September 3, 2015

Gracias, Bogota by Junior Williams

 

Gracias, Bogota

 

By Junior Williams
I had a lot on my mind as my flight from Miami touched down at Bogota,Colombia’s El Dorado Airport Wednesday afternoon. Most prominent was whether or not I would regret my maiden voyage to South America.
A number of my tennis fan friends chose to skip the Davis Cup World Group Play-off between the United States and Colombia, citing U.S. State Department travel warnings and Bogota’s reputation for crime which goes back to the drug wars of the late 20th century.

When a driver from my hotel picked me up and engaged me in conversation -being nice enough not to ridicule my lack of fluency in Spanish – it was definitely a sign of things to come: Bogota is one of the friendliest cities I have ever visited.

I decided to spend my six days and five nights in the La Candelaria section of central Bogota, full of 300-year old colonial buildings,university students and narrow streets. My room at the Hotel Ambala was only $42 a night in U.S. currency, and the staff at the hotel made me feel very much at home.
The trade-off: A very small room with a bathroom you have to squeeze into,and the pulsating beat of bars and nightclubs into the wee hours of the morning. A far cry from the upscale JW Marriott in northern Bogota where the U.S. Davis Cup team is staying, but I’ll take the charm of La Candelaria any day of the week. 

 

 


National Capital building at Plaza de Bolivar

 

 


 

My American friend and I have been walking all over Bogota, from the Plaza de Bolivar – home of the national capital building – to the Plaza de Toros la Santamaria, the bullring hosting the Davis Cup. In this city that’s more than 8,600 feet above sea level, I can understand why many cited altitude as a big challenge for the U.S. team. We did lots of huffing and puffing in the hilly parts of Bogota.

 

 


Transmilenio/Museo de Oro station

 

 


When we weren’t walking, we took the Trans Milenio — a rapid transit bus system masquerading as a subway. It’s a good way to see other parts of the city, with mountain tops looking down over the metropolis.

Bogota is also the home of cheap and tasty eats, where you can get breakfasts and lunches for as little as $2 to $5 US (1800 Colombian Pesos= $1United States). Empanadas, tamales in banana leaves, and sizzling meats are just the tip of the iceberg. Dinners are also inexpensive, but don’t wait too late to go out for a meal. Very few restaurants are open past8pm.
Carrera 7 was a pleasant surprise on Friday night . No cars allowed. It was like a street fair for several blocks.

As far as safety is concerned, there is a heavy police presence in Bogota.It’s not unusual to see officers with muzzled dogs patrolling the streets.

The homeless are very savvy. Expect one of them to come to you and ask for change right after you purchase something on the street.

 

 


View of Bogota from Monserrate peak

 

 


While dining in a restaurant, I met a retiree who left Chicago to live in Bogota. I asked him for the must-see spots in the city. He mentioned Monserrate, a mountain top where a white church overlooks the Colombian capital.

I took his advice, and the views were breathtaking.
 

 


Monserrate Sanctuary

 

 

Since we were dining, he also gave me some “tips” on tipping, which is not customary in Bogota (though some eating establishments have service charges). He said if you want to give a tip, give it directly to the waiter or waitress. If you leave it on the table, anyone can take the money.
He also said Colombians are some of the nicest and most generous people you’ll ever meet. “If you ask for one thing, they’ll give you two or three.”
He went on to say that Bogota’s reputation as the most dangerous capital city in the world is unjustified.

I couldn’t agree more. Even when I was walking down crowded streets wearing clothes that screamed out I am an American, I’d get smiles,welcoming gestures and strike up friendly conversations with Bogotanos. 

 

 

I didn’t get a chance to see all of the hot spots here, such as the Museo del Oro which I hear is wonderful, but I’ll have plenty of fond memories of Colombia, and not just because of the tennis.
Gracias, Bogota! 

Junior Williams is a long-time journalist and tennis fan. At a moment’s notice he can give you a list of all the Davis Cup match-ups that would give the US home ties. He was in Bogota reporting for Global Village Tennis News covering the US vs Colombia Davis Cup tie.

Davis Cup: Fish Keeps U.S. in World Group By Junior Williams

Bogota Bonus: Some Observations on Davis Cup by Junior Williams

Switch to Fish Completes a Winning Dish by Junior Williams

“Uncle Sam is in Trouble” – USA and Colombia at 1-1 on Day One of the Davis Cup World Group Play-offs by Junior Williams

 

 

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