Due to the delays we encountered en route to Bogota (see ramblings of previous blog), the pick-up we had organised through the hostel had unsurprisingly gone awry. It was up to us to get to the hostel and make our own way in the big bad world without being baby sat. One thing to note, we were a little bit scared of Bogota, having inadvertently read about muggings and shooting when we looked into prospective hostels. Anyway we relished the opportunity to prove ourselves as capable backpackers this early on in the trip so we did what we knew best…. We found somewhere quiet to sit in the airport, prayed for free WiFi and Googled ‘how to get to Hostal Sue, Candelaria from Bogota airport?’, ‘How to fend off a panic attack?’ and ‘Does getting shot actually hurt?’
Google didnt really help, except that getting shot does hurt apparently, so we ventured out to the taxi queue. Some official looking taxi attendants queried our destination and we haggled/agreed on the first price they said. We even got a receipt which presumably is for purposes of safety and feigning genuineness of the price, which actually rose 8000 COP for no apparent reason from the agreed price of 50 000 COP.(It emerged on our return to the airport a few days later the correct fare is 25000 COP, so anyone seeking guidance – pay this). At this stage, with our Spanish still in its infancy we were happy to just get to the destination and weren’t too aggrieved at getting shafted up the wrang ‘un.
The girl in the Hostel was very accommodating and scoffed at our suggestion that we would pay for the night we had missed. The room itself and amenities were fairly basic but more than satisfactory considering we were paying the equivalent of 7.50GBP a night each for the room.
Feeling brave we decided to take advantage of the last few hours of daylight to take in the local area La Candelaria and Bolivar Square. Paranoia and dramatic online reviews of the area fresh in my mind, I managed to utilise approximately 7 different pockets for cash and credit card after making an ATM withdrawal- I would have been screwed if any potential thieve just stole my jacket. As interesting as our new found surroundings were, the area around Bolivar Square seemed a little bit sketchy, and with night closing in we decided we had been bold enough for one night.
Rising early the next day for what would be our only full day in Bogota, we took advatage of the cheap breakfast offered in the hostel. I tried to be a cool traveller, ordering the local dish which turned out to be milky soup, with eggs and herbs in…. Carrying on the cultural mindset we embarked upon the free tour of the Gold Museum. Intelligent analytical review – there was lots of gold. We then headed up Monserrate, a mountain 3152m high, complete with a church overlooking the city at such an elevation that a cable car or train is the required method of transport. Unfortunately we found ourselves short of time in Bogota so didn’t make it to the Zona Rosa area which is said to be a top spot for restaurants and bars. After a couple of pints at the Bogota Beer Company we headed to the hostel, ready for a flight to the Caribbean Coast in the morning.
Accommodation – Hostal Sue Candelaria – 60 000 COP for a twin room.
Bogota verdict – We weren’t there anywhere near long enough to form a valid opinion but we enjoyed the majority of what we did see. Monserrate is well worth a visit and La Candelaria is a very unique location, although only really to be taken advantage of in daylight. We witnessed no crime in our short time there and would support the notion that alertness and common sense go a long way. It definitely seems to have moved in a significantly safer direction from the armed robbery stories still returning on Google searches.
After a brutal Northern England winter (my first for 3 years) I was firstly looking forward to basking in the swimming pool Aisling had said was in the hostel, revelling in the 30 degree heat. Upon check in I asked a fellow backpacker ‘where the pool was’ and a seemingly confident response indicated it was ‘around the corner’. After looking behind doors that ranged from cleaning cupboards and dorm rooms it emerged there was no pool. I can only presume the girl I asked thought I asked ‘where can I do a poo?’ and sent me wobbling off in the direction of a toilet. I probably did need one in fairness to her.
I finally got offered some of Colombia’s most infamous product , perhaps due to wearing a Real Madrid top with James on the back – a sign of a predilection to black market purchases, although mine is a genuine one from Turkey. Aisling got recognised for being Irish from a world record distance of 300m owing to her non-Caribbean complexion,and the guy then proceeded to profess his love for Limerick, spouting a few Irish sayings and also said he could get us coke (not the drink) any time of day and handed us a business card. What a nice chap.
We fancied a meal at a nice restaurant after eating a good bit of street food, so opted for Bacco Trattoria after reading reviews with lots of hyperbole and Nigella Lawson-esque orgasms about home-made pasta etc. On arrival we were greeted by the extremely friendly Venezuelan owner who reeled off numerous fresh and healthy sounding ingredients on a number of dishes. The menu was in Spanish, so I panicked and ordered Spaghetti el a Napolitana. They must have ran out of that though as he brought out spaghetti in a kind of Italian tomato sauce. Meal came to a reasonable (for Cartagena ) 100 000 COP, largely due to Aisling thinking she was allowed to give it the big ‘un on the fancy wine.
We were then drawn to a bar that confidently advertised the ‘best’ mojitos in town. They were delivered by an American who did nothing to alter the pre-conception that they can on occasion be ever so slightly too self assured – smoking a Cuban cigar whilst talking about whooping peoples asses and in response to the question of where is the most dangerous, Boston or Colombia?, opted for secret answer ‘C’, ‘he is the most dangerous’. Somewhat contradictory to his macho attitude, once he found out Aisling was Irish he excitedly declared his undying love for the novel Angela’s Ashes. He did look a little bit like Arnies black mate in Predator so I waited till I was safely out of Cartagena to write this witticism, just in case he wasn’t a Billy Bullshitter.
The next stop on our trip was to be Santa Marta where we planned to do Spanish lessons to become fluent, and a potential spot for some Volunteer work….
Accommodation – El Viajero Hostel 8 bed dorm – 42000 COP each per night, with breakfast. No pool though.
Cartagena Verdict – The walled city filled with Colonial Spanish buildings is extremely pleasant on the eye and very unique, I’ve included photos rather than trying to describe it, although it’s more impressive in real life. At least two days is required just to wander around the city itself. The beaches aren’t great, and it is a lot more expensive than everywhere else in Colombia so any more than a few days would be costly. A must see however.