My first visit to Colombia

Date: May 23-29th, 2011

In May 2011 I travelled to Colombia for the first time, to meet, also for the very first time, my future family in law. I wasn't really sure what to expect, since as most know, Colombia has had a pretty rough reputation in the past. But all worries aside, Colombia is a great and beautiful country! We had a great time (although I wish I could speak at least some Spanish). In all, we spent few days in Bogota, visiting various relatives, and then Sandra and I went on a trip by ourselves to Cartagena on the Caribbean coast. We both very much loved that city and decided it would be a wonderful location for our future wedding.

Bogota

One thing that really surprised me about Bogota, or perhaps Colombia in general, is how mountaineous the country is. It seems that most of the cities are located in the highlands, with Bogota sitting at 8,660 ft above sea level. This makes for a around-the-year pleasant weather, around 70F with typically sunny skies. Bogota is also a huge city - it has a population of over 7 million, which, in my city, is more people that live in all of Slovakia combined! This comes with some drawbacks, namely the traffic. Traffic in Bogota is quite awful, and only seems to be getting worse. Trying to alleviate the congestion, the city has instituted a system known as pico y placa. Under the system, the last number of your car's license plate determines which days that car be driven. However, for the many who can afford it, this system means you every family own at least two cars, with the complementary plates.

The other thing that I found quite interesting is the prevalence of maids. Sandra grew up with a maid and this seems to be the case with pretty much every Colombian I have met since then. Being a maid is a regular full time job, with Sandra's maid coming in the morning, staying all day, and even receiving holidays and sick pay from Sandra's dad. I wouldn't even be surprised if some of the maids working with upper class families had their own maids to take care of their house while they were working. Sandra's aunt's family even had multiple maids. The apartment of the aunt was also quite amazing to me, since each unit had it's own elevator from the parking garage. You basically park the car, take an elevator that takes you straight to their apartment, where you are greeted by the maid. From what I have gathered, this sort of luxury that is quite unheard of in the United States (unless you are in the top 10 or 5 percent) is quite commonplace in Colombia.

View from Sandra's apartment
One on of the best things about Colombia is the abundance of various strange and exotic tropical fruits. Including the "booger fruit" granadilla.
We took a road trip to see the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira, which is a working church built into a former salt mine
This was the first time in 3 years for the entire family to be together (Ivonne and Sandra live in the USA, and Javier is in Mexico). My mother in law Nubia has recently passed away after a long sickness. Rest in peace, Nubia!
Hugo, Sandra and I took a stroll through downtown Bogota
Here I got to try chicha, native American alcoholic brew made from fermented corn
We also took the cable car to the top of Monserrate, a 10,341 ft peak towering over Bogota. The top contains a church with black Jesus.
We also visited Bogota's botanical garden. Nearby park had an open air concert that we got to watch for a bit.
We also met Sandra's friend Sandra (both Sandra and Ivonne seem to be very popular Colombian names!). Bogota is full of wonderful restaurants. This one, Mediterranea de Andrei was tapas style, and featured a lady singing opera (or something like that). The other pics are from family visits, including the typical grilled fish with green plantains and coconut rice.
Some more assorted Colombian tasty goodies: dish I had in a restaurant, empanada, arepa, typical breakfast, hamburger supposedly made with worm meat, and a Colombian hot dog topped with pineapple and hashbrowns.
The first photo is from a science museum I went to with Javier. Kids on a school field trip were placed into a metal Faraday cage which was then zapped with electricity. Strange but effective! The other picture is from going to a bar. Another interesting for me was then when going to a bar, it is typical to order a bottle of alcohol, and the entire table then just drinks that one bottle instead of everyone getting their own drinks.

Cartagena, Colombia

Below are few pictures from our excursion to Cartagena, the place where we got married a year later. Cartagena is quite different from Bogota. First, since it's at sea level, it's much hotter. It also has a much larger historical center. Bogota is a great place for business, shopping, or sampling dishes at some of the world's best restaurants. It however does not have all that much to offer in terms of sightseeing. Cartagena is quite different. The old walled city is a maze of little cute streets full of street vendors and cafes, where you can spend an entire day just walking around without getting bored. Near by is the modern Bocagrande, and if you so desire, can make excursions to the Rosario islands for snorkeling and sunbathing, or even go float in mud in the Totumo volcano.

Sights of Cartagena from a chiva tour bus
More photos from the tour, including the famous shoe statue and a view from Cerro la Popa
The tour included a stop at Castillo de San Felipe
More pictures from San Felipe, and a typical lady at at Plaza de las Bovedas in the walled city.
Cartagena is especially beautiful at night
Dancers in one of the many town squares
Few more night shots

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