We had such a great time in Bogota the first time around, we were excited to get back to the city and out of the humidity. We celebrated our return to the 8,000 ft elevation by ascending a bit higher to 10,341 ft elevation while visiting Monserrate where “El Señor Caído” (Fallen Lord) church sits atop. For more than four centuries, pilgrims and citizen have hiked the mountain to offer their prayers to the shrine of “El Señor Caido”. Monserrate is accessed via a cable car that is loaded to the max with passengers. We told ourselves it was super safe and that technitions probably check the wire every few months for safety.
Despite being a very sunny day in Bogota, the view from Monserrate was still a bit cloudy, but stunning nonetheless. While walking around, we were both short of breath and struck with altitude-induced nausea.
December 7th is the Día de las Velitas (Day of the Little Candles), the unofficial start of the Colombian Christmas season. Throughout Colombia people place candles and paper lanterns on their windows, balconies, porches, sidewalks, streets, parks and squares, in honor of the Virgin Mary and her immaculate conception. Having no prior knowledge of this observed tradition, we were surprised to see vendors selling candles all over Bogota Friday afternoon. The entire city was already covered in Christmas lights and the parks were filled with various Christmas figurines that lit up at night. Jen was ecstatic as Canadians have a special sort of affection for Christmas.
As the night wore on, we saw families fill the parks and other public areas and place lit candles all over the walkways. We found a bench in a crowded park in Zona Rosa and people watched for an hour without having any idea of what the candles were about. Finally, I attempted to use my less-than-spectacular Spanish skills and asked a teenager sitting on the ground near our bench. We weren’t able to communicate, but about 20 minutes later, she brought a friend over who spoke English and said her friend could explain everything. Jen and I were both struck by the thoughtful gesture when the girl surprised us again and handed us a package of candles she had purchased for us to light and make wishes. While we hadn’t planned on participating in the tradition, lighting the candles gave us both a sense of connection to the city we hadn’t anticipated.
We woke up earlier than usual on Saturday and ventured to the Usaquen neighborhood of Bogota before our departure. We were told there was an excellent flea market and we had Colombian pesos to use. We arrived just after 10 a.m. to quiet streets without a single café open. We attempted to ask locals we passed on the street where the Mercado was, but they just looked at us with confused expressions. Finally, one woman gave us directions and after walking a few blocks, we found ourselves starting at a grocery store. Not quite what we had in mind. I did what smart people do and Googled “Usaquen Market” and found out that our hotel had steered us wrong, the market was only open on Sundays. Always consult Google in advance.
Without a hotel in sight and all the restaurants closed, we were forced to hail a cab from the street. We negotiated a price beforehand and made our way back to the El Parque 93 neighborhood. After paying the cab driver, he attempted to short us on change and we ended up sitting in his cab for a full five minutes explaining to him in broken Spanish that we had paid him 10,000 COP for a 6,000 COP fare so he owed us 4,000 COP. He reluctantly gave us 1,000 COP back, and after realizing we were arguing over the equivalent of $2 USD, we gave up and made our way to the airport.
As per usual, we bettered our circumstances through food. Dessert for brunch, yes please!
Leaving Bogota was bittersweet. Most people had told us we wouldn’t care much for Bogota, but despite the altitude sickness and mostly dreary weather, we were both taken with the city and wanted more time to explore. Colombia has so much more to offer than we were able to experience. In the future we’d like to take a coffee tour, visit Medellin and Cali, and spend time in other Bogota neighborhoods.
We were greeted in Miami after exiting the airplane by 7 police officers with drug sniffing dogs and our hands were tested for residue. Despite the high security, we weren’t asked a single question by immigration or customs regarding our travels. We didn’t even receive the standard “what countries did you visit while out of the US?” Welcome Home!