Colombia

With the end of the year quickly approaching, we wanted to squeeze in one last trip…and kick off 2017 right!  Traveling to the Midwest for Christmas, we started looking for destinations that geographically made sense.  We have mentioned this to several people and have yet to hear someone agree, but Bogota seemed like a great choice.  It is in the Western Hemisphere, so why not? Add on a couple of Garret’s coworkers who had been and highly recommended it, we were sold.  After mentioning the trip to Emily’s sister and her soon-to-be husband, they were on board as well, and a trip to Bogota to ring in the new year was booked.

Wednesday, December 28th

Bogota

We arrived in Bogota late Wednesday night and hoped the emigration would be quick.  Unfortunately we waited in line for close to an hour before clearing emigration and heading for the official taxi line.  One piece of advice we heard/read time and again was to stick to official taxis and Ubers.  The airport had hit or miss Wifi connection, so we opted for the official taxi, whereas most of the rest of the trip we utilized Ubers to get around (were cheap and had zero issues). We finally arrived at our Airbnb to pass out before exploring first thing in the morning.

Can you spot the two Kansans in line?

Lodging

We researched Airbnbs and landed on this apartment.  It was in a trendy neighborhood, Zona G, had two bedrooms, two full bathrooms, and at $77 per night that was hard to beat! Catherine and Alejandro were very responsive via email and helpful throughout our stay.

Our Airbnb was excellent for our stay in Bogotá.

Gotta love those wood floors.

Thursday, December 29th

Our day started with breakfast at a local coffee chain right by our place, Juan Valdez Café (free wifi!). From there we called an Uber to head down to the main plaza of Bogota, Plaza de Bolivar. The plaza, named after the hero of Colombia, had plenty of people and pigeons, which Emily and Ellen decided to feed (and would never do in NYC?!). After pigeon-feeding, we explored the plaza’s cathedral.  The church, like most in Bogota, is simple (but pleasant) on the outside, with a more detailed inside.  Upon leaving the church we were approached by one of the military policemen, who turned out to be one of the 18-year-old boys doing mandatory service, trying to get us to go to the Military Police Museum.

Breakfast at Juan Valdez.

Enjoying a trapeze artist’s performance while waiting for the light to change.

Pigeons!

Tabernacle Chapel Capilla Del Sagrario.

Posing on the Plaza de Bolivar.

Can you spot the 3D foot (bottom right) of the Tabernacle Chapel Capilla Del Sagrario ceiling?

Unique exterior for this church.

Bolivar!

Passing on the Military Police Museum (although it supposedly has an interesting section on Pablo Escobar), we made our way to the Museo del Oro (Museum of Gold), stopping in the church of San Francisco along the way. Upon arriving at the museum, we discovered $1 entry, free wifi, free bag check and a free English tour at noon! We took the tour and stuck with it for the first 40 minutes, but it was slow-paced and we broke off to explore the rest of the museum on our own. Overall it was a very interesting museum, comparable to The Whitney Museum in size and able to tour thoroughly in an hour or two – give it a visit when you are there!

Christmas Bike Tree.

Bogotá!

The Museo del Oro entrance.

Masks used to cover the deceased.

Gold/oro objects come in many shapes and sizes.

Oro on oro on oro.

Muisca raft at Museo del Oro.

By this point we were ready for lunch. A few blocks away we found a restaurant, Aborigen, serving authentic Colombia food. Following this tasty lunch, we continued to wander around downtown and see what interested us. We walked primarily on 3rd Ave all the way to to 11th street, appreciating the different and colorful buildings in the neighborhood. Becoming quite thirsty, we used our travel book to find Pequeña Santa Fe. This old, venerable house turned out to be a very fun bar. We spent the afternoon on the second floor, people watching the small plaza out the window and enjoying great weather (it stays 60-75° year-round in Bogotá). By 4pm we needed to catch an Uber for the airport, where a quick flight signaled our next adventure on this trip!

Wooden scaffolding over a venerable Bogotá building.

Many a church in Bogotá.

And their Nativity scenes were complete with lighting for Christmas.

One of our Bogotá favorites, Pequeña Santa Fe. An old house turned bar.

Enjoying drinks and a view of the plaza while sitting upstairs at Pequeña Santa Fe.

Graffiti isn’t the only art one can find in Bogotá.

Wall tiger.

Trolley on the brick road.

To get to the airport we called an Uber thanks to a random wifi connection. The driver was fun to talk with but encountered some challenges of getting to the correct terminal, dropping us off in Terminal 1. If you are taking domestic flights, be sure your driver knows to go to Terminal 2! We were given various incorrect directions before finally arriving in Terminal 2 and catching our flight with a few minutes to spare. The reason we needed domestic was one simple mission – coffee. As avid coffee drinkers (except Garret…what a crazy person), we knew a trip to Colombia wouldn’t be complete without an excursion to the “coffee zone”.  With Colombia located on the equator and parts of the country being high in the mountains, the coffee zone has ideal conditions for growing arabica beans and results in Colombia being the third-largest coffee exporter in the world.  Research on towns in the coffee zone led us to picking Salento (also a great article on Salento found here), which is about a 45-minute drive from the Armenian airport, as the base for our coffee zone exploration.  After considering the timing and flight prices, we had reserved spots on less than a one hour flight out of Bogotá for Armenia the night of the 29th, with a taxi reserved in Armenia to take us to Salento. The flight ended up being only 25 minutes!

All aboard!

Salento

Our drive to Salento took around 45 minutes from the Armenian airport, finishing with a very windy road once off the highway. After dropping off our bags at the hostel, we went out to the main road and spotted a restaurant recommended by the hostel, Camino Real Parrilla Bar. It had good food, outdoor seating in the back, and helpful staff. After dinner we walked through the town’s plaza, which was preparing for the town’s 175th birthday in a couple of days, before retiring for the night.

Our hostel was just a block away from the town’s plaza/church.

Large menu, and backyard, at Parrilla Bar.

Different take on a disco ball at the bar.

Festive setting out back!

Lodging

While Salento research revealed an authentic rural Colombian town which would give us the full coffee zone experience, there were few lodging options. We booked a hostel (after the World Cup trip to Brazil in 2014 Emily had refused to ever stay in a hostel again…), Hostal Ciudad Segorbe. It offered private rooms and, more importantly, private bathrooms.  Furthermore, as mentioned above, they arranged an official taxi to take us to/from the Armenian airport.

Hostal Ciudad de Segorbe, right in the middle of town!

Simple but sufficient lodging.

Yes, we do love Salento now.

Friday, December 30th

The primary goal for the day was a coffee farm tour.  Ellen had done some research and recommended Cafe Jesus Martin, which was within walking distance from our hostel and offered a farm + factory + shop tour, in English, on a daily basis. We woke up bright and early for a coffee tour through Jesus Martin. This turned out to be our favorite day of the trip. The coffee tour was extremely interesting, with our host Diego giving us a complete farm to table cafe experience. After a bit of windy driving, we first toured one of the farms, where we learned how to identify the ripe coffee fruit.

From there we stopped by a place in the country where the company experiments with new ways to procure the coffee bean. Here we first experienced the revolutionary wave Jesus Martin is making with Colombian coffee for Colombians themselves – read this quick but informational article on his efforts, very inspiring! As the article states, employing this mindset is almost non-existent in Colombia, which usually sees farmers sell the beans to a co-op and being paid on quantity, not necessarily quality.

After the farms we made our way back to Salento, passed through Montenegro, and stopped on the side of the road to to try a star fruit drink. The next step of our experience was at the processing factory back in Salento, which turned out to be the building right next to our hostel. Here we watched workers sort beans to ensure only the best continued on, Diego led taste testing of sweet and sour foods, then a flavor smelling test that was really interesting (and hard), and then saw the roasting of the beans! A huge point of differentiation here is how they don’t burn the beans black, which is common end product of most beans we encounter in the United States and Europe, but instead browning them while retaining their numerous, natural flavors.

Finally, time to head to the cafe for visual comparisons of good and bad coffee, then the big moment of truth…drinking Jesus Martin coffee…SO good!! Even Garret liked it – now a potential coffee convert? We even got to meet the man himself, Jesus Martin, who passionately spoke to us about his business. We bought a bunch of their coffee and some of their branded, large burlap sacks to bring home. Such a fun journey (ended up being ~7 hours) seeing the true start to finish of a product most of the world enjoys on a daily basis!

Cafe Jesus Martin, where we would start, and end, our day of coffee.

The lush coffee fields of Colombia.

The life progression of a coffee bean! As explained by Diego.

The plantation had plantains, bananas, and other crops in addition to coffee.

Emily harvesting coffee fruit.

Each fruit normally has two beans.

Post-harvest pose.

The normal drying process of Colombian beans.

Jesus Martin harvest coffee in a more advanced way.

Experience the process with all senses!

Here is the drying process for the coffee beans.

Ready to be covered for the almost daily shower threat.

Get your eggs to the market!

Stopped for some roadside star fruit drink.

Diego taking us through the separation process.

Time to cook the green coffee beans.

Roasted, but not burnt, is key.

Finally, time to taste what we had seen all day!

Cappuccino art at its finest!

ROAR!

BARK!

Couldn’t even wait to toast before drinking.

Thanks Diego, and Jesus Martin, for a great day!

This is the story of Alex and the Parrot.

At this point we needed a late afternoon lunch so we ate at pizza at Punto y Coma, right on the corner of the Salento plaza. Garret opted for the local choice, trout on plantain, and it was a very good decision. Afterward, we hiked up Alto de la Cruzthe for a cool overview of the town and surrounding areas. After enjoying a lazy afternoon drinking and people watching from the second floor of a bar on the main street, we had dinner and grabbed ice cream for dessert.

Every town has a center plaza complete with church.

Trout on plantain, a staple in the region and a must-try!

Strolling down Carrera 6.

Up and down Alto de la Cruz!

Post stair walk up the mountain drink!

Exposed Infrastructure.

Need some coffee in the coffee zone?

Even the walls are picking coffee fruit.

There are Jayhawk fans even in Salento!

Saturday, December 31st

A morning flight out of Armenia (contrary to recommendations, do not get there more than an hour before departure) got us back to Bogota before noon, with the rest of the day to explore before ringing in the new year. We dropped our backpacks off at the apartment, then grabbed lunch at El Corral Gourmet. Although there were some clouds and the inevitable afternoon shower forecasted, we took an Uber to Monserrate. There was a bit of a line for the cable car at the bottom after buying tickets, but the great views at 10,000+ feet made it worth it! In addition to the church, the peak had other buildings, sites, and two restaurants. One of the restaurants has a bar in case you don’t want to eat a large meal, so we posted up there for a bit and enjoyed the surroundings. Interestingly, we had to go back down via the train instead of the cable car, unsure of the reason.

Bye Salento! The mountainous Colombian farmland means even harder work for the farmers.

The Monserrate base, where you can purchase tickets for the ride up.

The tram up to Monserrate.

The crew overlooking Bogotá on Monserrate.

Warm up with some drinks and fuego.

Garret exploring his 5th continent of 2016!

Descending back into the city, we went back to the apartment and took a siesta to get ready for New Year’s Eve. Our plan was a festive night at Andres Carne de Res, recommended by everyone who went to Bogotá, but unfortunately for New Year’s Eve one absolutely had to have reservations. After that disappointment we took an Uber to Zona Rosa, as our travel book showed numerous bars and restaurants within a two block radius. However all of them were closed! We grabbed beer, wine and champagne at a convenience store, then took yet another Uber back to our apartment. Needing some dinner, we could not find anything open in our neighborhood either (except one restaurant requiring a reservation). Approaching hunger desperation, we finally found a grocery store open and bought an abundance of food. It turns out everyone in Bogota either leaves the city or stays home with family for New Year’s Eve celebrations. No one works, nothing is open, and it is rather subdued (think Christmas). Oops! Oh well, we ate and drank through the night and enjoyed too many rounds of Heads Up, saying farewell to 2016 and welcoming 2017 at our apartment.

New Year’s Eve Bogotá starter kit.

Welcoming in 2017!

Sunday, January 1st

To start off the new year we couldn’t find anything open for breakfast. Luckily a couple of Uber drivers were still on the clock, and we got a ride down to La Candelaria in the hopes of finding something open downtown. We ended up back by La Pequeña Sante Fe, and found a nearby restaurant, Rosita’s, open at the end of Carerra 2. After this large meal, we walked along Carerra 2 and stopped for drinks at a small bar called Chalett, where Alex and Garret had the famous chicha drink. We finished off our drinking tour of Carrera 2 at Cafe Casa Galleria.

Carrera 2 in Bogotá, a fun walk of bars, cafes, art and restaurants.

We loved the wall art all around Bogotá.

Bogotá Bros.

Gold necklaces for sale!

Drinks at Chalett.

Trying the Colombia drink Chicha.

Managed to find an open restaurant on New Year’s Day, Restaurante Rosita.

3D wall art.

Wall art speaking to the 60-70 degree weather in Bogotá almost all year!

Bogotá Brewing Company.

Bogotá is known, for good reason, on having endless amounts of graffiti/street art.

Additional Street Art.

Additional Additional Street Art.

For dinner we ordered takeout from Alice’s, a Chinese place on our block, and picked up more wine (and Colombian cigars) at the grocery store. With a very early departure for Ellen and Alex in the morning, we relaxed at the apartment, and even watched NFL games thanks to being in the same time zone. Relaxing way to start the year off!

Monday, January 2nd

Ellen and Alex left in the morning to catch their flight back to the US. With our flight not leaving until 2:30 in the afternoon, we capitalized on one last morning in the capital city.  Our Airbnb owners recommended a taxi driver William, and we used him for some exploring that morning and later our ride to the airport. We had him take us to Plaza de Mercado de Paloquemao, but apparently he misunderstood and dropped us off at Usaquén, which was the opposite direction of the market! It ended up being a modern/fun neighborhood, somewhere we recommend going for dinner, however nothing was open that early. We grabbed a quick coffee at Starbucks (seriously, only thing open), and then used their wifi to grab an Uber to the right location.

The market turned out to be very interesting, basically a very large warehouse separated into numerous sections and different vendors around every corner. We got lost on purpose, wandering around the entire building for almost an hour. We encountered fruit, vegetables, spices, flowers, red meat, fish, plus cat food, appliances, baskets, almost anything! Exploring locals markets is one of the best ways to experience another country, discovering many differences and many similarities along the way.

We found the map after we finished exploring.

Sup bro you sellin’ fruit?

Every market needs a fish saw.

Bags and bags of potatoes.

Piles of peppers.

What was fun was encountering the hundreds of different vendors.

Grab a couple dozen eggs while getting your vegetables.

Even the plant supports bring the color!

$6,000/pound.

The vendors’ children staying entertained.

The market has numerous flower stands on Friday and Saturday.

An abundance of stubby carrots.

Finishing up at the market, we Ubered back to the apartment and gathered our things for a final ride from William to the airport. It was interesting hearing about his couple of years living and working in Florida, how he wasn’t able to stay in the United States unfortunately because of the backlog/challenges of our immigration system, and his viewpoint on the Americas, including neighboring Venezuela and the interesting political times in the United States.

We felt safe riding with William; you can call, email, or WhatsApp (his preference) if you want a ride or a tour of Bogotá.

Our flight home ended up being a bit crazy once we hit Miami – the US Customs system shut down that afternoon, and the lines became almost mobs for a couple of hours. Garret fired off a quick, sarcastic tweet to CNN and it ended up being the main photo of their story covering the delays. After the two hours of getting through customs, and Garret, who had been held up longer in the customs line, literally ran a mile through two terminals to get to Emily and the gate/departing flight (they had to re-open the jet bridge).  A couple hours of flight time later, we found ourselves at good ole’ LaGuardia “construction will never end” Airport, back in the big city and ready to take on 2017!

This was as soon as we got off the plane – took 2 hours just to get to customs.

Good luck finding your bag!

The result of sprinting a mile from customs to the gate.

(De)Parting Words of Advice:

  • Be smart – don’t flag a taxi on the street, carry a lot of cash (many places take cards), etc.
  • Bogotá can be explored with two days of time.
  • Coffee zone – YES.
  • New Year’s Eve is celebrated more like Christmas – all of the stores, restaurants, bars are closed for 12/31 and 1/1, and many residents leave the city.
  • Eat a lot of the local food, both tasty and affordable!

Thanks Bogotá, adios!

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