Images of Bogota

Before my wheels started rolling in the Americas one of my tongue in cheek mission statements was that I was going to find a wife in Colombia. After six weeks in the country and a week in Bogotá I have indeed found myself falling in love. Not with a raven haired latino beauty, but with a culture, landscape and people. My plans to ensnare an unsuspecting Colombian lady have been shelved, I’m far too excited by what else South America has in store to consider letting my tour get derailed again. Getting to know a little of Bogotá has filled in some of the gaps in my Colombian view and provided a context with the other parts of the country I’ve visited. My week here has been too short but it’s been like meeting the parents of a new girlfriend, my relationship with Colombia has reached the next level.

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In the streets of La Candelaria… the historic center of Bogotá

Sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t. Whatever happens there are usually positives to be taken from every situation. Luckily for me things worked out in Bogotá and I’ll be riding away from Colombia’s capital with panniers weighty from happy memories. I lucked out in so many ways. My Warmshowers (or should I say Duchas Caliente) host Javier has dutifully delivered me the full package of ciclo-tourism. We’ve ridden from his exceptionally positioned apartment in the La Candelaria district through Ciclovia closed Sunday roads up to the northern tip of the city and back. Touring through the diverse variety of Bogotá’s districts and neighborhoods, and cruising the cities extensive network of cycle paths deep into the dark night. On another occasion we toured the cities bike shops, enormous markets, tranquil Parque Metropolitano Simon Bolivar and the political hotbed of Universidad Nacional de Colombia. Then Thursday night we joined the masses of TeusacaTuBici for a critical mass night ride through the Christmas crowds of Bogotá. In between all of this I have found the time to do a lot of strolling, coffee drinking and cultural absorption. Bogotá is blessed with some fine street art, interesting architectural styles and a lot of beautiful people. The only thing it lacks is good weather, but hey, I’m British!

I’ve compiled a few photographs that tell the story of my brief time in this terrific city:

Strolls around La Candelaria:

Filled with Spanish Colonial and Baroque architecture La Candelaria is the classic old town of Bogotá. It is filled with historic churches, museums and gems that make it the touristic centre of downtown Bogotá. There is also a grittier more bohemian side to the place too, where long-haired youth sit smoking pot in front of an array of superb street art. I was lucky to stay in an apartment in this district and was therefore fortunate enough to fill plentiful hours snooping around.

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he view from my bedroom window really sums up the architectural diversity of La Candelaria

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One minute you’re looking up at this…

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… and the next it might look more like this

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Old colonial streets stretch out proudly…

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… away from a completely different time in design all together

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Strict modernist lines distinguish themselves…

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… from softer more inviting constructions

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What could have easily become a bleak inner city landscape is saved by fantastic works of art

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Traditional tags display an enormous amount of ability

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Weird and wonderful creations brighten nearly every block

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Although there is an enormous amount of guerrilla art…

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… it is clear that many buildings are coated in commissioned art

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I first noticed this piece when riding though the neighborhood with Javier. I liked it so much I went out in search of it again. A personal favorite for sure

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But art doesn’t have to be ornate and complicated to be striking

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A wander around the more urban parts of La Candelaria will familiarize you with the potent smell of pot. A bit of weed never hurt this little fella!

The Sunday Ciclovia:

I am happy to admit straight out that one of the main reasons I decided to take my tour through Bogotá was the allure of the Ciclovia, when many of the city streets are closed to automobiles and opened up to cyclists. Bogotá was the original Ciclovia city, starting a scheme in the early 1980’s that has now come to be copied in countless major cities in Latin America and beyond. Every Sunday from 7 am to 2 pm the streets belong to cyclists, dog walkers, runners, in-line skaters and all manner of others. It is a truly inspirational triumph of fun and humanity over the economy and urban efficiency. Having arrived on a Saturday the Ciclovia was my chance to get to know Javier and his city. Imagine doing this through the historic streets of London…

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A short hop from Javier’s apartment and we were on Ciclovia roads

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The Bogotá police have really taken on board the ‘be safe be seen’ mantra

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At times it felt a bit eeire having full reign on great wide roads

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At many points along the way there are small stalls and makeshift mechanics

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Our journey took us through big business and retail areas…

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… into areas more like what I know Colombia to be…

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… past pop art painting…

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… and fancy hotels

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Bogotá is generally a flat city but where there is a downhill traffic calming measures have been employed to stop too much fun

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At times it reminded me of riding the deserted motorways of Cuba

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Eventually we left the roads and joined Bogotá’s extensive cycle path system

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Following Javier around he started referring to himself as the pastor (shepherd) and me an oveja (sheep). I obliged with periodic baaaing noises

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Many of the cycle paths run right down the center of the streets

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The further north we rode the more space opened up

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For large parts there were newly built apartment blocks and wide open paved spaces

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Bicycle taxis here are little more put together than in Central America… they even have motors!

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They say misfortune comes in threes… it certainly did for Javier. Within the space of ten minutes he’d managed to have an accident on a wet curb, we both got drenched when a passing car splashed through a dirty puddle, and then he got a puncture

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Before long darkness was falling and we were in the northern business district

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By the time we reached the World Trade Center we’d hit rain

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Bogotá is big on sculpture

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Night had fully fallen by the time we reached the Lourdes Church

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The perfect opportunity to explore the Christmas lights of Parque Nacional Olaya Herrera

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The crowds on Carrera 7 near Plaza de Bolivar marked the final stretch of an incredibly enjoyable and memorable day on the bike

Universidad Nacional & Parque Simon Bolivar:

One of the distinct advantages of having a local friend to show you around a City is that no time is wasted faffing around trying to work out what to see, where things are and how to get there. One evening I mentioned to Javier that I fancied checking out the Simon Bolivar park, the next day I was taken on another magical mystery tour of Bogotá.

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When you’re in flat Bogotá it’s easy to forget about the surrounding mountains

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I’ve found that Latin American cities really clump things together… if you run a bicycle shop then you will obviously open up your business next to other bicycle shops that sell exactly the same thing… common sense

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On the way into grounds of the public National University of Colombia security took our details and made a note of the serial numbers on our bikes. A good way of checking you’re not stealing a bike when you leave. Colombia is a highly politicized country, something no more evident than in the university grounds where political slogans are scrawled just about everywhere

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The center piece of the university complex is Che Square (officially named ‘Santander Square’)… two black and white murals dominate, one of Camilo Torres Restrepo the Colombian Socialist and member of guerrilla organisation ELN

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The other mural is unsurprisingly of Che… in a land where the FARC has contributed widely to the violence it surprises me that the political left is so outwardly celebrated

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From the edgy confines of the university we headed out to the extremely quiet Parque Metropolitano Simon Bolivar…

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… and had ourselves a little picnic

TeusacaTuBici Night Ride:

After a few days in Bogotá I was all set to head out when Javier mentioned a critical mass night ride that was taking place on the Thursday night. There are a few organised cycle events that regularly take place in the city, this one was organised by TeusacaTuBici. So I followed Javier across town to a social network arranged meeting spot and joined forty or fifty other cyclists in an assault on the busy Plaza de Bolivar.

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Having met up about 7 pm by 7:30 we were all lined up and ready to roll

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With such a big group and so many cars about there was a fair amount of waiting at lights

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Having snaked our way in single file through a packed section of Carrera 7 we finally made it to Plaza de Bolivar

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The range of bikes and cyclists was vast

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In the Plaza de Bolivia we hung around to watch the dancing musical fountains

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Although not quite as impressive as the Bellagio fountains I watched in Las Vegas, they were quite emotive nonetheless

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Then it was back in the saddle to meander a course via Parque Nacional Olaya Herrera…

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… through the beating heart of Bogotá and back to where we’d started

Bogotá is a city I’d recommend to anyone. Whatever your fancy I am sure you can find it here. And despite being a huge metropolis it actually starts to feel quite small once you start to become a bit more ingrained. Thanks to my bicycle, a hunger to explore and the invaluable companionship of Javier, I shall ride away from the city tomorrow feeling I’ve got a very good return on my weeks stay. I’m sure the bright lights and fancy cars will feel a million miles away in a few days time once I’ve hit the desert.

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2 responses to “Images of Bogota

  1. The idea of closing the streets on Sundays is one that I have thought about for years, but didn’t really know it existed anywhere! So glad you were able to experience it, and write about it, for the rest of us to dream and imagine that we will expereince it some day!

  2. Pingback: Loving Santiago… Loving Cities | Velo Freedom - Cycling South·

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