Bogota is a traffic nightmare. The roads are clogged with cars, buses, and delivery trucks and taxis all day, every day. Even though the city instituted “no-drive” days, the roadways are nearly a standstill at peak hours. The program (called Pico y Placa) states that license plates ending in odd numbers can drive on odd-numbered days, even numbers on even-numbered days. People take this seriously and fines are high for violators. Cars can even be confiscated if they are caught driving on the wrong day. We met several Uber drivers that own two cars, so they can work every day. Clearly folks found a way around the controls. But even the city buses are jammed full of commuters every day. There are just a lot of people moving around this city!
We actually came to Bogota twice. I will combine both our visits into this story. I will try to differentiate our experiences, because they were very different! But we really enjoyed many aspects of the city and the people each time. And we discovered that Bogota feels a lot like Boston.
The first time we visited, it was for the truck to go to the mechanic. We were not able to live in the truck while it was parked there. It was parked it in a small, secure lot among the mechanics hot rod and off-road vehicle and many customer cars.
The work was done with expertise and skill. The mounting brackets that had cracked on the rough road were replicated in a thicker, stronger steel. (see your previous post for the story, click here) Then these sleeves were fitted over the brackets and the camper was reattached. We are happy with the work done by the folks at Promecanica SAS in Bogota.
While the truck was being repaired we rented a small apartment on AirBandB. This apartment was relaxing and enjoyable and in a great neighborhood. We had a washing machine (most of the time) and plenty of hot water and fast wi-fi (most of the time). The people who own the building also manage the apartment and live on the floors above. They are animal lovers who have devoted an entire floor of the building to a group of cats! They each also have their own pack of dogs and cats on each of their floors. They loved and cared for Nica and helped us a great deal with the sweet old dog we cared for while we were there. (you can read about Rosa on our Facebook and Instagram page) We become friends and they quickly felt like family members to us. We will always fondly remember our time with them. And when we return to Bogota, they are on our “must-see” list. We have already referred other travelers to the great little apartment! Jaime, Rosario and Jimena were a powerful reminder that the world is full of good people.
The second time we came to the big city it was for a veterinary procedure. Nica needed a scope of her urethra and bladder. This time we wanted to save a little money, so instead of renting a place we decided to stay in a parking lot. It turned out great, as we settled into our dirt corner next to a huge neighbor from Brazil.
A very nice couple from Brazil are living here for a month, inside this giant VW. The shared local tips with us, and drew us a map to the yummy bakery nearby. The parking lot also had a place to fill water, so we were able to wash dishes, shower and keep up our normal routines, while parked in the center of high-rise apartments and busy office complexes. Across the street was a laundry place and nearby was a grocery store and mall. Nica enjoyed hanging out and watching the city go by!
At one point during our time in Bogota our traveling friends from AdondeVamois came to the big city for a visit. We played in a city park and toured the amazing Gold Museum in downtown Bogota. We also ate some delicious meals, as the restaurants in this city are top-notch.
Walking around the city revealed many interesting things. We saw that the city loves their trees. They tag them all with a number. The trees that are ill receive IV treatments to try to save them. I am not sure if it works, but it is a valiant effort!
In one of our favorite parks we found a tree that had its own little shrine with a cherub and some orange peels. (purpose unknown)
This city also loves their dogs. People can be seen outdoors with their dogs all day and all night. We were told that full-breed dogs are seen as a status symbol by some of the wealthy crownds. But since people are living in high rise apartments and working long hours each day, dog walking is a big business here. Many dog walkers have as many as ten dogs with them. Dogs are walked for 3 to 4 hours a day. We often saw the same groups day after day as they wandered the parks and filled the sidewalks. Dogs and dog walkers even wear costumes for Halloween (see costume photo below).
Since we were in the city over Halloween we decorated our truck with a spooky spider!
Nica enjoyed the fact that in this dog-friendly city, pets are allowed in malls, restaurants and stores. She went shopping at the hardware store and tried this guard dog sign as she rode around in the cart. She did NOT like the escalator or elevator. Nica prefers the stairs.
Because dogs are so welcome, she went nearly everywhere with us. Lots of walks through the city and visits to restaurants.
Sometime we left Nica at the apartment. There she would spend hours looking out the big glass window at the people on the street. While she was supervising the neighborhood Mike and Geneva went to Plaza Bolivar in the city central and visited a few museums. The plaza is huge and busy. It is surrounded by government buildings and the original church. But even in the heart of all this, are old buildings with traditional tile roofs. The photos below include two views of Plaza Bolivar and a view of the rooftops, looking toward the famed Montsarat monument on top of the hill. We also saw a textile and clothing museum. This featured traditional and festival attire from all around the country. It was a small, but interesting display of Colombian history. Another hour was spent in the military museum. Here we watched a platoon of new recruits take selfies and get yelled at by their leaders. And of course, Mike loved the airplane displays, of course.
Back at the places we stayed, our daily walks always revealed fun and interesting things to us. For example we learned that many people in Bogota rent a washing machine for a few hours a week. They call the number and a person on a bicycles delivers the washer. Then it is picked up and taken to the next house for use.
We saw beautiful street art and interesting quotes during our walks in the city. And every now and then we just sat on a bench and watched people!
Mike found an guitar demonstration class to attend one evening. He learned a little about Latin picking styles. The musicians were amazing and we joined a large crowd as enjoyed the final show and presentation.
After a few days in the apartment, Nica noticed the brass, horse-shaped hook on the wall. She decided it was a threat to our safety. Once she discovered it we had to keep it covered with a towel or she would go crazy growling at it.
One of the most exciting days for us was the day a package arrived from the USA! Thanks to Jessica for gathering some important things and a few fun surprises and sending them our way. Getting a package is expensive, rare and requires many steps. It also takes about a month to process through customs. We have not received a package since Costa Rica, so this was particularly special to us!
The other part of our time in Bogota was spent visiting a well-known veterinarian. Checking Nica in at the vet was a difficult moment for us. It was hard to leave her overnight. And then the scoping procedure had some unanticipated side effects that caused her to need to be hospitalized for four days. It was a tough time for all of us, with long hours spent in the vets office holding a weak, tired dog.
Did I mention the crazy traffic of Bogota? (yes, first paragraph) Well, this delivery service works on bicycles and motorcycles and sometimes on foot. They will deliver anything, anywhere. Our friend used it to bring his contact lenses to the office. Some people have food delivered. Others order a pack of cigarettes, or medicine or forgotten keys. Really anything can be placed in the orange bag and hastily pedaled across town! And in between deliveries the workers can be seen lounging around, waiting for a call.
While in Bogota we became attached to another Colombian family. It began one day as we were waiting at the vets office. In the lobby we met a bilingual young man named Julian. We asked him to help us navigate the confusing paperwork process of extending our vehicle importation so we could stay in Colombia for an additional three months. This nice office lady, and Julian’s charm, made that extension possible and we can now remain in Colombia until January!. But quickly Julian became more than a paperwork helper! He joined us for dinners, dog walks and shared stories of his life and family and quickly became our friend. At one of the malls, dogs were allowed, but only if carried. So Julian valiantly hefted Nica up on his shoulder and carried her through the mall. She loves Julian, so she tolerated this as we completed our task!
Also on our list of new experiences in Bogota was a “Tattoo Festival”. We spent an hour wandering around and then selected an artist to apply our maps. Mike and I left Bogota with a permanent memento.
When it was time to leave Bogota, our new friend Julian invited us to meet him and his family at their historical hacienda in a small village named Tenza. In turn, we invited Julian to experience overlanding by traveling with us on the road for a week or two. We all agreed on a time and place where we would see each other again. Then we packed up and left the bustling city of Bogota.