29 March 2010

Let's Go Back to Bogotá

We have been in Colombia for two weeks now and I have yet to write a blog about it. I feel negligent to the thousands of readers who have been forced to settle for lesser forms of workday distractions. However, I am delighted to report that in the two weeks we have yet to be kidnapped, drugged, or conned by cops. In that same time, nobody has contacted us to make sure we're still OK. Either way, we are fine and you can now go back to your regular work-day distractions.

To be blunt, in the US Colombia is known for cocaine and kidnapping. For this reason we did not originally plan to come here. However, in talking with intrepid travelers over the last six months, we have heard one rave review after another. Our plans weren't set in stone so we decided to alter our course to explore Colombia. I found a cheap one-way flight from Buenos Aires to Bogotá on studentuniverse.com. A good friend connected us with his extended family here. And to top it all off, we were delighted by the news that our friend, Janie, would be joining us for two weeks.

It felt like everything was going to work out perfectly. Still, we were nervous. After all, only ten years ago Colombia averaged ten kidnappings per day. I think the country's murder rate was so high that they couldn't even count it. Does the name Pablo Escobar ring a bell? He was the notorious, ruthless kingpin of cocaine in the 80s and early 90s. He was the fourth richest man in the world. Can you name any other famous Colombians? I couldn't.

(Note: Juan Valdez - the coffee guy - is fictional. Shakira is Colombian but has deliberately distanced herself from her homeland)

So here we are in Colombia. We stayed in Bogotá for five days, mostly exploring the old part of town. The city is interesting, to say the least. It sits at 2640 meters, smack dab in the middle of the country. Bogotá has grown dramatically in the last decade as rural folk move to avoid the dangers of the drug war. The eight million or so residents didn't have a lot of city-pride, but I think that is changing as conditions improve. It now has an efficient public transport system, one of the most extensive bike networks in the world, new shopping centers and better roads. Safety has increased dramatically. In the 90's, Bogotá witnessed over 4,000 murders a year. Now you can walk one block downtown without seeing a police officer. It seems like police corruption has been mostly eradicated, but there is still the problem of police impostors. Our host family had a ton of personal horror stories of con-artists, fake cops, robberies, getting drugged, and seeing dead bodies in the streets. However, they can also attest to the fact that things are getting better.

Bogotá has a lot to offer and is tourist friendly. However, Janie had aspirations of seeing the Caribbean coast while here. We normally takes buses everywhere, but this time we were able to find a 90 minute flight that was cheaper than the 20+ hour bus ride. We jumped on that without hesitation. We toured the coastal areas of Cartagena, Santa Marta, Taganga, and Parque Tayrona. I'll blog more about that later as I still need to upload the photos.

Ten days of brutal heat and humidity and we were ready to return to Bogotá. We found the same great deal on flights. Janie left for the states yesterday while Kristin and I are spending the week here working on various projects. I'll also talk more about that later too. For now you can enjoy the nifty map I've created that shows everywhere we've been. *see sidebar on right

Inside what we called the Candy Cane Church. The exterior is the same design, which made it a useful and easy-to-find landmark.

I realize that I am posting fewer and fewer pretty pictures and more documentary ones. I mean really, how many old churches and big mountains can you stand? This is a view of Bogotá. I don't think any photographer could make this look pretty.

My ladies.

Spooky masks on display at the Gold Museum. Colombia has more gold deposits than any other country. This museum displays the "leftovers" that weren't taken by Spain, pirates or grave robbers. These leftovers number over 300,000 pieces in this ONE museum. I can't imagine what originally was in Colombia.

The mass transit system is very cheap and efficient. I can not say, however, that it was always comfortable.

A tour of the five story police museum was our highlight. We got a free English-speaking guide who gave us coffee, took photos with us, and flattered us with cliches. It wasn't all fun and games though - the entire bottom floor was devoted to the drug war. This wall shows some of the more infamous drug dealers, including Pablo Escobar on the right. I apologize for gruesome nature of the photos, but I want to present the full picture.

Janie is holding up the secret shelves of Escobar's desk. He had four of these built by a special carpenter. Then Escobar killed the carpenter and his entire family, so that no one would find out the secret. Escobar also underwent four plastic surgeries to change his face to make him harder to recognize. I could go on and on about the interesting stories that we learned.

William, our police guide, brought us coffee. In Colombia they drink their coffee strong and sweet, in little plastic cups, at all times of the day.


  1. We're still watching, Danny. Thanks for the interesting--to say the least--Columbian Experience. I found it very interesting. Let me ask you this: What would be the cheapest and most interesting place in all of South America that I am a friend could go to over Christmas? In your opinion. Thanks, Doug.

  2. Doug - I think that you'd love Buenos Aires. The best food in all of South America, cheap amazing wine, beautiful city, great parks and museums, tango, and things are still rather cheap. An all-you-can-eat bbq or veggie buffet can be found for $7. Good bottles of wine start at $4. Buenos Aires truly has the best food on the continent. You could easily be happy spending 7-10 days there. If you had more time, you could visit Mendoza and tour some really fantastic wineries.

    Bolivia is the cheapest country, then Peru, Ecuador, and Argentina. If you want access to a bit of everything like nature and culture, Quito is probably your best bet. The ocean is a few hours away, you're in the mountains near several 6,000 meter tall volcanoes, lots of hot springs, local culture and artisan markets, indigenous people, and the jungle is only a few hours east. Lots to do within easy day or multi-day trips. More poverty and rougher conditions though.

  3. The images are amazing, it includes lot of interesting information and the beauty of the buildings which seems to be good.