We both loved Bogota. It is a huge, sprawling, gritty, noisy place and there was far more evidence here of social problems, in particular homelessness. That made it feel far more real than some of the more touristy places that we had been to so far. It always felt very safe and the people were as friendly as everywhere else in Colombia.
Our apartment was well placed to walk to all of the places we wanted to visit. On our first day we went to the Sunday flea market, where you could buy almost anything. Here we met a couple of radio DJs who were selling Colombian music. Gav was in his element (he used to be a DJ) as he chatted with the Colombian DJs about music and I was kept entertained by a wonderful 82 year old gentleman , dressed in a tweed jacket and smart trousers, who was doing the salsa next to the DJs stand, with a little grin on his face! We bought a couple of CDs-one of Colombian chill out music and one of different types of music from around the different regions of Colombia. Speaking of music, we also heard some fantastic musicians and singers along one of the main streets of Bogota, Carrera 7, both day and night covering a whole range of music from heavy metal to Salsa. We must mention a wonderful lady called Alba Nur who is a famous Colombian busker-she was mesmerizing to watch as she sang and danced salsa music.
We spent a fascinating 3 hours on the Bogota graffiti tour learning about the techniques, artists, history, socio-political representations and meanings behind the murals. Some graffiti artists focus on Colombia’s social and political struggles. One of the main sources of inspiration is the decades-long armed conflict between the government, paramilitary squads and left-wing guerrilla groups, that has left at least 50,000 dead and forced more than 4 million people to flee their homes.
Graffiti in Bogotá is prohibited rather than illegal, which ironically means the capital is now streets ahead when it comes to fine artwork. Other cities, where street art is banned, experience more tagging and poor quality work because artists are on the run from the law. In Bogotá, it’s not unusual to see a team of artists with spray paints and stepladders spending a day on a single mural, often with the owner’s encouragement or payment. The relative freedom Bogotá’s street artists have become accustomed too, however, may be about to change. After 12 years of leftwing leaders, in January the city re-elected a centre-right mayor from the late 1990s, Enrique Peñalosa, who comes down on the side of those who believe the uncontrolled spread of graffiti is a blight on the city. This new mayor is pushing through less tolerant graffiti laws and could even start painting over many works in the city. It will be interesting to see how the city’s thousands of street artists will react.
We also went on a walking tour of Bogota which told us some of the history of the City and of the country, including the rise of guerilla groups in Colombia. On the 23rd June 2016, the Colombian government and FARC guerrillas have declared the final day of one of the world’s oldest wars with the signing of a ceasefire agreement to end more than 50 years of bloodshed. Although a final peace deal will require approval in a referendum, the formal cessation of hostilities between the two main combatants and the Farc’s acceptance of disarmament are key steps towards resolving a war that has caused more than 250,000 deaths and the displacement of more than 6 million people.
We visited the famous gold museum in Bogota which contains more than 55,000 pieces of gold and the wonderful Botero museum. Fernando Botero is Colombia`s most famous artist and his paintings and sculptures are dedicated to all things chubby! We also visited the police museum and were guided by a police officer who was serving his year`s military service. It was really interesting and detailed some of the police operations against Pablo Escobar and the narco traffickers and the guerrillas. National service is compulsory in Colombia for 12 months and young people can choose the police or the military.
We stopped one evening in Bogota to watch a street comedian who had a huge crowd around him who were laughing raucously. We picked up some of the gist of what was going on and then poor old Gav was picked on by the comedian to go into the middle and be the butt of the jokes for about 15 minutes!! He was a great sport and laughed along with the comedian and the crowd (and me!) without having a clue what was going on!
In Bogota we also visited Alejandro-a lovely mechanic who we had met at the Villa De Leyva land rover meeting. We had noticed our core plugs leaking and decided to get them replaced by a good mechanic whilst we had the chance.
About half a kilometre from our camping stop at Rio Claro, we had to stop because the road was blocked by the protesting truckers. The protests have been going on for about a month and the police and military are out on the roads in force to contain the situation, sometimes resulting in violent confrontation. I approached the truckers who were staffing the road block and explained (in broken Spanish) that we only needed to travel half a km up the road to get tour camp. They eventually allowed us through, and we were really relieved as these road blocks can last for hours.
The following day we headed to Medellin, the second largest city in Colombia. We spent a lovely couple of days here visiting plaza Botero (the wonderful chubby statues) and the museum Antioquia. Our highlight though, was a tour of
, one of the barrios of Medellin, which had previously been plagued by violence from paramilitaries, guerillas and gangs. The neighbourhood has now been transformed, in particular because of young people who were chosen to be community leaders and who used the medium of music and graffiti to appeal to young people. Previously, the 12,000 residents of Communa 13 had to hike the equivalent of 28 stories home after scraping their living in the city. Steep roads made it impossible for vehicles to access this poor neighborhood, leaving the community isolated and impenetrable. However there is now a giant 384-meter orange-roofed escalator that scales the mountain in six sections, with a journey taking just six minutes. We rode the escalator and explored the neighbourhood with a wonderful guide, who was one of the community leaders. He told us about some of the previous problems in the neighbourhood, in particular a lot of extreme violence and showed us how the neighbourhood had been transformed. He was a rap artist and had us rapping and using spray paint to graffiti our names!
Medellin is also famous because it was the home of
. Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria (December 1, 1949 – December 2, 1993) was a Colombian drug lord and trafficker. His cartel, at the height of his career, supplied an estimated 80% of the cocaine smuggled into the United States. Often called "The King of Cocaine", he was the wealthiest criminal in history, with an estimated known net worth of US $30 billion by the early 1990s. He was also one of the 10 richest men in the world at his prime and lived in his self-built Hacienda Nápoles, which we had briefly visited on the way to Medellin.
After 3 days in Medellin, we were ready to get back into the countryside again...next stop-the coffee region!