After our huge lunch on Saturday we decided to dedicate Sunday morning to getting some exercise. Our goal was to hike to the top of the Monserrate Mountain (Cerro de Monserrate.) The peak of the mountain sits on the edge of the city. At over 10,000 feet above sea level it is a popular tourist destination. On a clear day, the views over the city are spectacular. You can take a cable car or funicular to the top, or if you are really ambitious you can hike up. I had read that Sunday was the best (and safest) day to hike so despite the many, many complaints from the kids, we put on our sneakers and sweats and headed out. Our taxi had to take a circuitous route to get there because of the Ciclovía. Every Sunday from about 7 a.m. until 2 p.m., several of the main thoroughfares in the city are shut for bikers and walkers. We clearly should have joined the walkers for our exercise because when we arrived at Monserrate we discovered that the hiking path was shut. There was no information about this closure online and no reason was given. Sean and I were crushed and the kids were elated.
Despite the complaints (from everyone…but me…the annoying tour guide of the family) we joined the line for the funicular. Even though the line was long it moved quickly and before we knew it we were inside one the cars heading up to the top of the mountain. Being inside a tiny, packed car that is going uphill through a narrow dark tunnel is not my idea of fun. At one point I could see neither the entrance nor the exit to the tunnel, only the darkness and rock walls on either side. A few more seconds and I would have lost it. Luckily, we quickly emerged into the light and exited into the thin mountain air which was cool and fresh.
We got in a little bit of the walking we had craved and wound our way uphill to take in the view. From the top of the mountain you can appreciate what a huge, sprawling city Bogota really is.
We checked out the church and the statue of the Virgin of Monserrate. It is one of the few statues in the world depicting a black Madonna. Other than the view and the church, a couple of restaurants and a small, junky trinket and food market there was not much to see. In a “been there, done that” move, we got back on the furnicular (we were in the front car so the ride was less claustrophobic) and headed back downhill. Since we were so close to the La Candelaria neighborhood we decided to walk there for lunch.
Considered to be the historic center of the Bogota, this bustling neighborhood is known for its colorful graffiti, museums and its many hostels and restaurants. The narrow, cobblestone streets and colonial style buildings sit at the base of the mountain. We walked down one of the tiny, winding streets and found a restaurant, El Gato Gris (the gray cat.) The small, rustic restaurant is stretched out over many levels and we were lucky enough to sit on the very top outside patio with a view of the city and the mountains. I had my first taste of Ajiaco, a traditional Colombian soup made of corn, potatoes and chicken garnished with capers and avocado.
After lunch, we went to the Botero Musuem. Fernando Botero is one of Colombia’s most beloved artists and in 2000 he donated a huge cache of his artwork to the museum with the stipulation that admission to the museum remain free. Housed in a colonial-era mansion, the musuem also contains artwork by Picasso, Chagall, Monet and Matisse which were donated by Botero. It is a very enjoyable museum to visit and my decidedly unsophisticated take on Botero’s artwork is that it is really fun to look at.
After leaving the musuem we followed the street downhill until we reached the Plaza de Bolivar and looked at the buildings surrounding the square including the Capitolo Nacional and the Palacio de Justicia. I suppose it was not surprising at all that it reminded me a lot of the squares I had seen in Spain.
Although the day had started out sunny and warm, the clouds covering the mountain swept downhill and it quickly became cool and misty. We got in a cab and went back to the apartment to rest and read and watch TV and eat dinner, a typical Sunday evening in atypical surroundings.