One of the streets in Bogota old town
1-3 October – Days 71-73
And so phase three begins. Having completed our travels – for this trip – through North and Central America, it’s time to explore South America. Adrian’s been here before; it’s my first visit to the continent.
So we’re in Bogota. It’s really nice being back in a big city for a change! And by big, I mean a city with a population of 10 million… so we’re talking a serious city here!
We’re staying in a hotel that’s close to the financial district in the CBD, or the ‘downtown’ area, and about a 3km walk from the old town. It’s near a couple of universities and lots of office buildings and residential towers, which means there’s a ton of restaurants nearby… from street vendors to fine dining and everything in between.
It’s cooler here than we’ve had for a while – probably because of the altitude; Bogota is at 2620m… which is high enough that I’ve been feeling just a little breathless for the past couple of days. The city was founded in the 1538 and is an interesting mix of old and new, rich and poor, arty and business/financial etc etc. The people-watching is excellent!
There are also some different cultural things… like the fact you can ‘rent’ a mobile phone to use like you would a payphone! Every 20-50 m in the CBD, if not more often, is a person wearing a small placard around their neck and/or holding up a sign saying something along the lines of “Minutos 200” or “Minutos 150.” That sign means they have mobile phones available for rent. The phones are generally on chains (that look very much like a dog leash) and are attached to a pole or board or the owner themselves… it’s the modern payphone, at a cost of 150/200 pesos per minute (about 20c)! And they are very popular; we saw loads and loads of people using them.
Also popular on CBD streets is guinea pig racing, where people bet on which upturned dish the racing guinea pigs will reach first…
We met up with a couple of other bikers in Bogota … Andi and Ellen, of www.twomotokiwis.com fame, who are essentially doing the same trip that we are but are taking three years instead of 6 months to do it (!!), and Austrian Juergen, who has ridden to Colombia from the East Coast of the US and is now riding south, aiming to arrive in Ushuia about the same time as us… so it’s highly likely that our paths will cross multiple times from now on. We spent a full day with Andi and Ellen walking around the old town, sharing stories… and hiking the +/- 1500 steps up to the peak of Cerro de Montserrat (3030m high). There’s a church at the very top – and an unrivalled view over the city sprawl. We were lucky to get a really clear day and so could see all the way across the city to a mountain range on the horizon. It was excellent!! And yes – at this altitude, I definitely feel less fit/more puffed than normal. It’s not a feeling I’m used to, being puffed from walking?!!
We’ll be keeping track of Andi and Ellen now and long after our trip is over and highly recommend their blog for a good read and photos of places that travellers don’t often visit.
I like it here, and could easily spend more time in Bogota, exploring more of the old town and also some of the other parts of the city… however time is ticking and the road is calling us southwards… so we’re off tomorrow towards the city of Medellin.
I had quite a few bike things to do while here, including obtaining the obligatory insurance, getting the bike serviced and getting new tyres… three fairly straightforward objectives that took the best part of a few days to achieve. Unlike in Central America, insurance wasn’t available at a shack immediately at the border crossing. I’d heard that other travellers had been stopped by police for a paperwork check and made to leave their bikes to find insurance before proceeding… so insurance was high on the priority list.
SOAT (auto insurance) is available at petrol stations and bike shops everywhere, however after visiting four or five, none could offer insurance for a period of less than one year. Upon a recommendation to proceed to a main office for a particular insurance company, we finally found Seguros del Estado could issue a one month policy for a princely sum of $17US (as opposed to $115US for one year). Insurance done.
Next was servicing and tyres. Autogermana (BMW dealer) have received a very good rap by most people who drop their bike off for service, and tend to make space available even without booking in advance. I managed to find my way to the nearby service centre without realising it was for cars only and the service centre I was after was some 90 blocks North through the city (on Calle 127b). I had thought that the perilous driving of Central America was behind us however the ride from the airport to our hotel on the previous day had opened my eyes somewhat. Lane splitting in Bogota is the norm with hundreds of 100-200cc bikes rushing past precisely carving up the traffic. Taxis merge without thought or indication, buses too, and if you’re not ready for it, well you shouldn’t be driving here. It’s not exactly aggressive driving if it’s simply their normal manner and seems to work well most of the time. The traffic was slow and thick and the only way to make decent headway was to join in on the fun. Even though I had the panniers off, trying my hand at following these little bikes through the gaps was difficult, while aided by my turn of speed off the lights, I simply got in the way through the narrow stuff.
Upon arrival at Autogermana, the barriers of my Spanglish were quickly realised and an interpreter arranged (in the form of one of their engineers) to relay what I was after. What I thought was a quote of US$450 turned out to be COP 500,000 (US$250) for a complete service including changing the driveshaft oil. The only thing missed was re-setting the service reminder on the dash, no biggy. Tyres were offered at a premium + fitting and so advrider.com (motorcycle forum) offered the solution of Moto Service on Calle 100. They had better stock of different tyres to suit my bike than any dealership in Sydney all in the space of a tiny garage. While the current tyres we had were good for a few thousand more kms, the timing and convenience offered by switching them out here outweighed their premature demise.
Guinea pig racing on the street in Bogota
Adrian with Ellen and Andi of twomotokiwis.com in the main plaza in Bogota. This square was where recent riots took place (if you click on the photo to open a larger version and look closely, you’ll see paint marks on the building from paint balls/bombs that were thrown during the protests).
Some of the pretty impressive graffiti in Bogota old town