21 December 2011

Happy Holidays!

In the depths of the Salt Cathedral
I am back in the U.S. for a brief holiday visit but was able to enjoy a few sunny days in Bogotá before leaving!

I visited the Catedral de Sal (yes--salt!) in Zipaquirá, a 40 minute bus ride north of Bogotá. The town is kind of a smaller version of Villa de Leyva with a nice main plaza. Salt has been mined here since the 5th century BC and early miners had carved out a sanctuary as a place to pray before starting work. That developed into a larger "cathedral" in the latter half of the 20th century which ultimately was closed for structural reasons in 1990. A new "cathedral" (it is a functioning church but not an official cathedral) was built 200 feet below the old one, is 200 meters underground, and opened in 1995.
TransMilenio buses bypassing traffic!

To get to the bus station for the bus to Zipaquirá and to get around Bogotá (on the rare occasion I wasn't walking!), I took the TransMilenio, a bus system that opened in 2000 with dedicated lanes allowing buses to zoom by the traffic-packed roads. Even with these dedicated lanes, it can take 45 minutes to go from northern Bogotá to the old part downtown, so you can imagine what it's like in a taxi or car to get around with traffic.

Bogota's Plaza de Bolivar with Montserrate in the background
The Cathedral of Bogotá and several government buildings surround the Plaza de Bolivar in the old part of the city; just south of the Plaza is the Presidential Palace, or the Casa de Nariño. When I was there, there was a group displaying photos of people who had been detained and or killed, the woman I spoke to said by the government for suspicious reasons, although I don't know anything else about this. There were also of course many Christmas displays, a large banner protesting the FARC (likely leftover from the previous week's peace march), and on a couple of the government buildings there was still graffiti and paint ball marks from student protests that had been held in October and November. It's a Plaza that tells a lot of stories!

Top of Montserrate with Nativity lights & view of the city.
I took the funicular up to the top of Montserrate, 3100m/10,000 ft above sea level, where there's a church as well as great views of Bogotá. It's well worth it and I was glad to have a clear day to finally take advantage, although I've been told it's impressive no matter what the weather. With more time, I'd take the hiking trail next time. Once at the top, not only is there the church but also various restaurants (some looking more dubious than others as you can see in some of my photos), shops and for Christmas, a great light display of huge Nativity figures.

Bogotá: Jorge, from Madrid, & I met in NYC in 1990!
Although not a fan of the traffic and (in general) weather of Bogotá, one of the great things about the city is that I have some good friends who live there (& then am getting to know their friends too!). Not just my Colombian friends Olga & Gustavo & their families, but several friends from Madrid who live there--some I have known since I studied there in 1982 and one who I know from my time at CIEE NY. Funny how you can travel to different countries and continents and find friends you've known for a long time and met in other parts of the world! (All of my Bogota photos are here.)

Now getting ready for Christmas with family...I'll be returning to Colombia to celebrate New Year's with friends in the "Coffee Triangle" (an area in the middle of the country where--guess what? they grow coffee!--and which has been declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage site) where we'll be for a week. Then I'll be heading back to Cartagena--I've been offered an English teaching job at the "Centro Colombo Americano" & will start observing classes in early January before teaching my own starting in early February. Stay tuned for those adventures!

Happy Holidays!

1 comment:

Barbara McCarthy said...

I remember Jorge! Wow, that was a long time ago.
Sounds like you're having fun - hope you enjoy teaching ESL!
Merry Christmas!