Bogotá, Colombia -
The last days are here. The last bus rides. Last taxi’s (thank God!). Last hostel. Last weekend. Last museum. The last city – Bogotá. My final days of Latin America, for the near future, have arrived and I can’t say I’m sad to see them come. Things I normally wouldn’t think twice about have begun to grate on me. The annoyances of being in one particular culture for any extended period of time have worn me down. The ‘¡Oye Gringo!’ calls, the haggling over prices on the street, beggars forcefully asking for change, constantly watching my back, guarding my pockets, the never ending stream of tours presented to me that I have no interest in taking and the constant street solicitations have all run their course and I can’t wait to not have to deal with them anymore. I have lost patience in trying to figure out the smallest of cultural nuances and have simply taken on an air of arrogance and turned my back towards them. After fifteen months I think I’ve had my fill and am suffering from a heavy dose of cultural fatigue…temporarily anyway. I would come back.
I can’t help but think it’s partly due to the fact that I know my return to my own culture is right around the corner and that my imminent return is impacting my thoughts and actions here. Dealing with or trying to understand some small aspect of the Latin culture is no longer worth my time since there is only a short-term gain to be had. I care about as much as a person who has put in their last two weeks at work. The end is in sight and little matters. I can coast through to the end.
That being said I am enjoying my last few days of culture that Bogotá provides. After the beach, the Guajira Peninsula and two small Spanish colonial towns the endless numbers of restaurants, clubs and museums is a welcome sight for some last minute Latin culture and history. I’ve found the museums to be fortresses of solitude in a world that I want to push away. I can take in the finer aspects of society without dealing with people. Not a way to travel long-term but a nice respite in those final few days.
Bogotá has a large number of museums to check out all ranging in price between free and $2.00. One of the world’s best gold museums is here and I’ve discovered an artist in the aptly named Donacion Botero whose paintings I’ve seen but never paid attention to.
After Mompos but before Bogotá was Villa de Leyva. But in between Mompos and Villa de Leyva was 24 straight hours of travel.
The road to Mompos is a bit like the road to Cabo de la Vela in that it isn’t much of a road at all. There are two options to or from Mompos. The first is a pleasant two hour boat ride down river taking in the natural surroundings – fishermen, Great White Herons, banana plantations and small villages perched on the river bank. The second option is a 3.5 hour (or more) van ride off-roading through mud and waist deep rivers of water that also involves a mile walk plus a ferry crossing.
I took the boat to Mompos but on the day I wanted to leave the boat wasn’t an option so I was stuck taking the van. I had no idea before hand how bad the van would be but when I heard it puttering down the street several blocks before I had seen it I knew it wasn’t going to be a great ride. The large piece of plastic that was the new front windshield only helped confirm that an interesting ride lie ahead of me.
The beginning of the ride wasn’t so bad. Paved road. Then we hit dirt. Then we hit mud. Then we hit a waist deep water crossing just before we hit the end of the line. We piled out of the van, took our belongings and crossed over a hastily constructed bridge and walked a mile down road. Not a big problem for those ready to walk but the old women in high-heels carrying several suitcases weren’t pleased.
There was then the ferry crossing. When I use the words ‘ferry crossing’ don’t think large boat or any normal type of ferry that holds cars. No, picture a hastily constructed raft made from oil barrels with plans of wood thrown on top. The ‘captain’ pulled us from one side of the river using a rope that was strung up between the two sides. On the other side a white truck waited for us. Twelve of us squeezed into the back and waited for the driver to pull out his jumper cables and catch a start from an equally trashed, but functioning, truck that was also waiting to pick up passengers.
3.5 hours after starting I was in El Banco where I had a four hour wait for my next bus. The rest of the journey was much easier. 8.5 hours on the next bus to Bucaramanga followed by an hour wait and then 6 hours to Tunja with a final hour bus ride to Villa de Leyva.
To me, Villa de Leyva is a Mompos imitator. In 1954 the whole town was declared a national monument and has since been preserved in it’s colonial roots. Few modern buildings in town exist. So far so good. The problem is that the town is only four hours outside of Bogotá which has turned it into a weekend get-a-way spot for Bogotá’s well off. The town is full of restaurants and gift shops specifically catering to this market. Mompos was a living historical town whereas Villa de Levya feels stale with its empty streets and boutique gift shops. I couldn’t find much that I really wanted to do here and moved on to fill my last few days in Bogotá.
Photos of Villa de Leyva and Bogotá