DAY 478 - BOGOTA
Day 456 - Bogota, Colombia - 8935 km
Bogota is located on the Bogota savanna, 2500m above sea level, meaning cooler temperatures. I couldn’t wait to arrive there after so much time in the tropical heat of Central America. On 31 August early in the morning I flew from Panama to Colombia. The bike box arrived a bit crooked on the excess baggage band. Everything was there, which is always a sigh of relief. I put the bike back together and walked out of the airport. The crisp mountain air does me good, very good. It somehow feels like home. The climate is pretty much the same all year long, being located so near to the equator . About 20ºC during the day, 10 during the night. Bogota is much more modern and developed than I expected. But what did I know? My only references are from Narcos, the Netflix series about Pablo Escobar I’d watched about a year ago. A country at war and victim to drug traffic. A totally different image from what I see now, cycling on the long bicycle lane from the airport to the centre. There are many people on bicycles, the streets are clean and architecture is modern. With its red brick facades Bogota has more of a European character than most Latin American cities, although you will find the typical colonial style houses in the historic centre La Candaleria.
I had my camera and phone with me, which made the waiter recommend to take another table more inside of the restaurant - it would be safer...
On my way through the city I get a flat tire. It’s the first time since Mexico City. I have sealant running through my tubes, which fixes punctures from within while cycling. It works great, but sometimes it happens that the sealant is not able to fill the hole. After checking the tire I find 8 threads and thorns stuck in the rubber, which are from the past 3000 km. A guy called Hugo stops for a chat, he toured from Colombia to the US and gives me tips on routes around the city. I tell him I want to do a loop through the mountains east from Bogota, on Google Maps it looks like an epic ride. He says it’s not safe and I ask him why. Years ago there was a crazy farmer living in the mountains who have killed cyclists… It sounds like an urban legend, but I hear more of those stories. I did do the ride some days later, 65km around town. Up in the Andes, via Cerro de Guadelupe with an amazing view over the city, and back in town. A pleasant ride, especially without all the luggage, and nothing unusual happened.
But the warnings go on. Currently many people migrate from Venezuela, which create problems. There is lots of fear and suspicion, something I’m confronted with everyday. The security at apartment buildings I’m staying at is very strict. Normally I’d be used to just walk in a building towards the reception or doorman, here I need to wait for security to unlock the door. After I have checked in I can’t just walk straight to the elevator, I need to show my passport. It takes a few days until all security members know me. I’ve been staying in 6 different apartments and everywhere it’s the same. Uber drivers don’t allow me to sit in the back of the car. There’s been occasions of violence in between the established taxis and the more modern taxi companies like Uber, which are better and cheaper. When I sit in front as a passenger it doesn’t look like an Uber, so the driver feels more safe. But it goes even further than that. I was at restaurants where I was sitting close to the entrance. I had my camera and phone with me, which made the waiter recommend to take another table more inside of the restaurant - it would be safer. The same with taking photos on the street, people would recommend to be careful with my camera. It made me frown, and I ignored it most of the time, because it doesn’t feel unsafe at all on the streets. Of course there are homeless people on the street, but not more than San Francisco, Vancouver or Brussels. To my opinion fear is something in the mind, which doesn’t say anything about the actual danger. That said, probably there might have been also occasions, cycling through dodgy suburbs, when there was more danger than I actually feared.
I spend my days in comfortable Airbnb’s and catch up on lists of emails, editing photos and writing for a some days. It’s also time again to throw away some clothes and buy some new. An instant upgrade of living compared to the sometimes gritty life on the road. Clean sheets and a soft bed, good home-made food, going to the cinema, meeting people in nice restaurants. Quite a contrast with the days cycling. The damp concrete walls of motels with clattering AC’s and cockroaches hiding in the corners, sticky pre cooked meals in roadside restaurants, clothes that won’t dry from the wet air, dirty traffic, the small pains in the body from too many hours in the saddle and sleeping on bad mattresses. On this blog I tend to focus on the attractive aspects of bike travelling, but I tell you, in between those is a lot of not-mentionable ugliness. Something I realise when I spend a night in an Airbnb apartment with the standards of home. I’d be incredibly happy to see an actual shower head that reached above my head, instead of dripping tap of cold water at the height of my chest.
Another reason I like to stay in capital cities is to connect with people. My Spanish is still not great, so in local towns communication doesn’t get much beyond small talk. That’s different in cities, where people are more educated and speak English. One guy who followed me for a couple of years on Instagram invited me for lunch. He had done some cycle touring as well. There are more occasions like these, which I find fascinating — the wonderful world of social media. It’s never been more easy to connect with like minded people, instantly, anywhere in the world. But it also happens the old fashioned way. Outside the supermarket my bike attracts the attention of Dan, a French guy who married a girl in Buenos Aires and ended up settling together in Bogota for the last 10 years. We have a chat and he gives me his phone number for if there’s anything I need. Some days later we have dinner in a restaurant in downtown with another bike friend. This is how I get to know the city, the culture and less know destinations in the country.
Via friends of friends I get to know Paula, a Colombian model. I ask if she wants to do a photo shoot. She’s a vibrant personality, shaved head, blue hair. We’re in an eclectic apartment with a far view over Bogota. We talk about life in the city. She’s overwhelmed by the travel stories. This travelling life seems so for out of reach for others. Most young people I meet in Central America haven’t travelled further than their own country. But she’s 24. When I was her age I’d only been to the surrounding countries in Europe, it’s not much of difference. She invites me to a techno festival in Medellin. It sounds fun, but it’s going to extend my stay and before I know it I’m here for months again, like Mexico City. I want to stick to the bicycle journey. The next day her boyfriend calls me to do a filmed interview and do photo shoot with me for his fashion brand. You can read their blog story here. After 4 weeks I choose the road again.