The Emerald world, such a rare gem-Columbia…oh yes and a little event of the Olympic hockey Finals

So here I am in Bogota the capital of Columbia. Somewhere I’ve never really wanted to go, somewhere my parents are hating me going, and the one place that everyone’s eyebrows are raised when you say you are visiting. But as my flight landed for transfer in Columbia and I didn’t fancy another 14 hour flight transfer wait, why not stay in the capital and explore country number five.

The Olympic Women’s hockey final has been played and I want to watch it delayed on iPlayer so I don’t even turn my phone on in case of messages from home or an update.

I vaguely remember a message or a blog saying I must queue for a taxi and make sure it’s an official one, so I see an official taxi booth and don’t need to queue as there’s only one person in front. Book myself in, and about £20 later have a man quite happily carrying my very heavy suitcase (minus that bloody 5kg i am carrying) to his taxi van and off we go. The view out of the windows already looks much more South American, more traditional and somewhere I think I’ll enjoy. A lovely thirty minute drive through the busy streets, through mainly built up areas and we arrive at the B and B (hidden behind iron gates??), ring the doorbell and out comes one of the owners.

Wow what an absolute treat for the eyes inside is. As you walk in to the main hall there is an open fireplace with old looking wooden seats around it, wooden staircases Dynasty like going up round to the top floor ,and there is my bedroom and all its splendour with a solid wooden door, apparently triple glazing to keep the road noise out, beautiful decoration, and an amazing bathroom. It’s even got a massage shower, you know the ones where you don’t have to have the water from the shower-head, you can press a button and it comes out of jet streams that are going for three different places on your back. I mean that is a great way to finish the holiday.

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The owners don’t just check you in like many a place, they sit down and have a chat as we have a bottle of wine, ask me what my plans are.  As I have no idea they discussed the options and tell me about a buddy system where a local student comes and spends the day with you giving you a tour by foot or by bike to do whatever you choose. The lovely owners are Rick who is American and his wife Beatrix who is Columbian. They have redecorated the B and B from scratch, down to every last detail.Such a lovely family feel, attention to detail and friendly atmosphere.

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A another person staying at the B&B pops back, a lovely Chinese man, and he sits and chats to us as well. He’s had a buddy for three days and absolutely raves about them. So decision made, buddy tomorrow. He also suggested the Salt Cathedral and Montserrate, so ideas at least.

So after a lovely hour chatting and planning, I head up to my room to unpack and watch the hockey gold medal match between Team GB and the favourites I have to admit the Netherlands. And as I’m sure you know by now we bloody rocked the shoot out and are Olympic Champions, we are just awesome particularly goalkeeper Maddie Hinch who didn’t put a foot wrong. Do I wish I was there? No, as fab as it would be, Columbia is already a bonus, and with lots to see I am excited for the next few day.

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Breakfast is cooked fresh for you and served down in front of the lovely fire place, fresh orange juice, cup of tea and pancakes how amazing is that. Best breakfast so far, best accommodation by far, and best hostel by a million miles.

My buddy for the day is Johnny, and off first to La Candelaria (the colonial centre) we head. A fab way to see the city, there’s a pedestrian/bikes only route right down the centre of town. We pass the hotel-penthouse that Guns and Roses trashed about 10 years ago, so badly that it only reopened last year because they refused to pay for the damage.

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The Gold museum where you can more than 55,000 pieces of gold and other materials from pre-Hispanic cultures. Fascinating videos showing how they made the Gold into the intricate little shapes. Using moulds from beeswax and then pouring in clay to create a mould that the Gold is then poured into. Each piece unique as the mould can only ever be used once.

Circling around a bit more through downtown to the oldest part of town were the first building is now two coffee shops, the best coffee shops in the area apparently. Through the narrowest road in town, very Diagon Alley esk.

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I went into the Museo Botero, dedicated to all things Chubby, by Fernando Botero. The art really is weird, paintings of chubby people and animals. Reminds me of cabbage patch kids.

There are lots of street traders about, so I get a lovely Christmas Gift for my brother, Star Wars themed. Love it, and I also get a Colombian coloured bracelet to add to my collection. And it’s only at this point that I realised that there is more yellow on the Colombian flag that red and blue. That is because of the Gold that was found here so they put it in the flag all those years ago. Pointless fact, maybe useful for pub quiz!

Off to stop for lunch at a quaint little cafe with three floors of seating. Johnny recommends me a local dish, it has everything you need for a balanced diet, beans, avocado, banana, shredded beef, fit for about a table of four but despite the weird mix of foods very enjoyable even if a tad on the large side.

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More street entertainers have set up as we head back, so it is very much like Covent Garden. You have the silver or gold sprayed statues that stay absolutely still, you have jugglers and various bands playing music. And then, racing Guinea Pigs. I mean, what on earth is that. So I stop as you do, and there is a load of overturned Tupperware boxes with holes cut and numbers written on the top and the game the public bet on a Tupperware box and a Guinea Pig is picked from the group, placed down and off it walks to its chosen pot. How random.

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We return the bikes and get a car instead and drive to Monserrate, Bogota’s proud symbol and at 3150m, a great view of the city.

There’s a church at the top, a major mecca for Pilgrims, also some food outlets, a restaurant and a small market area for souvenirs. There is 1500 step walk, however it is renowned for knife muggings particularly on week days, and I think it was closed today anyway. But best not to be in danger just for a trek hey!

The view is pretty amazing though, so worth the £5 return trip on the funicular.

On route back we pass hundreds of cyclists, young and old dressed up in old clothes from maybe the 1940s. We had seen them earlier in town as well, and it’s nice to see them again, they must have been cycling for about five hours. Great to see all ages involved in an event, happy, chatty, just an amazing bustling feel around them all. The bikes range from modern racers to old style, baskets on the front, unicycles, tandems, just every type you can imagine.

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After the wonders of Monserrate we head to the local flea market. Not sure I have ever been to a flea market to be honest, so it was quite interesting although I have bought enough ‘tat’ already this holiday and nothing grabs my attention particularly.

We walk around discussing Columbia in general, I ask about the stray dogs and he tells me the story about how the government didn’t like it so poisoned about 400 of them so that’s why there’s not many around at the minute. The streets are named Calles if they run perpendicular to the hills and Carerras if they run from North to South. We try the local ice-cream as it is apparently supposed to be lovely in South America, it’s no Rossi’s of Southend, but it was very nice. Its 2640m above sea level, the third highest capital city after La Paz and Quito. All fascinating.

Final part of the day is to drive up La Calera to watch sunset over the city. I do like a sunset and this was pretty good, although slightly marred by the clouds on the horizon. As you drive up there are hundreds of people parked up in various cafes overlooking the city, and I think we’re going to miss the sunset as I keep passing, passing, passing.  At 6pm the national anthem comes on, this is a daily occurrence all over the country. How very patriotic. But we finally find the stop he wants, the Beer Wagon, we head in and get a table outside our lovely open fire with half a view of the city.  He orders me a local drink-Canelazo, which costs a fortune I find out at the end, but was very nice. So the sun sets, such a wonderful day I have had with my Colombian buddy.

 

Now you don’t pay for the buddy but have to ‘tip’ what you think the day is worth. You get an envelope to leave money in, all secretly. I have no idea if I was too mean or over generous, but i was happy and paid what I thought was fair? Great programme though.

I check out the top things to do in Bogota when back at the B and B & B and decide on the Salt Cathedral, The Lake of Gold and if possible the restaurant Andres Carne de Res. The B & B owners Beatrix and Rick had offered a taxi driver when I needed one so I asked them if I could book him to take me to one or two of these locations, and within half an hour Beatrix has organised that I can actually do all three while I’m out, which leaves me time to peruse Bogota on my third and final day.

So here we are, day two, another amazing breakfast, local cake and sauce. Bless the taxi driver, doesn’t speak a word of English, but between my Google translate and his Google translate will get by during the day I’m sure.

We go back up the Le Calera hill, and today being a Sunday everyone seems to be out on their bikes. There are literally hundreds of people, good and bad abilities, young and old, cycling up on this apparently 10 km trip, it’s so great to see and no cars are honking their horns telling the bikes to get out the way. All the traffic just waits as the bikes have priority. I love this. And at the top of the hill where at the route finishes, there are bike stalls, cafes and hundreds of people milling around drinking, eating and socialising, what a great event. And apparently this is every Sunday.

 

So about two hours of driving later, slowed down by the cyclists, we get to do what we think it is the Lake Guatavita (lake of gold), however we find out that this is the nearest town and it is another 40 minutes’ drive to the entrance. There are some other people who have made the same mistake, some Brazilians who got off the bus there because they didn’t understand the Spanish driver, being Brazilian, and they ask if they can get a taxi, why not I say. Do my good deed for the day.

You have to walk around with a guide, she starts off saying she’ll translate to English for me after each speech, but then she gets bored and says she’ll do it at the end instead. I am the only English speaker here! So I try and muddle through picking up words here and there looking at what she’s pointing at, all very interesting. The weather is pretty rubbish, raining on and off so out comes the poncho again. Been a real godsend this holiday. I believe its even hot in the UK, how rude.

We passed a ceremonial house, look at plants with special powers/meanings, others that have been replanted, patterns on the paved floor and then we eventually get to the wonderful view that is the Lake of Gold. She talks about the greed of explorers who wanted the gold and how they have ‘broken’ the lake by their attempts to get to it. It is no longer a full circular glacial? lake but whether the story is true who knows. There are many stories about its history including how the gold ship in the gold museum was found in the lake as it was an offering by the Muiscas. Well worth a visit if you like views, although if you’re rushed for time not sure it’s high up on my list. But an enjoyable and informative trip none the less.

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Before I leave in the taxi I stop to have sweetcorn cooked on a traditional barbecue/fire. Probably the nicest sweetcorn I’ve tasted, love the street food. Off to the Salt Cathedral.

OMG, not sure if its the roads, the driving or I am actually not well but the drive is not good. I fell sick, need the window open to make me feel better, and then try and sleep for a bit.

Now this is something I would put on your list to visit if you are in Columbia and Bogota, it’s only about 50km from Bogota in Zipaquira. You go 180 metres underground, where 250,000 tonnes of salt have been mined and the chambers have now carved out. You walk through 14 chapels, representing the Stations of the Cross, Jesus last journey. The culmination being the amazing, awe inspiring mammoth cross, lit from the base up, like heaven itself.

There’s a light show, I didn’t think much of, a miner’s tour where you can be a miner for an hour, this was fun albeit all in Spanish. Pick axing away, walking in pitch black. If you manage to ‘mine’ anything you can take it home with you.

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There’s a 3D movie on how the chambers came about, fascinating for adult and children as its part in cartoon form, and then stalls where you can buy souvenirs, emeralds and photos if you’ve posed earlier in the tour.

So onto part three of day two. Andres Carne de Res. How do I describe it? I’m not sure I can do it justice. The town is like a Christmas light display but for summer. And as you walk in it is like something out of a Tim Burton movie. Alice in Wonderland meets Willy Wonka. Madness. The menu is pretty expensive, but the food was great. I do look a tad weird as a lone diner here, but who cares. Not sure I’d come back, maybe if I was in a couple, but pleased to have been to see it.

What a busy two days. So pleased I’ve been here for a few days to experience all these wonders.

So my final day, and I decide to go on a walking tour to see the Graffiti of the city. At breakfast there is a lovely Dutch couple who are doing the tour in the morning, I’m going to relax first then head out. They are really exploring Columbia and seeing much more than just Bogota. I’ve never heard of the laces they mention, but how great to meet fellow travellers once more.

Today I am being brave, no guide or taxi driver. Just a map and directions. Well that was a mistake. I got so very lost! Wandering the streets of Bogota all on my own, probably not the best idea.  There are a lot of guards, police and their dogs all around the streets, so I felt safe, and asked police and security along the way to show me on the map where I was, and about two hours later, in the rain, arrived at my destination. All part of the adventure.

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The tour starts in parque de Los Periodistas, which if it was a sunny day I may sit in and admire, but I’m early and its pissing down so I head into a small little pizza place to get warm and dry but it really was quite lovely. Funny how random places end up being a real treat.

The Graffiti tour is amazing, a must do. We start with the political paintings where if you look closely you see pineapples that are actually grenades, (because they ruin the soil but are profitable), war flies, cocktails with guns painted in as the cocktail sticks. Paintings showing the oppression of rich on the poor. We learn about the gorilla rebels being killed for cash and locals being kidnapped and dressed like gorilla rebels so the soldiers can get this cash easily. 10,000 missing people over 10 years!

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Some of the artists go all over the world and are apparently famous in the art world. DJ Lu, aPC sting fish. They have their own tag/signature on their art work and no one ‘tags’ over them as they respect each other too much. We walk down the road a bit and move on to the more picturesque and happy pictures. Awesome pictures, animals, people, patterns. There are recycled green statues above the streets. 3D masks painted and stuck around the city. It makes you see Graffiti in a different light I must say.

 

My last purchase is a scrap book from a shop where they bind books n the old fashioned way still. I create a scrap book for all my travels so this is a cool place to buy one to use. It has that old fashioned book shop smell and is a pretty organised, although looking untidy workplace of books, paper and machines.

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Well, thats it. Pretty much all over, a month of awesomeness that I am not sure can ever be beaten. I finish my holiday with a cup of Chai in a café overlooking a parque, although if you can tell me what name is on my cup you are a better person than me!

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Remember the first cup I had, when I got my hot and cold muddled up in El Dorado Airport, Bogota!? Well what a way to finish, Monserrate in the distance, the locals milling around, the sun has even started shining for a short time.

Thank you Columbia for being a hidden gem of a place. England here we come, I am ready to go home as amazing as this has all been, and to see my beloved doggie zaccy….walkies!!

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Last days at the orphanages

Returning from lake titicaca at 5am off the night bus should mean straight to sleep but I was planning on going to see the inca ruins sexy woman (it sounds like that but has a ketchwan name), but half hour too late for sunrise so it was back to bed for a few hours. I wanted to be up for girls so set alarm for 9.30. Missed spending time with them, it’s going to be hard to leave. We did some work books and Christmas decorations, they are just happy being occupied and with company. One of the girls Esther is very attached to me now. So lovely, makes me feel needed and special. Posh Essex girl headed off to boys to practice nativity play with them, so I stayed on my own. Rare that you are on your own but don’t want to miss anytime with girls now and they’d have no one if I headed to boys. Whilst other volunteers have to move like sheep or sit and socialise with each other, that is not what I came out here to do!! We went to the park for an hour, rain had stopped but still muddy. Girls love it there. They swing upside down on monkey bars, swing for absolutely ages on swings, play on seesaws and madly go head first and backwards down the slide! I had to catch them from falling in the mud. Before they were allowed into house again they had to clean their trainers from any mud. They sat there for 30 minutes using sticks to get mud out. Can you imagine English kids doing that!! Even I couldn’t be arsed after 15 mins, thought I’d just take mine off before walking in. But they sat here happily making sure every last trace of mud was off and proud to show their clean shoes off!
Headed into town to get Christmas pressies at lunch. Got some amazing presents but spent loads too. My suitcase may be heavy again after donating loads of clothes that emptied spaces! Spent the afternoon with girls again, arts and crafts and more games. The youngest girl is such a cheat its hilarious. Playing Chinese checkers and she just moves about 20 places in one go, I turned around to answer someone’s question and upon return she’d won!! Bless. Only noticed today (didn’t realise how unobsevant I am) that this youngest girl has half her middle finger missing. Scary to think what could of caused it!
In the evening I had invited all the volunteers over for dinner, my turn to cook en mass! I only ever cook for me, well and maybe my dog!!, so a bit nervous. Posh Essex girl was my sou chef and did a grand job! Fajitas went down well so gold star for me. Yay! Although the youngsters showing their live at parents habits didn’t offer to wash up at all, at least grandad and Swiss girl noticed me washing up after cooking and stepped in. Rude habits but then they are young hey! We all then headed into town for our last night out. Well almost all. Grandad asked Swiss girl if she wanted to come out, her response was ‘I have 3 blankets at home, so no thanks’, such a random answer he had no comeback!! Went to our usual tourist bar to start, then inca team where lazy posh girl went behind bar again! In her element and fun to watch, and this time joined by frizzy and flirty. No free drinks unfortunately but all three had a bartenders gyrating with them permanently! So entertaining none the less! And one of the bartenders girlfriends came over and made a scene. Hilarious!! Having a go at him in front of everyone. Take that Mr! As usual it seems there is a token drunk Peruvian throwing up whilst asleep at bar! Also token fat drunk Peruvian dancing with anyone who makes eye contact! I had three free drinks tickets but donated one to an Oz man, who seemed friendly. However then him and his mates were doing a fab impression of Peruvian sharks on the dance floor!! One tried it on with me, then posh Essex girl then flirty! Hilarious!
Grandad hammered by this point and swaying on the spot whilst talking. Flirting with frizzy. Essex Akon is a sensible drinker and had to avert lots of attention from flirty. I mean real flirtatiousness, his hands in his pockets and her hands grabbing his arms trying to hold hands, love it. I then went for a drink and bartender pointed at tips box, kiss he says, why not so I snogged a Peruvian! Most action I’ve had in months!! And bagged a free drink!
Had a fab night dancing and then decided to move on to another club. Got there and man on top of bar dancing suddenly strips, tucks his willy between his legs and gyrates to the whole club! As Essex akon called it, he had a mangina!
I befriend another gay man. Love them, so friendly. Flirty still trying it on with Essex akon but then pulls a tourist. Drunk grandad chatting to posh Essex girl about life, one of those nights!!
Head home at 4am, don’t want to see girls getting up for school in morning again but posh Essex girl and I chat until 5 about the trials and tribulations of life too!!
Up at 10 to spend last day with girls. Feel a tad hungover which makes me emotional. Cry at least 4 times before the evening! Love these girls! Have brought some gifts from England for girls but not enough for one each so buy more locally. Hats and scarves. Head back and hand out. They love them, hug me lots. Tell me to return at 8pm to say goodbye! Off to boys to say bye. Grandad and posh Essex girl are cooking for boys. Not enough for volunteers as huge portions dished out, oops!! I hand bibs out to boys that I brought over. They fight over them but love them. Wear them for dinner…wrong kind of bib boys! Lol
I have to beg boys I teach to wear bloody bibs in England.
Do a leaving speech, cry! Say bye to all boys getti and giving hugs and kisses, my little angel is the best hugger, and head to girls. They put a show on for me! I cried straight away. Christmas cards, leaving cards, bracelets, 2 speeches, songs, dancing, me looking stupid all in aid of me and my volunteering. Love them. Made me feel special and that I’ve made an impact in 5 weeks! Hand over my bags of clothes etc and say my goodbyes! Although hope to get up in morning to see them off to school.
Head out for last drink with volunteers. Posh Essex girl moody as no food all day. Nutter! So stays home. Quiet night for the rest of us just chatting. Nice bunch but not bonded with those as much as posh Essex girl, polish nutter and marine wife!
Our plan was to get up for sunrise and go to see sexy woman-inca ruins. Frizzy kept calling it sexy sunrise. Not sure what the taxi man would offer for that request!
At 4.40am I get up but looks cloudy, no point if it is, so snooze for 10 more minutes. No still cloudy so won’t see sunrise so back to sleep. Up at 7.30 to say bye to older girls before school. Cry again! Have brekkie then back for last half hour with girls. Tell Esther I’ve asked to be godmother, she hugs me so hard! Bless. I bought her a Christmas pressie yesterday. Never bought girly stuff before so that was a first! It’s a princess horse and carriage that plays music and blows bubbles!
Say goodbye cry again! Staff member cries, hugs me, won’t let me go? She’s the thieving suspect so all a bit weird! Made me a tad uncomfortable to be honest, OTT?? She then asks for my keys which I apprehensively give, then panic that she’ll go to posh Essex girls room whilst out and rob her again!! Pretend I’ve locked my room and need them back! Phew!
Bless posh Essex girl, she comes to airport with me to check all is ok. Been a good friend these 5 weeks and hope to keep on touch.
My adventure is over!! Well for now, and only one suitcase to carry home! Yay!

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