Friday, February 5, 2010

Staycation in Bogotá

Since Brent went back to the States I've been slacking a bit on the blog, don't let this lull you into thinking I've just been partying and napping all the time (though those are the key agendas of most living the hostel life in Bogotá), Switching from the swanky Zona Rosa to the more humbled and weathered colonial barrio of La Candelaria was refreshing, mainly because it sits up a little higher than where the downtown smog can creep. From what I've heard, La Candelaria used to be quite dodgy, some of which still shows. Though not present around the pristine museums and starbucks-style cafés during the day, there is still a smattering of the homeless that are often overly persistent in their pestering for money. La Candelaria more or less tows the Lonely Planet line of "wonderful during the day, still a little sketchy at night."

Though the Universities that frame the area and the development that has accompanied them has created a certain shine and sparkle. The area also sits in the shadow of El Monserrate Cathedral, perched high atop Bogota's largest hill:

A quick gondola ride to the top reveals how massive Bogotá truly is. 8+million people never looked like so much until crowded into a valley and jammed up onto the hills. The valley itself isn't that wide, causing urban sprawl to stretch on for miles. Much like L.A., lots of distance to cover equals horrendous traffic and the sad part is the public transportation. When traveling I make a concerted effort to take public transportation options as much ase possibl, but when they stink as bad as Bogota's it's difficult. The TransMilenio was established a few years back and while it has helped to facilitate the movement of people, it's not enough. I'm not fully conviced of the Bus Rapid Transit systems, though they've had some success in places like Curitiba, Brazil. Even with 2 special bus lanes, the seemingly-always crowded TransMilenio buses still take between 30 mins. to an hour to get from La Candelaria to the Zona Rosa.

It's particularly difficult to be objective in judging the TransMilenio in contrast to Medellín's futuristic Metro trains: fast, quiet and air-conditioned. Chalk that up as one reason I don't think I'd choose Bogotá as a place of residence anytime soon. There are still a lot of really poor areas. Walking to an open air market about twenty five blocks from Candelaria (during the day), down one street I saw a market that so resembled a middle-eastern bazaar, I was too apprehensive to stop and take a photo. In spite of it's poorer areas, Bogotá does have a lot of nice safe areas worth exploring. I was fortunate enough to learn about the "Buseta" (small bus) system to make it out to some of the nicer barrios. Though clearly developing (esp. within the past 10 years), it's just a little harder to seek out the beauty in Bogotá when you contrast it with some of the smaller Colombian cities who aren't as burdened with the classic problems faced by all capital cities.

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