Maybe it was that I'd watched Mr. & Mrs. Smith one too many times but, my original perception of Colombia was hot, sweaty jungles, white sandy beaches, and people dancing salsa in the crowded streets while drinking tequila. It was a sexy utopia. Somehow however, we had ended up in the cold, concrete version of this paradise called Bogotá. A place where we would live and work for the next 12 months.
We arrived in Bogotá at 4pm one afternoon early in July, after spending 30+ hours on busses and ferries from Capurganá and it was by no means hot and sweaty but instead freezing bloody cold! Thanks for the heads up Brangelina! So without hesitating, we'd opened up our packs in the bus station and started redressing from shorts to jeans and singlets to long sleeve jumpers, making a mental note to purchase jackets first thing the next morning.
Our hotel couldn't even live up to the film. It was located in a dirty corner of the inner-city and was nothing like the colonial style hotel the Hollywood superstars found themselves in during a flashback to the first time they met. There were no salsa dancers in the street either, just a large foray of homeless people begging for money and smoking their crack pipes openly on every corner.
After 2 nights we moved to La Candelaria, the historic district of the city frequented by backpackers for cheap accommodation in one of the many hostels available. We chose Hostel Mr. Warrot (http://mrwarrot.com/) which was just off the main strip making it a very quiet and relaxed place to stay. We spent 2 weeks here before moving into our little 2-bedroom, ground floor apartment in Villas de Granada thanks to Daniel at Bogotá Rentals (http://www.abogotarentals.com/).
Now originally this was the perfect location. Half way between the college I’d teach at, and half way to the institute Justin was employed at. But that didn’t work out as planned (Colombian kids just aren't as cool as Honduran kids!) and after two months I changed jobs to work with a language school focused on adult language education.
Villas de Granada, while a safe neighbourhood, really is a long way from anything with the daily commute seeing us leave home at 5:30am and not return until anytime after 7:00pm, depending on our class schedule for the day. Obviously this proved a strain at times when our 'dreams' of travel and world exploration had come to a complete stand-still while we scraped together some extra pennies to ensure that dream could continue. It often felt like all we did was wake-up, go to work, come home, eat, shower, sleep, repeat. It was exhausting and always made me wonder how people with families coped with the work culture here, working long hours and managing their family commitments. Compared to back home, it was a pretty tough gig!
Ok, so back to the apartment. Like any group housing building, there are good neighbours and bad ones. The location of our corner unit, directly in front of a children's playground, was never going to be a quiet and relaxing place but it was within our budget and included all utilities and modern furnishings (COP 1,166,000 per month).
It is also worth noting, that the price structure for housing and utilities is based on where you live in Bogotá. So if you live in the wealthier area of the city, you will pay more than somebody in the poorer areas for the same services; gas, internet, water, and electricity. Other living expenses could look a little like this;
Tipico Lunch COP 6,500 - 15,000
500g pork COP 6,700
500g chicken COP 7,750
1 litre Milk COP 2,600
1kg potatoes COP 2,200
1kg tomatoes COP 2,500
12 eggs COP 3,600
(Exchange rate at time of writing AUD $1 = COP 2,176)
In terms of entertainment, Bogotá, like most large cities, has a range of activities and events on offer. There are several parks to spend lazy weekends with a picnic, or the family, and many museums and galleries to stroll through and admire.
When we first arrived in Bogotá we had the pleasure of enjoying a free community concert, Jazz al Parque and while we haven't been to any more of these, it was a great day out with friends, with a surprising amount of warm sunshine!!
Another absolute must-do when living in or visiting Bogotá is to climb to the top of Monserrate, a mountain with a commanding presence over the city. To reach the summit 3,152 metres above sea level, visitors have access to both a cable car and funicular services, or they can do it the hard way and walk up. Once at the top, you can marvel at the city views, visit the church (visible from most places in the city), or enjoy lunch or dinner at one of the many restaurants. More recently the path has been closed to pedestrians due to fire damage, so check first before trying to head up on foot.
Locals also enjoy the regular 'Ciclovía' on Sundays and Public Holidays. As the name suggests, sections of main streets are closed to traffic and open to cyclists, and walkers, only. Ciclovia attracts 2 million people a weekend who enjoy the car-free streets and various entertainment on offer including yoga and aerobic classes, musicians, and other musings.
If fresh produce shopping is more your style, Paloquemao Market has you covered and worth the wander through the maze of colourful and often interesting stalls. If you don't feel like going on your own, you can also jump onboard a Bogotá Foodie Food Safari (http://www.bogotafoodie.com/bogota-food-tours/) with fellow Aussie and expat Loon, who will show you around and feed you loads of local, tasty treats and surprises.
Or if you would prefer to explore the gritty, edgy style of the local urban-art scene, join Bogotá Graffiti's daily walking tour. The tour itself is free however a cash donation is expected at the end.
So while Bogotá is often inaccurately depicted in the movies and it wasn't everything we had expected, we have appreciated the opportunity to experience life in the Colombian capital. We've made some incredible new friends and will take many good memories with us on our travels. The only other thing we could have asked for though, was a few more days over 30°C!
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