I have traveled to Bogotá on many occasions for business, and it is one of my favorite cities - vibrant, engaging, sophisticated, and quite cosmopolitan. This time, even though I would need to take care of some work tasks, I was looking forward to have a more low key and everyday experience.
I had initially only planned to stay three days, but because Colombia, in order to promote internal/national tourism, put in place a law several years ago that moves nearly all holidays to Monday, allowing for long 3-day weekends. My timing had me arriving the Friday evening before the long weekend, so I ended up staying until Wednesday morning of the next week.
A good friend of mine would be putting me up, so that would give me a chance to meet some of her social circle and see a different perspective of the city.
The first order of business upon my arrival was to take care of one the more important parts of the time in Bogota - attack a Todo Terreno burger from El Corral.
This is hands down my favorite burger. El Corral is a national chain in Colombia, and although it is considered “fast food” they make your burger to order. Colombia also has this very cool concept of “Gourmet” versions of some of their traditionally fast food restaurants, with a more upscale setup and a more widely varied menu. This concept has been so popular, that even McDonalds had to adapt and setup one of these “Gourmet” versions of their restaurant.
One of the great places to visit and just people watch while enjoying a coffee, or in my case, a Todo Terreno, is the Parque de la 93 - located, as you might expect, on 93rd street. Bogotá is setup as a grid with numbered Calles and Carreras, so getting around and finding addresses is quite easy.
While I was eating, I tried to get a hold of my lawyer, as there were some amendments to the business, but as luck would have it, she was likely already in “long weekend mode” and was not able to get a hold of her until the following Tuesday. That evening I would arrive at my friend's Talia's place to meet her and her friend Andres for lively conversation and share a pizza before crashing after a long day or riding.
The next day, it was time to play tourist, so I headed to the nearby town of Zipaquira to visit the Salt Cathedral. This is an amazing undertaking, carving out a massive Cathedral out of a salt mine inside the mountain. This is only one of two in the world. The other one is in the Czech Republic.
When you first arrive you are taken into the mountain through the main entrance through a gradual slope towards a long passageway where the stations of the cross on either side. Each station is setup as a small chapel with individual design aspects.
One themes that continues throughout is that each cross is deeper, showing the Christ's increased pain as you move through the Passion.
After you complete the stations you arrive at the Cathedral's two chapels and the main nave - 16 meters tall x 8 wide x 200 deep. Impressive!
The visual effect of the cross above the altar is incredible. It is actually carved out of the back wall in a negative space, but the way it is lit it appears to float in front of the wall. The side columns are massive, also carved out of the mine's salt rock. To the left of the nave is one of the baptism chapel where a large salt waterfall was created through running a small runoff that has allowed the above rock to dissolve and the salt reconstitutes itself once the water evaporates.
A vehicle access is available on the far right-hand side of the main entrance, where the bride lucky enough to marry inside this underground cathedral arrives. There are also a number of shops, a theater that explains the history of the salt deposits formation. Another new and pretty spectacular feature of the cathedral is a scenic wall that is being slowly carved in various stages of nature and some of the native peoples of the region who first started cultivating the salt from the rock as one of the currencies used at the time.
This here is a polished dome about 10 meters in diameter in a central chamber before you walk down to the cathedral's nave.
This cathedral touted as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World is definitely a site to check out while in Bogota!
Sunday was a day for chillaxing. I went for a long walk around the city, enjoying the quite tranquility. Sunday's are slow days in the city where one of the main thoroughfares is converted into a pedestrian, runner, and cyclist avenue that crosses nearly the entire city. I enjoyed looking at the varied architecture, from smaller Swiss-German cottages to large steel and glass high-rises.
The old process of extracting salt from the mine was to drop in ore into large concrete lined wells, fill them with water, and the bottom was lined with wood beams that would let the salt water filter through.
The water would then be*siphoned*into a processing pool to begin to evaporate the water and complete the extraction process.
The center square is also quite beautiful.
That evening I met some friends at the Irish Pub in the Zona T for an evening of discussion on international finance, comparative development policies, and today's political situation in Colombia.
It was quite stimulating, especially with some great Belgian beers keeping the conversation company.
I had been reading a great book titled “Out of Captivity” that tells the story of three US Contractors that were captured by the FARC after their surveillance plane crashes in the Colombian mountains. They were finally released after five years in captivity. It is an amazing story and certainly gave me some interesting insight to share during our conversation that evening.
The next day Talia and Andres took me out to eat fritanga, a wide assortment of typical dishes, to a place in the outskirts the city. Similar to a buffet, you walk through a number of stations and pick and chose what you want, but the portion sizes are huge, even when you plan to share. It's all placed inside a single flatten basket lined with deli paper.
The food was amazing and plentiful. I particularly like the spice of the meat. Tender, juicy, flavorful.
The next day I dropped the bike off at the Triumph dealership for its scheduled service and the rest of my time was dedicated to work. I met my colleague Camilo to review the portfolio of potential ERP clients in Colombia. That rolled into the meeting with the lawyer to look over the company's charter, and I closed the day with meeting Marla, a new hire who brings a great deal of accounting and finance experience into the ERP business unit. It has been very interesting to have these work interludes while on travel. The next one I'll have will not be until Popayan in a few weeks where we will have the project launch event with a local pharmacy chain.
As a side note, the Triumph dealership in Bogota is fantastic. Its the regional training center for Latin America. All mechanics travel to Bogota for training and certification on Triumph motorcycles. That speaks volumes on the quality and preparations of the staff. And the service is top notch. Rodrigo Sanchez, the business manager, was very welcoming and genuinely interested in my travels and wanted to be sure that the bike would continue to perform in top form. If you are on a Triumph, even if you're not in need of service you should stop by and say hello. Great people!