This was our first clear view of Colombia, as we approached the airport at Bogota on Feb. 13. Although the city is on flat terrain, there are mountains not far to the east. The elevation is 8,600 feet! It was even higher when we rode a cable car to Montserrat later in the visit.

Our first three nights in Colombia were in Bogota, in a neighborhood quite far from downtown, but convenient to the bus terminal and the airport. Above on the left is only one-half of the street we're staying on -- Avenida Boyaca. It wasn't quiet, even from the 11th floor apartment where we were staying. It was an immaculate place, but small, with a tiny bedroom and our own bathroom. Our Air BnB host was Kylie Spivak. She was terrific, and we'll be back.

Kylie, our cheery AirBnB host in Bogota, tries to include Barbara in the photo.

On our first day, Tuesday Feb. 14, we walked to the bus terminal, bought tickets a couple of days in advance for our next destination (Socorro, Santander) and then took a city bus downtown. That was a 45 minute ride, an experience in itself. Downtown Bogota, what we saw of it, is nice, but there's no getting around the fact that this is a BIG city, and I (Wally) get cranky when I don't know where I am, where I'm going, or how to get there! Nevertheless, we found our way around. 

The old grey-haired guy in the crowd is me (I). 

Parque de los Periodistas (Journalists' Park) 

Street sales

We visited the famous Museo de Oro, and while it was beautifully done, it was still a museum. The pre-Colombian figurine above, though ceramic, not gold, was Barbara's favorite.

These guys are selling something, but business must be slow since they're playing chess.

We had deep-fried empanadas for a snack on our first day of wandering in the city,
and they were hot and greasy, with an array of sauces that made them tasty.

Wednesday, Feb. 15, was our second full day in Bogota, and it turned out better than the first. Again we started with the long bus ride downtown. At 10 a.m. we joined Bogota’s street art tour -- murals and other wall decorations created by constantly-changing crews of artists who take their work seriously and are now being taken seriously in the art world, at least in Bogota and a few other world cities. The tour guide, Jay, was a Colombian who lived for years in New York and spoke English fluently. Though not an artist himself, he was certainly a knowledgeable enthusiast, and he also talked a bit about recent Colombian history and politics. Here is a selection of some of the remarkable street art we saw on the tour:

Look carefully: Part of the cat's face is painted on a power-pole,
and you must stand in just the right place to see it properly. 

Some of the street art is sculpture in the air -- on roofs or balconies -- like the juggler on a unicycle.

Jay, our guide, was informative about both urban art and Colombian politics.
Some of the murals and graffiti are political, and our guide Jay also talked about the U.S.-Funded "PLAN Colombia." He said the U.S. helped finance operations to destroy drug crops and eliminate drug criminals and terrorists (or rebels, depending where your sympathies lie.) Jay claimed that, among other things, PLAN Colombia funded bounties to the army for killing drug criminals and terrorists. He said soldiers sometimes abducted drunks or homeless people, took them into the countryside, shot them, and planted evidence that they were guerrillas. These were the so-called “false positives." (Later, we heard confirmation of "false positives" from other people, but nothing about pressure or funding directly from PLAN Colombia. Of course the army needed to show that its anti-drug, anti-terrorist measures were effective, and "body counts" may have been useful.) About the peace process, Jay said that those who voted NO in the national plebiscite were not against peace, far from it, but they could not accept the terms of the particular agreement, which many felt was too easy on the former war criminals.

After the tour, one of the first things we did was buy some salpicon, a delicious mixture of fruits and juices.

Barb asked the nice lady from whom we bought salpicon if we could take a photo. She said fine, 
then had her daughter take another photo of all three of us.

We had lunch at a little arepa stall (above) in a market, and then we walked up past the university to the cable car that ascends to Montserrat. Montserrat is a mirador complete with a large Catholic church, gardens, and spectacular views. Our ears popped on the way up, we were probably over 9,000 feet, and it was quite beautiful. We were also fairly lucky with the weather. It wasn’t crystal clear, but the visibility was still good and there was sunshine -- never guaranteed in Bogota.

Starting up

Getting higher

Nearly to the top!
High above it all

Back at ground level -- Bogota ground level that is -- 8600'

Going back to Kylie's apartment, we finally landed a taxi whose driver actually knew where we were going and how to get there. We made it on the meter for just 12,000 pesos, around $4, which is darned good for quite a long drive In the evening we had packing to do in order to leave the next morning for Socorro.


At the bus terminal in Bogota

On Wednesday night before leaving for Socorro, neither of us slept very well, or very long, but we had no trouble getting ready and walking to the bus terminal on Thursday morning. For a change, everything was smooth. The Berlinas bus to Socorro was easy to find, on time, and quite wonderful. Immaculate, bright, and with super roomy and comfortable seats.

Super-comfortable buses -- not your dirty old Greyhound

The only problem was that we chose our seats badly when making our reservations. Though the bus windows were huge and the views marvelous, our seats were in the very front and our window was not like all the rest. Still, Barbara, who sat by the window, got a few wonderful photos.

Countryside from the bus window

Second photo from bus window

What a beautiful ride!

The bus stopped for lunch at a restaurant that clearly served the bus traffic, and it was a surprisingly complete and fairly good meal -- grilled beef, fried yucca, sweet potato, something like cooked platano, and a side salad with bits of chicken. The bill was so low that when I went to pay, I doubled the price, thinking the check we had was for one person only, but I was wrong. The meal was about $2.50 per person, with club soda another $0.75 each! The cashier obviously could have ripped me off, but didn’t.

It was late Thursday afternoon when we arrived in Socorro, and we found our little hotel, La Clementina, with no difficulty. I was a little depressed by the place at first. The town was bigger and busier than I’d hoped. Our room was bare and huge, with four beds, and not much light. It was hot, and with no hot water. It was clean and cheap, and that seemed about all. (The next day, we learned to appreciate both Socorro and the hotel far more.)

Our room in Socorro

Sitting areas in Hotel la Clementina, Socorro. 

Rooms, here on the right, are arranged around an interior courtyard, on the left.

We wandered into town at dusk, and there is a lively park in front of the cathedral. I found a good pair of sandals for a reasonable price at a shoe store. There were many vendors in the park, and a few good places for coffee and light meals.

In the park after dark, we tried something called a “pincho.” It was a kind of shish-kabob, pieces of beef, chicken, and sausage grilled over open coals, plus a potato. We shared one, liked it, and will surely get one apiece soon.

About new foods: so far we’ve tried a few kinds of arepa, the best of which were arepas filled with sweet cheese, sold in the street right outside our apartment in Bogota. Also, of course, empanadas. We’ve tried a juice from a fruit called Lulo, which can be really good if sweet enough. We also enjoyed several servings of salpicon, a mix of fruits and juices which you both drink and eat with a spoon.

This morning, Friday, put a new light on things, literally. With the shutters open, our room was brighter and cheerier. We saw the owner again, Norberto, and met his wife Patricia. They were so kind and friendly! They gave us coffee, tea, crackers and mandarin oranges in a little garden area. Somehow Patricia found time to go into our room, make beds and organize our things beautifully. She did our laundry, and while we were out in the afternoon, she hung clean things in the closet and folded others in the drawer. She's being a mom!

Norberto and Patricia -- Hotel la Clementina, formerly a home, has been in Norberto's family for generations.

Being a mom, Patricia organized our messy stuff into baskets.

When we went into the living-garden area for a few minutes after breakfast -- me to write on the computer -- we were quickly brought little plates of a fruit called breva, a kind of young fig marinated, we think, with clove and cinnamon. Wow, it was sweet and good. The folks here seemed so nice that if we remained sitting around outside our room, we might end up snacking all day. So we went out for a walk.

Around 1:30 in the afternoon we were back in our room for a siesta. We had walked through the town a little, and then started up a street that went up and UP. Eventually we found ourselves on the extension of Calle 14 that goes for miles into the hills, all the way to Paramo. We’d thought about going there by bus, and still may tomorrow, but for this morning, the long walk was enough.

When we returned to downtown, we had lunch at a restaurant, Restaurante Volver. It was the full-bore mid-day meal, salad and arroz con pollo and a fruit drink for Barbara; for me, salad, grilled pork, with rice, yucca, platano, and a drink. The food was very good and the restaurant pleasant and popular, but Barbara couldn’t quite finish hers. Colombian restaurants, it seems, pride themselves on generous portions. Anyway, it all cost $8 for both of us. Now we’re resting for the afternoon and heading back out in late afternoon. By the way, the walk proved that my cheap sandals are a great success.

Parque Central in Socorro -- the city's main square

Wading through pigeons in Socorro

Statue of Jose Antonio Galan, leader of an uprising against Spain in 1782

Ingenious decorations in Socorros' plaza -- the swan is made of a tire!

One of Socorro's quieter streets

In outskirts of city

All the pictures below are from the same late-afternoon walk in Socorro, as we head downhill, back into the center of town.

Saturday morning (Feb. 18) for breakfast we had hot chocolate, fruit, crackers and excellent cheese served by Patricia and Norberto. When we asked about taking a bus to Paramo (just for an expedition and a walk) they offered to take us there by car -- and then somewhere else, and somewhere else again. They said they wanted to go for a drive, but we think they were doing it for us. It was awfully kind of them. Norberto’s friend (employee?) Edgard drove. We had coffee in a park in Pinochete, then a full-bore meal in San Gil, on towards Cucuri to see the park, and then a stop for more coffee on the way back to San Gil. There we saw the river where they do whitewater rafting, but the water was low. Then we returned to Socorro. It was a full afternoon. Barbara didn’t like spending that much time in a car and we didn't take as many photos as usual, but it was nice to see so much, and our hosts were certainly kind to do all that for us.

The central plaza in Pinochete, a town much smaller than Socorro

Stopping for coffee in Pinochete with Edgard, Patricia, and Norberto. (Of course Barbara is not drinking coffee!)

Pretty houses around the park in Pinochete

Our outing continues to Curiti, even smaller and prettier than Pinochete

The next couple of photos are also in Curiti. We also stopped for lunch in San Gil, a bigger, busier tourist town where I did not take any photos.

It’s almost dusk back in Socorro as I write this, and a band is setting up on the plaza, just a block or two away. There is a coffee festival this weekend. No doubt when we walk to the plaza later this evening, it will be jammed with people, noise, and food stalls. Tomorrow we leave for Barichara.

Hazy sunset over the mountains outside Socorro

This final photo from Socorro is in the main plaza at dusk, when families often come for the evening. Various treats are sold by vendors. We often saw toddlers riding in these little cars. The children may pretend to steer them, but the cars are remotely controlled by the adults or older kids walking behind them. Parents love to take photos of all this. We do too.