Sol 6: Today we left Bogota by plane and arrived in Cartagena. I learned today that regional domestic flying in other countries is pleasant, fun, and cheap. The tickets for the hour and a half flight were $32 per person. Compared to a $40, 12-15 hour bus ride, that was an easy choice.
When we landed in Cartagena we were greeted by our AirBnB host for the next two nights, Frederique, a.k.a. Freddie, wearing a shirt with Tupac Shakur on it. What’s the quickest way with the widest age range to show someone immediately and without words that you’re awesome? A Tupac Shakur shirt has to be a top contender. Freddie is
a twenty-one year old French Canadian who has also lived in Australia and after coming to Colombia to teach, ended up running a three-bedroom AirBnB listing.
As our cab sped along the dusty streets, she gave us the lightning tour and tutorial of the city. The gist of it was, we are staying in the part of the city where we would get a “cultural experience”. This, she agreed, might mean “mugging”. But it definitely means we’re out of our comfort zone, which is always a goal for me. It sounds like being inside the walled city, the city center, would be super touristy.
When we arrive at the apartment, I can tell it’s probably not an area to be wandering at night, but that was understood and can be said about most US
cities. The apartment itself is extremely nice compared to what we had been staying in, and a night at Freddie’s place only costs $30. AirBnB doesn’t suck.
We then met another guest staying with Freddie, Christophe. Christophe is a Frenchman of about 50 who teaches Krav Maga and from the sounds of it, he’s traveled and worked all over the world. We’re still in hour one of knowing Freddie and I’ve heard her speak fluently in three languages. What were you doing at age 21?
Buuuuut I’m getting ahead of myself. How did the rest of our time in Bogota go? I’m glad you asked…
After you left Angelica and I last, we checked out the Botero Art Museum. Admission to the Museum was free. Fernando Botero is a Colombian artist who was born in 1932. He had quite a range of works in the museum and room after room was filled with it. Most of what I saw were paintings of fat things and fruit but he also sculpted fat things out of bronze and did pastel and pencil work…of fat things. Do an image search of ‘Botero art’ and you’ll see what I mean.
I had a breakthrough moment in my Spanish learning while at the museum. As we were walking around, studying the finer details of works from many periods of art technique, I was dumbfounded at how many pieces were titled Sin Titulo. The same guy painted about ten ‘Sin Titulo’ in a row. Dude, guy, why not call them Sin Titulo 1-10? Why are all these painters naming their work Sin Titulo???
..Wait…sin is like ‘sans’ in sans serif.
Without…titulo…Damn it…Sin Titulo means untitled.
I felt like the Grinch on Christmas morning but in my brain and less happy and more embarrassed. I walked through about three rooms saying outloud, “Why are all these named Sin Titulo?” I was that American. Sorry.
Our first few nights in Bogota were spent trying new restaurants and getting our ordering down. I noticed a few things right off the bat. First off, the chip size for the chips and salsa or hummus and pita these places brought us before our meal was perfect. Usually at a Mexican restaurant, I’m breaking the Shaq-hand-sized chips in fourths before I use them to transport salsa to my mouth. With pita, I’ll rip a piece in two and use both in unison to pile on as much hummus so I only have half a bowl of hummus left when the pita runs out instead of three-fourths. But amazingly, exactly when the perfectly proportioned chips and pita ran out, so did its sauce companion. Colombia wins this round.
Meals for the most part cost from $4 to $10 each and we found a couple restaurants that we went back to a few times. We also learned how to be better at ordering and actually get something we wanted. Things are going well in the food area.
The Bogota leg of our trip was capped off with a foray to Monserrate, the mountain overlooking Bogota, and then to the Catedral de Sal or Cathedral of Salt in Zipaquira about an hour away. To get to Monserrate, we walked up past Quinta de Bolivar and choose between cable car and funicular to ascend 3105 meters, both for the price of $6 round trip. We decided to cable car up and funicular down because the cable car line was nonexistent compared to the funicular’s winding, multiple block-long queue. The five minute trip, packed in a 5’x10’ glass-enclosed container, filled to the brim with people and cameras, consisted of traveling almost straight up along a cable the width of my wrist. It was incredible and the view was even better. At the top is a church and the partner to every destination-church, rampant consumerism. A must-do on every Bogota trip, I only wish we would have went earlier in the day for better visibility. We decided to take the funicular down and were rewarded with an hour-long line that was actually worth it. The funicular travels at about 89 degrees and goes through a couple tunnels before taking a turns into the station. If Cedar Point took the exact same plans, took the breaks off, and set up Monserrate in Sandusky, Ohio, it would be the scariest (but not shortest) roller coaster in the world.
Catedral de Sal was our final stop before jet-setting to Cartagena. An hour long bus trip to the outskirts of Bogota preceded an hour long bus trip to Zipaquira. We ate roasted chicken (with plast gloves…genius!) and a mound of potatoes before taking on the Catedral. A twenty minute hike up a hill got us to the entrance and a thirty minute line to the gates. When we got to the gates we realized the only way in was with a ticket that everyone but us had already purchased. So we walked back to the ticket booth, spent $8 each on tickets, and got back in line. Finally in, we found ourselves in a giant, extensive, hulking, cool, awesome salt mine winding its way into the heart of the hills around it. I saw a figure that said this place had been mined for salt since the 5th century BC and still has well over 500 years worth of salt to be excavated. So what do we do with a salt mine that’s been in use for 400-600 years longer than Jesus has been a thing? In 1991, build a destination church in it! Complete with gift shop and a 10’ LED Coca-Cola advertisement over the entrance.
The history of the mine and information they had on its timeline and construction were fascinating. The humongous pitch-black quarries that went on for unknown distances around every corner were almost terrifying. Even with floodlights, we found ourselves staring into the impenetrable abyss that had taken men over a millennia to create one pickaxe swing at a time. The array of crosses and plaques detailing every step Jesus ever took and lack of mention that all this had only been there for 25 years, I could have done without. But I was admittedly in the minority. Tons of people were getting their picture taken with a thumbs up in front of every stone cross and the restaurants, gift shop, and snack kiosks outside were packed.
After seeing the gold-working in Museo de Oro and all the different South American paintings and sculptures in the Botero Museum and then seeing that huge Coca-Cola lightboard at Catedral de Sal, I thought of a quote I heard once that said something to the effect of, “Advertising is the only artform that originated in the United States”.
Obviously, I think jazz and now selfies would have a few words to say to that but it was just a thought.
What did we think of Bogota? Well, I have to scale down my “Most beautiful city I’ve been
to” comment, just because we saw a lot more of the city, but it was a great time. The people are extremely friendly and helpful and the scenery is beautiful. The food is great, most things are very cheap, and I’m excited to see more of the country and its culture. So far we’ve been doing a lot of tourist stuff and not getting the “cultural experience”. There’s that phrase again. And on to the next stage of our journey in Cartagena and beyond…