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Our Last Day in Colombia and a Few Thoughts

What do you mean, I can't bring that into Canada...

semi-overcast 15 °C

Day 21 Monday February 20, 2018

Last day in Bogotá. Ah, the joy of having someone cook breakfast for you. Last time for a while (Air Canada’s offerings don’t count) We’ve stayed at this hotel enough that the young man in the restaurant knows that I’ll be asking for mantequilla (butter) and I know what to ask for as it is something that often needs to be asked for in Colombia. He also knows when I come by later in the afternoon I’ll be asking for ‘heilo’ for Fred’s knee.

We’d booked one of the Free Walking Tours of Bogotá. They are done by donation and our experience so far in Colombia has been very good. We had wandered about the historical area of Bogotá quite a bit before but our guide was able to add stories of the history to the area. One of the more interesting places we stopped at was a square where the illegal trade in emeralds was taking place. Men in business suits stood around in small groups using their jeweler’s loop to check the stones. The trade is illegal because taxes aren’t being paid on the transactions.


We walked along the steep cobblestone streets to a shop that sold coffee and Chicha – a fermented corn drink that we had previously tried. This Copy_of_P1160608.jpgCopy_of_P1160609.jpgCopy_of_P1160616.jpgone was slightly different …maybe worse. Back towards the town square with a stop at the window that Simon Bolivar had jumped out of to avoid an assination attempt. He had been stark naked because he was with his lover at the time. Bolivar had TB so hiding by the river with no clothes on was not good for him. He died two years later.

Following the tour Fred wanted to try the traditional soup that had been recommended at a nearby restaurant. The soup is chicken with 3 kinds of potatoes, part of a cob of corn, ¼ of an avocado and rice. Avocados in Colombia are huge, averaging about 7 inches or more long. The serving of the soup brought out a few “OMG’s”


Satiated we headed out to pick up a few treasures to bring home and then tried to catch a cab back to the hotel. It’s best to have someone call a taxi for you in Colombia but this doesn’t always prove easy. The lady at the tourism office sat on hold for 5 minutes trying to get through. We finally went out on the street and found a taxi with people getting out of it which we figured was safer than getting a taxi sitting waiting in a tourist zone. Safety in a taxi in Bogotá is a relative term anyway. Drivers take getting to their destination as fast as possible in bumper to bumper traffic, seriously. I figured if we felt unsafe, the traffic was so slow we could just get out. Eventually, we did get out of the cab short of our hotel because it was faster to walk the rest of the way than to sit in the traffic.

Fortunately one of our tour group, Gayle from Toronto, was staying a few more days. A number of us were leaving BOG Monday night between about 8 p.m. and midnight. Gayle had offered her room as a waiting place so we had a gather and recoup before heading out to the airport.

We got to the airport at about 7:40 p.m. for our 11:30 fight. We grabbed a quick dinner before the Air Canada booth opened at 8:30 p.m. When we arrived at 8:35 p.m. the line up was long and slow, past a young man in the middle hand-writing down our names and destination and putting ‘a security cleared’ tag on our suitcases. Eventually we got rid of our bags and headed for Security and another long and slow line. It took us almost 1.5 hours to get through the process.

The flight left 45 minutes late and had an unusually high population of small children on it. It was uneventful until 4 a.m. when they woke us up to have the usual Air Canada breakfast! Probably met a few unappreciative passengers.

Line up for bags and then immigrations. We ended up in 'Secondary' because we had Coca tea! Silly me was being honest and declared that we had 'food' because we had coffee and tea. The agent was determined to specify what kind of tea and asked if it was Coca. Even though we told her the guide said it was ok (guess she hadn't done that tour) off we went. I've seen the Canadian version of Border Security so was hoping to see one of the agents from TV and was glad that I wasn’t on the US version which isn't quite so nice. Anyway, the nice agent said it was illegal, hummed and hawed a bit, and then gave it back to us with a 'don't do it again'. The fellow at the next wicket was taken away in handcuffs!

A ride on the airport express train to Bloor/Dundas, then a taxi to Sasha’s house and finally a nap. Toronto seems so quiet compared to Bogotá! Safe drinking water, hot showers, so civilized. It was a day of record break temps in Toronto at 15.6 c. What is Victoria going to feel like?

Final thoughts pertaining to our Colombian experience.

The driving situation in Colombia, especially Bogotá, is very different than in Canada. The Colombian approach is “if there is a free inch, take it”. Drivers speed constantly and are very fast (switching lanes in a heart beat) and aggressive but not hostile. They will squeeze in anywhere they can but don’t get argumentative or show road rage when their attempts are thwarted by another vehicle. Motorcycle drivers are even more aggressive and are allowed to zip between cars, buses and trucks in the tight space between lanes. All motorcycle helmets have the bike’s license plate number on the back of the helmet which seems like a pretty good idea.

Rules of the road, especially in rural areas, are considered to be more suggestions than actual statutory requirements worth following. Passing on double yellow lines or on blind corners is a regular occurrence as is excessive speeding. Yet in the entire time we were in Colombia, we saw no vehicle accidents which is a statement as to the high technical abilities of Colombian drivers.

Most Colombian’s, if they could afford to, dress well. The style of dress is on the conservative side with a Latin twist. Most, but not all, of the young people we saw who were hippy or alternative in appearance including tats, were foreign travelers.

Because of Bogotá’s high altitude (8,000+) the climate is cooler then the rest of the country. March is the hottest month in Bogotá with an average temperature of 58 °F (15 °C) and the coldest is December at 54 °F (12 °C). As a result the locals tend to noticeably wear more jackets/sweaters than the average Canadian would in those temps.

As a direct result of Colombia’s violent past, the county’s reputation as a dangerous place to visit keeps many tourists away. The majority of the tourists we encountered were local Colombians out enjoying their own country or from other Latin countries. It’s an extremely beautiful part of the world with a wide variety of geographic area and different climates. Cartagena was the exception as Caribbean cruse ships have been stopping there for years. Most young travelers we came upon were European or Australian/New Zealanders.

As a result of the lack of foreign visitors, the county’s tourism service industry lacks an understanding/experience of how to provide out-of-country guests with the same level of service they are accustomed to in their countries of origin. This is true mostly at the mid level range of service, while the 4-5 star hotels/restaurants do a better job. These missteps include both small or more major issues; the lack of hot water, towels that felt like sandpaper, unwillingness to provide separate bills for small groups in restaurants, lack of toilet seats, occasional poor customer service, etc. The flip side of this is that if places become more popular and crowded with tourists with improved service it can lose its original appeal, which ironically is the reason that travelers went in the first place.
We found the locals to be mostly friendly and happy to have us visiting their country. This was especially true if we attempted to speak a bit of Spanish in an effort to make ourselves understood.

Fred found the food to be significantly improved over his visit to Colombia 40 years ago. (He no longer stays in $3 hotel rooms either) Both the superiority/sophistication of choices of food available and quality of the meals was noticed.

Colombian people have been through a very difficult period in the growth and development of their country. The current gorilla wars and drug cartels are significantly less a factor in the current reality of everyday life but are still an issue that impacts the countries potential. Corruption, which at times has been epidemic, has also been reduced but continues to hinder Colombia from reaching its political and economic goals. Today, Colombia’s future is much brighter than it was a few years back; what heights the country reaches in the next decade is almost completely within its own control.

Posted by Fredricgail2017 16:08 Archived in Colombia

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