On one of my first few days here in Bogota we went to the Downtown area, we got a bus – the first of many strange experiences!!
Firstly there are no bus stops – you can get on and off wherever you like – which although is convenient for the people using the buses, its highly annoying when your a driver and the buses stop in front of you every 5 mins meaning you can never get anywhere easily!!
then there’s the issue of knowing what bus you need to get – they are in various colours (which I think determines which areas they go to) but the only way to tell is to look at the board on the front of the bus – a small board with up to 8 destinations written on it so small that by the time the bus is close enough for you to read it and you realise its the one you need – its already past you!!
Once on the bus you have the issue of paying and trying to find a seat – there are no bus cards or tickets to use, you simply have to hang on for dear life and fumble for the correct change to give to the driver. During the day and in the part of the city that we live its not so bad to find a seat – but at peak times and in the centre its chaos!! I have actually seen people hanging out of the bus door! and if you cant get on the bus or are wedged somewhere near the front of it – its then mission impossible to try to get to the back of the bus to get off!! NIGHTMARE!
On quieter buses and once in the city centre its quite common for homeless people to get on the bus and then start either singing, playing music, telling jokes, selling sweets or foods- and then asking people for tips. Because this is normal to Juan, he didn’t warn me about the journey and these people so I was quite taken back the first time this girl got on the bus and started singing to us!
We arrived in the centre- and seriously my eyes have never been so busy (now I know what Karl Pilkington meant on “An Idiot Abroad” when he was in India, and hence why I have titled my blog as this)
– The amount of people – not quite the small town of South Woodham Ferrers I am used to where you can walk for miles without even seeing anyone else!
– The street sellers – I was amazed that every 5 steps there was another person selling something and I mean ANYTHING, CD`s, shoelaces, phone covers, cardboard, hats, bags, and literally rubbish like broken toys and lamps etc.
– The animals and homeless people – so common that when I kept “ahhhh-ing” at them and asking Juan if I could give them some money – he had not even noticed them (now I have been here a while I too, don`t notice them either and that makes me feel horrible – I have just come to accept them as just being “a part of the city”
– the graffiti, its everywhere colourful, vibrant, sometimes really dark and often portraying messages of hope for the people,angry at the way of life they have been exposed to!
we finally made it to a more peaceful place – still Downtown, but a big open square. La Candelaria is a historic neighbourhood in Downtown Bogota. It is the equivalent to the Old City in other countries. The architecture of the old houses, churches and buildings has a Spanish colonial style. It houses several universities, libraries and museums. The gold museum is supposed to be spectacular however I still have not been there yet!
Located within few meters from each other on the Bolivar square (Plaza de Bolívar) are- The national legislature building, the Supreme Court of Justice, and the centre of the executive administration, the residence of the President (nariño palace), and the Principal Mayor’s office.
for info on Simon Bolivar and why the square is named after him please see the link – (it was easier than writing it myself!)
Anyway once in the square and taking in the beauty of it all (probably looking very touristy with my camera) I was approached by a crazy looking homeless man. I started to freak out as he prised the camera from my hands convinced I was being robbed because I couldn’t understand what he was saying – Juan realised how scared I was and said that it was ok he was offering to take a picture of us together and probably wanted some coins in return for his service. So he took our photos making us model in-front of all the 4 buildings surrounding the square, and, having realised I was foreign – took it upon himself to start leading us down the road – telling us in Spanish about the city and its history stopping every few sentences for Juan to translate.
He was called Carlos Rodriguez, and he was hilarious. He kept giving me his slightly creepy and toothless grin. He took hundreds of pictures of us in-front of all the landmarks we past and after 2 hours and seeing the whole of Downtown (including him making us model with the guards protecting the presidents house – who didn’t seem interested at all) our tour came to an end. He asked for money but we agreed to buy him some food instead as we knew he would spent the money on drugs. He had told us that he had a family and that he is now homeless and that it was the day of his sons birthday. Juan told me he was in fact very intelligent and knew a lot about the city and this is when I discovered that in fact most of the tramps here in the city used to be professionals or respected people but because of drugs lost everything! So we bought him a large bag of food and he was so grateful. It turns out he`s actually something of a legend here and has been featured in a local newspaper “El Tiempo” for his tours, and he gave us a copy of the artical.
Here are links for the artical and a utube clip (they are in Spanish – so sorry to those who don`t understand) –
We also went to Monserrate it is a mountain that dominates the city centre of Bogota. It rises to 3,152 metres (10,341 ft) above the sea level. There is a church on top which was built in the 17th century, with a shrine, devoted to “El Señor Caído”.
Monserrate is a pilgrim destination, as well as a tourist attraction. Many Colombians go there for church service on Sundays and it can get REALLY busy, so I suggest avoiding it on that day.
In addition to the church, the summit contains restaurants, cafeteria, souvenir shops and many market stalls. Monserrate can be accessed by cable car, a train that goes almost vertically up, or by climbing, the preferred way of pilgrims.(but I suggest not trying this unless you are super fit!!!)
All of Downtown Bogotá, south Bogotá and some sections of the north of the city are visible from the top facing west, making it a popular destination for watching the sun set over the city. And it wasn’t until I was at the top looking over the city that I realised just how enormous Bogota is compared to Essex!