Saturday, 5 August 2017

COLOMBIA: Bogota Is Worth A Visit

Bogota is interesting to visit, especially when has associated it with murder, cocaine, gangs, kidnapping, corruption and anything other than peace for as long as anyone can remember. Ladies and gentlemen, there is one less war in the world, and it is the war in Colombia,’ President Juan Manuel Santos told the assembled crowd in Oslo two months ago, as he accepted the honour.

Go there before it’s overrun with Americans in shorts, shops selling ‘I love Colombia’ T-shirts and plastic Irish pubs

A majority of Colombians had rejected the very thing he was being decorated for - The President: a peace deal brokered with the Marxist guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) after a 52-year conflict that had killed more than 220,000, and created more internally displaced people than in any nation on earth. A revised accord was ratified and, in Santos’s eyes at least, the sun of peace finally shines in the heavens of Colombia.

That iss nice to hear. The peace deal means that many areas once deemed too dangerous to travel in, probably the most beautiful place is now open for exploration. Instantly, Colombia had joined the likes of Cuba and Myanmar as a destination for which visiting is less a matter of desperate urgency.

A least visit Bogota before it’s overrun with Americans in shorts, shops buying ‘I love Colombia’ T-shirts and plastic Irish pubs. Go before there’s a McDonald’s on every corner. Go,it’s just like everywhere else.

Tourists get in touch with locals,chefs, barmen, photographers, for informal city tours that resist clipboards, Wikipedia recitals and anything very boring. The guide will show you what they think is good for you.

Monserrate, a huge green mountain that watches over the capital. Jump on a railway ride to its summit, where a 17th-century monastery sits, 10,335ft above sea level,its got panoramic cityscape.

Bogota is situated on one of the Andes’ many high plateaux, its eight million inhabitants filling the space with everything from plush apartments in the well-heeled north, thickets of skyscrapers in the business district, and slums to the south.

Tourists before avoided Bogota they would only stop if they had to, because there was nothing famous.

Elsewhere on the continent, people simply chew the leaves like Somalis, but you won’t find them everywhere, since it is the raw ingredient of cocaine.

Bogota has a cool, European atmosphere, and brilliant museums, street art, markets and cafés, where old men sit with black tinto coffees and grumble over newspapers.

Ask for traditional bogotano breakfast, it is simply a huge cup of hot chocolate with cheese, accompanied by a doughnut filled with guava jam, and an arepa – a fried patty of maize flour that finds its way next to most things on Colombian plates.

This is one of three dishes on the table. There is also a tamale, a parcel of rice, vegetables and pork wrapped in a banana leaf; and changua – a milk soup with eggs and coriander in it. Everything was fairly tasty.

El Dorado was once a tribal leader, city or land that lured Sir Walter Raleigh and thousands of other gold hunters to the region, it is now Bogotá’s airport and therefore the very first destination for visitors.

Take a plane to Popayan. Known as the White City because of its chalk-coloured colonial centre, Popayan is famous for its Holy Week festivities around Easter. The day we visited, though, was its 480th birthday. A stage is set up in the public square, live music and the release of doves, balloons and streamers.

San Agustin is a small town in the next department,Colombia is divided into 32 state-like ‘departments’, plus its capital district only 80 miles away. It could take six hours by road. Colombia’s geography is a blessing to the eye, but a logistical nightmare.

Colombia is designed to be explored at all levels.

Lower down, in the volcanic soil by the road, are potatoes, mangos, sugar cane, coffee, papayas, tomatoes, lemons, bananas, plantains, nuts, watermelons, pineapples, onions, and dozens of fruits you may never could have seen before, like lulos, guanabanas and pitayas. If you plant a seed in Colombia, it grows. Given that climate change affects the tropics first.

After Brazil, Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world. It has more bird and frog species than anywhere else. There are also more terrestrial mammals,including jaguars, monkeys and spectacled bears than in any other country.

Colombia is second only to the Netherlands as a flower exporter, but also has oil and masses of coal. Not that it needs it. Hydroelectric power provides 70 per cent of energy, and there’s enough wind in one department to match that, should the country ever feel like mixing things up.

It has sandy deserts and rocky deserts, areas of permanent snow, two ocean coastlines and more fresh water than the whole of North America.

Across the Andes, visit the Misak, one of more than 100 indigenous groups in Colombia. Each has its own dress, language and beliefs. A 25,000-strong people, the Misak wear blue or black ponchos and skirts with impressive hats, either bowlers or unique, doubled-down boaters.

Large parts of land were lost under vicious colonial rule, to be partly reclaimed in the 1980s. They now have 71 square miles of lush valley, where you will sight the greatest vegetable patch..

The Misak worship nature’s gifts. Every mountain, lake and blade of grass is considered significant.

Visit San Agustin which was once too dangerous to pass. In parts, the vegetation on either side is so thick you’d not move an inch without a machete. Farc soldiers, who patrolled the jungles­ created paths and controlled the territory. There are still soldiers there.

In San Agustin late yo will find Hotel Monasterio, an idyllic hillside retreat with exceptional service and even better rooms. Many stray dogs can be seen.

San Agustín’s main attraction is its wonderful archaeological park, a Unesco World Heritage Site filled with expertly detailed sculptures and tombs left by a now extinct civilisation more than 1,000 years ago, then rediscovered in the 1930s.

You will be taught about coffee, from the sweet red fruits the beans start off as on the branch, to sorting, roasting, grinding and brewing. A quarter of Colombia’s rural population rely on coffee for survival.

The desert Tatacoa, a 130-square-mile tract of former seabed. Dry orange rock juts in every direction, crinkled from ancient waterways and crumbling under the baking sun.

As with all of Colombia, everyone in Medellín suppresses memories of suffering.

Today, Medellín is as safe as anywhere. Known as the City of Eternal Spring, as its plateau’s microclimate is largely dependable, it is now a city fizzing with civic pride, arts and innovation, and probably powered by relief.

Casa de la Memoria, a museum that pays tribute to the thousands of murdered and disappeared citizens of the city in recent years.Wal through Botero Square, dotted with the oversized sculptures of the area’s greatest export, the artist Fernando Botero. And we visited Comuna 13 barrio. Once the most murderous part of the murder capital of the world, Comuna 13 is now as transformed as the rest of the city.

Bright-orange outdoor escalators climb the hillside, and hip hop thrives. Graffiti is legal in parts of Colombia, and you’ll find the best street-art murals in the world: urban masterpieces filled with political crackle, wit and anger.

Patio del Mundo, a magnificent boutique hotel in the chic, backpacker-friendly La Florida district, and inhale eight courses at Carmen, one of a plucky and growing band of restaurants daring to do interesting things with the cornucopia of ingredients.

Colombian cuisine is wonderful,there are many excellent dishes to be found especially in markets but a bizarre national allergy to vegetables currently halts progress. Colombians believe that’s as bad without meat.

Plantain and yucca manage to disguise themselves as potatoes and add bite to the meat-beans-rice staples, but little else gets a look in. If there’s salad on your plate, it’s generally been invited as matter of courtesy.

Vegetarian travellers should simply enjoy fruits, which are in plenty.