At over 8600 feet elevation, Bogotá feels eternally fall-like. “When is summer?” I asked our Uber driver. He looked a little blank. It either rains or it doesn’t–that’s how the seasons are measured, the nearby equator keeping this part of the Andes mountains green all year long. Leaves blow across broken sidewalks, and police wearing neon green uniforms prowl the streets on Suzuki dirt bikes, As we drove into the city, a gaggle of young men in Army fatigues were hitchhiking to god-knows-where. “Or maybe they’re just giving us the thumbs up,” said Ethan.
Post-Pablo Escobar, this country has become progressively safer. It feels like a city on the rise, with the middle class making a comeback. It’s not gritty so much as ordered. The only relics of terror depicted in the show Narcos (which is worth watching) are the machine gun-wielding cops outside important buildings. Or, in one case, a gleaming chrome shotgun. I guess the message here is that if he has to use it, he won’t miss. The Rottweilers wearing black leather muzzles on security patrol are a bit scary, too, but they actually look pretty bored.
The Bogotanos are bicycle-crazy. Fit and outgoing, they ride politely, packing wide boulevards that are shut down on the weekends to automobile traffic. “Bienvenidos” you hear a hundred times a day, or “con gusto!” Everyone seems to actually like tourists.
We ate fantastic burgers and fries in a cafe with big bottles of Sriracha on the tables and carnival lights strung across the open-air patio. The price? Less than $10. For 3000 pesos (about a dollar) you can buy a snack of “big-bottomed ants”. When a woman with a pre-Colombian face offered them out of her woven basket, I saw they indeed had butts the size of a corn nut. I thought about it for about a second, and then went to the Bogotá Beer Company instead. The honey brown ale was as good as I’ve had, an unexpected pleasure so far from home.
Next up–Bogotá’s three top tourist attractions!