Adventures in South America - Part One

L. R. Laverde-HansenStarred Page By L. R. Laverde-Hansen, 26th Aug 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Travel>South America>Colombia>Bogotá & Around

Here is an account of my arrival and first days of my trip to Bogotá, Colombia.

Misconceptions About a South American Capital

When you think about Bogotá, Colombia, what comes to mind? For most Americans, the answer is not much. Of course Hollywood steps into such vacuums with its own ideas and images, and rarely are they positive. Mr. & Mrs. Smith, the 2005 film which sparked the Brad and Angelina romance, depicted the South American capital as a no-man's land of flying bullets, which enhanced the element of danger for the eponymous couple. It looked like some updated version of a Wild West town, where every minute could be one's last.

In truth, Bogotá is both an old and an up-and-coming metropolis, which has developed rapidly, especially in the last decade. In all fairness, crime and violence persist, but levels have dropped precipitously since the 1990s. As with any big city, it is best to keep your eyes open (and your wallet held), but it is a great place with a big heart and lots to see for the intrepid tourist.

Entering Bogotá

Bogotá is also my father's hometown, so when I visit there it is a homecoming of sorts. As I step out of El Dorado Airport (after an eternity with customs), I meet my family waiting for me. El Dorado is out in the western outskirts of the city, so we have to take a cab back to the family apartment. You have to be careful with cabs; cabbies can be creative. A ride from the airport should cost on average 20,000-25,000 Colombian pesos (which in May 2011 conversion rates should be between 11-14 United States dollars). Use your common sense--get a good car service in advance, or ask the driver how much to take you into downtown. If you don't get a good feel from the driver, wait for the next cab. Another tip: don't slam the car doors too hard here. Cars here are smaller, and owners hang on to their vehicles for a longer time, so be gentle.

Where we settle

Our apartment is near Unicentro, a famous shopping mall, which has undergone a major renovation. It's in the north-east in the Usaquén (Ooh-sah-ken) district. Bogotá is an especially large city, spreading south to north, on an Andean plateau. The South is the older part, with the government buildings and historic neighborhoods. Curiously the North has become the happening half, with ritzy rich developments, first-class shopping centers and million-dollar business complexes. The sidewalks near our apartment are framed by huge fat tropical trees, resembling palms, but much wider. As with all neighborhoods well into the east, Usaquén stops at the Eastern Range of the Colombian Andes Mountains.

With a highland tropical climate, Bogotá is generally warm year round, though subject to the rainy periods of April, May, September and October. It is indeed raining when we're here, but this rain varied.

The following week we check out Unicentro, which has become very Americanized. Many of the stores in the mall are American chains (like NINE WEST and McDonald's). The week before there was a drive on behalf of the tsunami victims in Japan (see photo). There are also girls promoting the same Dead-Sea based cosmetic products, which are seen in malls across America.

Doings In Usaquén

Later, we head towards the old town of Usaquén, which is different from the surrounding district with the same name. Originally Usaquén was just one of several towns annexed by the city, and it has the feel of a small locale. It has a classic cozy plaza with the colonial church of Santa Bárbara facing it from the east. Around the plaza are charming low-lying buildings. Sharp entrepreneurs have updated the buildings with restaurants, which look as up and coming as any trendy American neighborhood. We step into an elaborate Middle-Eastern style pavilion, which hosts belly-dancing and feasting.

Moving southward on the seventh street, we encounter the Hacienda Santa Bárbara. It starts out looking like an old Spanish-style house with tiled roofs, white painted walls and a old courtyard. But the courtyard connects to an escalator to a modern multi-floor mall.

What is fascinating here is how buildings centuries old mix gracefully with just finished constructions. In my next piece I'll go into greater detail on its sights and sounds.

Until then, happy travels.

Originally published in Yahoo Voices
New York May 18, 2011
Revised September 4, 2014


Andes Mountains, Bogota, Colombia, South America, Travel

Meet the author

author avatar L. R. Laverde-Hansen
Poet, playwright, commentator. I write wherever I can. Currently I reside in the City of New York.

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author avatar C.D. Moore
4th Sep 2014 (#)

Good travel log.

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
7th Sep 2014 (#)

Happy to read the blend of old and new and that caters to all tourists. Interesting write-up, thanks L R - siva

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author avatar Fern Mc Costigan
9th Sep 2014 (#)

Interesting and one of a kind post mate, and nice to read your work again cheers!!

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author avatar L. R. Laverde-Hansen
5th Nov 2014 (#)

Wonderful comments, folks.

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