizations was plundered by Europeans, brought to Europe, and melted down... After leaving the museum, we went for a walk on Bogota's pedestrian street, which was particularly lively on this Sunday: street vendors, street food stalls, street performances. Music echoed from all sides, and the scent of barbecue filled the air.
Our walk led us to Simón Bolívar Square, the main square of Bogota. This vast square, the political and administrative heart of the capital, is surrounded by the Palace of Justice to the north, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception to the east, the Capitol to the south, and the City Hall to the west. In the center of the square stands a statue of Simón Bolívar, the "Libertador" of South America, a Venezuelan general and an iconic figure in the emancipation of the Spanish colonies in South America.
Monday, September 11th and Tuesday, September 12th
We spend Monday at the hotel, alternating between rest and work. An excursion around the city allows us to explore other neighborhoods of the capital that are less sanitized than the touristy downtown area. We also take the opportunity to search for a new SD card for the camera, which we eventually find with the help of locals who direct us from one place to another. In the evening, we meet up with Radia and Jason, who invite us to a restaurant for one last evening together before their departure to Medellin and then Cartagena. 😊
On Tuesday, we spend the day working at the hotel. In the late afternoon, we decide to stretch our legs a bit. By chance, we come across the Botero Museum. The museum is free! So, we decide to take a look. For about an hour, we delight in observing the works of this Colombian artist, whom we first discovered in Medellin. The round and generous forms are still there, which is quite amusing, especially when you come face to face with a Botero-made reproduction of the Mona Lisa. Very funny! 😄
We spend the evening with Manu and Steffi, a Swiss couple of travelers, at a brewery in the city. We had last seen them in Antigua, Guatemala! It's the end of their journey as they are heading back to Europe in the next few days. 🌍✈️
Wednesday, September 13th
It's the big day! At 11 o'clock, we get the green light from Juan to come pick up the Jeep. After 4 days of work, it's finally ready to leave the garage. In the end, it was the transmission case gasket that was leaking, and it's now repaired. The four wheel bearings have also been changed, and after 140,000 kilometers, they were much needed! We leave the hotel, spend 1.5 hours in Bogota traffic, and arrive in Cota. We can't wait to hit the road to find a place to sleep outside the city. But when we arrive at the garage... the Jeep isn't ready! Another leak has been detected after a test drive...
Finally, we have to wait until 5 p.m. before we can hit the road. We're raring to go, but we're slowed down by the terrible traffic in Chia, a large city in the outskirts of Bogota. We cover 19 kilometers in 1 hour and 15 minutes. When we finally get on the highway, we start picking up speed, and... the engine light comes on! The Jeep loses power. It's a disaster. We pull over onto the "emergency lane" (or its equivalent in Colombia...), hazard lights on. Luckily, we're not completely broken down. Cautiously and slowly, we turn back. We spend another hour navigating the Chia traffic jams to return to Cota. It's late, so we settle in at a parking area to spend the night.
Thursday, September 14th
At 8 a.m., we show up at the garage to address our "minor" issue. We immediately contact Christian, our Montreal-based preparer from Passion 4×4, always there to help us with our mechanical problems. In the end, it's not a big deal: when refilling the transmission oil, the garage used the wrong oil! And Jeepy, well, he didn't like that wrong oil one bit! We have to wait the entire day to receive Mopar oil from Bogota, complete a full transmission oil change, and tighten the brakes, which were making a strange noise. It's too late to hit the road, so we return to sleep at the parking area. Tomorrow, finally, after a week of being stuck, we leave Bogota to get back on the road! For real this time! Or so we think...