Bogotá: "The Way My World Works"
November 7, 2008
Here's a sampling of the way my world works:
Eight years ago I met Corina on a day-cruise on The Danube in Budapest, Hungary. Corina lives in Bucharest, Romania and I sent her my very first email ever! By some miracle she received it and she responded. Since I had never been to Romania, I decided to visit her the following summer. I have seen her on succeeding trips to Romania and we remain good friends.
Seven years ago, I met Anita and Marc in Sofia, Bulgaria. They were on their ‘round-the-world trip. Six months later we met again for dinner in Bangkok, Thailand. One day soon I hope to visit them and their three children at their home in Holland.
Five years ago I met Sushma and Paawan in Hanoi, Vietnam. They were on their honeymoon. When their first son was of proper age, they invited me to attend the traditional hair-cutting ceremony in Rajasthan, India. We met again at their home in Mumbai. They have a second son now and I expect to return to India next fall.
Three years ago I met Utami in Bali, Indonesia. We traveled together and she was my guide in Java. This year she was my guide in Sumatra.
Last year I met Li Li and Diego near my apartment in Bangkok. Since they live in Beijing, they helped me with hotel reservations, guides and warm hospitality when I arrived in China a month later.
For some reason (maybe my mother's good example of saying hello to everyone who crossed her path) I meet lots of friendly, like-minded people in my travels. And in this digital age, we keep in touch.
Two years ago I met Louisa and Luis and their teenage daughter Valentina in Flores, Guatemala. According to our plan, we met again two days later in Antigua. Luis and Luisa live in Chía, a town outside Bogotá; and they are also determined to see the world. So when I wrote to them and mentioned that I was visiting Miami and was also planning to fly to Colombia, they volunteered to pick me up at the airport and invited me to stay at their home.
Luisa and Luis were my hosts, and also my travel companions. In Bogotá, our first stop was the Museo de Oro, the Gold Museum with several thousand exquisite gold objects from pre-Hispanic cultures. (My favorites are always the delicate miniatures.) We strolled around the plazas and visited the Iglesia San Francisco, the Church of San Francisco with elaborate ceilings and a gilded main altarpiece. We had dinner at the legendary Andrés Carne de Res, an outrageous local steakhouse restaurant and never-say-die party-atmosphere nightclub.
Luisa took me to the town of Zipaquirá and the nearby Catedral de Sal, a dim, mysterious, underground salt cave cathedral.
On the weekend, we all drove north toward the charming, cobble-stoned mountain town of Villa de Leyva. On the way we explored the Puente de Boyacá, the bridge and surrounding park where the revolutionary general, El Libertador, Simón Bolívar won a decisive battle against the colonial Spanish in 1819.
Outside of Villa de Leyva we found La Viñedo Ain Karim, the local winery, and the Ostrich Farm with its 120 strutting creatures. We stopped at the Convento del Santo Ecce Homo built by the Dominican fathers in 1620 and El Fósil, a small museum that displays an assortment of native fossils. The star of the museum is the 120-million-year-old kronosaurus, a pre-historic marine reptile resembling an overgrown crocodile.
Over the years, American newspapers have been powdered with only one sensational story about Colombia. So, what do you suppose the reactions were when I mentioned to my American friends that I was planning a trip there? My guidebooks and my friendships with Colombians in Miami persuaded me otherwise. I was not disappointed.
Luisa and Luis were generous, considerate and convivial travel partners.
The scenery and sights are magnífico. I never tired of ordering trucha -- fresh, juicy trout that is served head to tail with rice and salad. I never felt uncomfortable or uneasy when I was in big crowds or alone and exploring side streets, markets or riding public transportation. My smattering of Spanish generally brought forth a wide smile. Everyone was friendly.
Some have called me naïve. That is true. Some have called me a Pollyanna. Maybe. Some have suggested I am unaware, uninformed or even indifferent to the potential hazards of my surroundings. Perhaps. But I make no apology or explanation. That's the way I work. That's the way my world works. I enjoy my world. I like my world, just fine.
So while I was waiting for my flight from Bogotá to Cartegena. I met Teresa, a lovely woman who lives in the north of Spain, another area in the headlines from time to time. We hit it off. We correspond. I look forward to visiting Teresa on my next trip to Europe. That's the way my world works.