|Bogotá looks like a beautiful city, very modern yet rich in culture. Not what you'd expect when you hear media reports of constant violence, guerrilla attacks and cocaine smuggling. It's a vibrant city of 6 million, with very apparent wealth especially in the north.
On the plane I met a Columbian local who at the airport arranged for his two gorgeous daughters to give me a lift to my hotel. Appears to be a very well to do family, his two eldest sons studied at Cambridge and Oxford, and his oldest daughter, Maria drove me to the hostel, is a financial big wig for Hewlett Packard in S. America. I'm having dinner with the family tonight - let's hope I'm not getting myself involved with some Columbian drug cartel...
Bogota turned out to be full of suprises. Not what I expected given the years of media reports that paint Columbia as the centre of the world's cocaine trade. The city sports as many museums, gallerys and libraries as any of the great cities. On the plane to Bogota Charles prepared a list of must-sees for his city. One of the gallerys, Casa or Donaciòn Botero houses over 100 of Columbia's favourite artists, Fernando Botero's own works alongside 80 odd other international pieces including Picasso, Dali, Renoir, Matisse and Monet. Apart from the culture, the city council also closes off some of the main city streets each Sunday so that locals can get out a cycle or walk around town, part of an initiative for a healthier community.
Bogota is also home to one of the most efficient and successful public transport initives i've come across. After decades debating how to cure the citys traffic woes, considering subways, trains and trams, they eventually settled on the Transmilenio; a bus service with dedicated bus lanes travelling over a fixed route, much the same as a train system, but with an incredible frequency and best of all, a fixed price per journey, so whether I was venturing to the next suburb or to the other side of town, the price was the same, around the equivalent 65c. Plus it's safe and clean and fast.
As has become typical for South America, this is another capital city with altitude. Bogota sits at over 2600m above sea level, which after my week at Galapagos was again taking my breath away. Although I'd been warned against venturing up to Monserrate too soon (a church which sits on a hill 300m above town), I couldn't resist getting high again. After getting the cable car up you are presented with a magical view of the whole city. Not small by any stretch, its 7 million inhabitants are nestled snugly by the surrounding hillsides which channel the cities expansion.
So I've had a few people asking about how dinner went. Did I make it out alive - well yes obviously. I was taken out to a fairly swanky restaraunt in Bogotas T-zone, an area that's home to the citys best and most expensive bars and clubs in the northern Zona Rosa, called Club Columbia. I was treated to some local Bogota cuisine whilst comparing my terrible spanish with Charles' equally terrible English whilst his daughters mainly giggled at the both of us. After polishing off a great feed, Maria and her sister dragged me out to some bars at Parque 93 where they tried unsuccessfully to bestow upon me the finer points of samba dancing. I just think that white guys aren't designed nor have the genetic makeup to move like that. Sad, 'cause they sure make it look so easy (and sexy)...
All up, Columbia is certainly looking like a great place to be. Everyone I've spoken to has raved about it, and with good reason. Let's hope the trend continues...