Bogotá and the Salt Cathedral

posted in: Colombia | 0
[ultimate_heading main_heading=”Visiting Bogotá”][/ultimate_heading]

On Monday, May 28, I arrived at 12:30 in Bogotá. I took an Uber to my hostel and, after checking in, I went for some food. It was already too late to go to any free walking tour and I wasn’t feeling well, so I stayed at the hostel. I was very tired and cold and so I just watched a movie. I barely managed to go to a shop to get some food for dinner and everything was kind of difficult. In the morning and during the flight, I had been full of energy and, at first, I didn’t know what had changed, but then I realized I was getting the flu… So, I went to bed very early and only met Joanna from Denmark, a girl staying in my dorm. She was nice but laughed a lot watching some movie and that gave me some trouble sleeping…

The next morning, I woke up early and had a nice hot shower. In Bogotá, it was much colder than it had been anywhere I had been in the past few months. In Colombia, there are no seasons, weather is almost always the same in each place but changes from place to place. Bogotá, for example, is always cold because it’s on almost 3000m altitude while Cartagena is always very humid and hot.

I had a small breakfast and then I went to the free walking tour. They had been to the hostel a few times to promote it and I thought I knew where it started, but turned out I didn’t… I arrived at the Simon Bolivar Square and no sign of this tour… Instead, there was a different free walking tour and since I was too late to go back to the hostel to find out where the other one started, I decided to just join this one. We were 3 people, 2 from Colombia and me. They were very nice, just like Nicole, the guide. She gave us a lot of interesting information about Bogotá and its history. She told us about Simon Bolivar, a man from Venezuela who had helped liberate Colombia from the Spanish, about his wife who helped Bolivar on many occasions but ended up alone and in exile after Bolivar’s death. She showed us all the important places in the city centre, like some traditional colonial houses, some famous graffiti and the gold museum. During the tour, there was a group of 10-year-old girls with their teacher visiting the same area as we were. Suddenly they turned to me and surrounded me, asking where I am from, what language I speak and how to say “hello” in my language. They took many pictures and videos of me and it was quite funny. I had not expected to be the tourist attraction myself! 😄 But in Colombia, tourists are an attraction for Colombians. They are very curious and want to know all about you. It was a great tour and she had earned her tip.

After the tour, I went to the supermarket, bought some stuff for lunch and went back to the hostel. I wasn’t feeling well, being cold and warm in alternation and, so, I stopped at a pharmacy to get something against the flu. After lunch, I went to bed and rested for a couple of hours. I was supposed to meet the president of JCI Santafé de Tierralinda, but, in the end, he had too much work and cancelled. So, I went to the gold museum. I’m not a big fan of museums, but this one was very interesting. They had exhibited gold and precious artefacts from different regions of Colombia and explained the history and traditions of the indigenous people there, how they lived, what they believed in and how they worked the gold to make ornaments and jewels out of it. I stayed 90 minutes but could have stayed easily one more hours hadn’t it closed.

In the evening, I cooked some delicious pasta with fresh vegetables and an egg and only watched a movie, tired and sick as I was. I met Steve from California that night in the kitchen. He was quite funny, stating only very obvious things like “Oh you’re cooking . It’s raining” and so he became Mr. Obvious. 🙂

[ultimate_heading main_heading=”Bogotá’s famous Salt Cathedral”][/ultimate_heading]

The next morning, after breakfast, Joanna, Molly and Darragh from Ireland, Steve and Robert from California and I went together to Zipaquira to see the salt cathedral. Many people had told me about it and that it’s really nice, but I hadn’t looked up any more information. So, I just followed Joanna who knew the way. It took us 2 1/2 hours and 3 buses to get there and, on the way, we lost Steve and Robert, but we found them again at the entrance of the mine. There, I had 2 big surprises: 1) the entrance fee was 20$ – way too much if you ask me; had I known that, I wouldn’t have gone… – and  2) it’s not a “real” cathedral as you know it but a cathedral inside a salt mine.

We were just in time for the 12 AM tour and our guide was really good. She told us all there is to know about the salt mine, about how salt has been exploited in the last years and about why there is a cathedral inside the mine. Indigenous people had burned the salt water to get the salt. It was a very precious and expensive good back then, just as it still is today. When the Spanish came, they started using instruments like pikes and shovels to get to the salt. In the 80s, they started using dynamite and a few years ago, they started using chemical procedures to get the salt. This mine has 4 levels. The first one is the original one and has been the first salt cathedral. Mining is a very dangerous business and to protect them against danger, miners have built crosses in the mine. There were 12 Latin numbers in the mine, representing the 12 steps of Jesus’s crucifixion. At some point, they started exploiting level 2, then 3 and nowadays level 4. 10-20 years ago, they saw that level 1 is not secure and they had to close it. So, they took the Latin numbers and some things out of the cathedral on this level and converted level 3 into a new cathedral. Different important artists have helped designing this beautiful cathedral and it now is Colombia’s n°1 wonder. In the different caverns that have been exploited before to get salt, they now show in a very simple and elegant way the 12 steps of Jesus’s crucifixion. There are some main halls with altars and baptism ponds. It’s really beautiful and you can even have your wedding there for only 500$.

At the end of the tour, there were many gift shops, a movie and a light show. It was all a bit too much and very kitsch there.

We have enjoyed this tour a lot and I’m happy I’ve seen it, but I stand by my opinion that it’s much too expensive.

Afterwards, we walked to the main square of Zipaquira. Food was not good, but we had a nice view over the main square of this beautiful small town. Then we went back to the hostel. I had wanted to meet Alex that afternoon, the president of JCI Santafé de Tierralinda, but we had been back too late and he had had too much work to meet me anyway. In the evening, I was supposed to meet my friend Nathalie but she was out and got home too late to meet me. So, I chatted a bit with Joanna, Lukas from Paris and a guy from the UK and went to bed early again. I felt much better that day, but it was better for me to rest than to go out.

[ultimate_heading main_heading=”Monserrate”][/ultimate_heading]

The next morning, I got up at 5:40 AM to go to Monserrate. This is a church on a hill that overlooks Bogotá. I was too lazy to walk up the mountain and I was afraid I would get into the rain, so I took a cable car up the mountain. Down it had looked quite nice, but when I got up there, it was raining… First, I couldn’t see anything of Bogotá, but, slowly, the clouds cleared and a rainbow appeared over the city. The view was very beautiful and I could see all the city. It had been absolutely worth going up there and going so early. There were many people jogging up there, but I couldn’t have done it. You probably need to get used to the altitude first. I had been debating whether to walk down or to take a cable car, but then I decided to take the cable car. It is usually 10.000 pesos one way but somehow, I only had to pay 6.000, God knows why, but I don’t complain.

I spent the rest of the morning with Lukas from Paris and we talked about travelling and life after travelling. He has a job to go back to in January, but he might just resign in the next months and do something else when he comes back. Many backpackers change career during their travels; some find jobs along the way and stay backpackers for years, others go back home and start a completely different job from what they had done before. Very few people go back to their old job and most people want to become independent entrepreneurs when they come home. This is not very surprising considering backpackers spent months being independent, doing what they want, when they want, being inspired by many other people and by life itself.

I also talked with Steve about my blog. He suggested that I write a book based on my blog: realistic fiction with characters based on the people I’ve met during my travels. A very good idea, I believe; let’s see if I can realize this. Maybe I’ll become a famous writer, who knows! 😄

I had not been able to see half of the things I had wanted to see in Bogotá, but I realized that the distances in Colombia are just much bigger than I had expected. Well, I will just have to come back to see the rest another time.

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