June 21, 2006 GMT

Turns out that my entry into Bogotį's south end is through the most unflattering corner of this mountain city. The north end of town hosts modern highrises, shopping malls, broad streets and my destination, Extreme Machines, the KTM dealer.

At an altitude of 2650 metres (8700 feet) above sea level, Bogotį might be a megacity with many faces but its climate is pretty consistent. Mid 20's C during the days, teens or less late in the night. Nevertheless, during a full day's outing in June it's smart to take suntan lotion, a fleece and an umbrella. The fleece is needed because of Bogotą's proximity to the equator, sundown (and sunrise) happens at 6 ish, all year long. Frequent rain showers ensure it remains a city of green, as befitting the capital of a lush country.

From happy hour to bewitching hour one can sit at a sidewalk table at one's favorite watering hole and under the pleasant heat of a propane heater (that looks like a low street lamp), one can smoke Cuban cigars, drink interesting bebidas and munch on comida favoured by Colombianos.

Founded in 1538, Bogotą has as its epi-centre Plaza Bolivar and the historic district of La Candelaria. Surrounding the spacious plaza are many edificios antiguas of the colonial period. Shown below are the Catedral built just after the city was founded. Bordering the square are the equally impressive Suprema de Justica, Alcaldģa Mayor de Bogotą and Capitolio Nacional. Judges, ministers, the mayor, the President of Colombia and God. Good company sharing the view of Plaza Bolivar.


Of course the churches and the plaza are popular places for folks to congregate. Oh, and did I mention my friends, the palomas (pigeons)? Caught in the spirit of socialization, they like to congregate too. Plaza only please.


Since a serious guerrilla attack wrecked the Corte Suprema de Justica in 1985, there is an equally serious presence of military surrounding the President's Palace. The guard below allowed his photo to be taken, but only after he moved to the opposite side of the street so I would not get the Palace in the background.


Equally on guard but hoping for a different outcome, the fruit vendor below sits patiently waiting for an invasion of tourist guerrillas. Rich, hungry tourists would be best. His chances are not good for competition is fierce and probably not one of the dozens of vendors are making a decent buck.


My residencia manager at Hotel del Norte also volunteers to be a guia, generousity typical of Colombianos. Maricio Garcķa-Herreros leads me downtown on the efficient but confusing TransMilenio public transport system. At one of vendors plying the La Candelaria I am charmed to learn a person can buy one cigarette at a time, as Maricio demonstrates.


To my mind Colombia is known for coffee so after a stroll through a basket and wood products street market, we find a coffee shop of oak tables with marble tabletops. The coffee is to die for, as Auntie Wally would say. The clear liquid in the shooter is aguardiente, a certified Colombian favorite. Tastes like annisette with a kick. Too many of those and I would be dying.


Katie gets top quality care from KTM Colombia. Principals Carlos and Juan Vela have a modern, super clean and efficient operation. Mechanics David Posada and Sebastian Villegos do a great job of making Katie as good as, or better than, new. Katie even gets a thorough wash - and wax! Now that's service.


An evening stroll downtown, because of the high security with police at almost every street corner, makes visiting La Candelaria caminando seguro (walking safe) and a delight. An evening rain shower glosses the Santander Plaza with reflections of night-time colours.


Since Bogotį is nestled against the high cordillera to the east it has expanded everywhere else in the shallow basin of La Sabana de Bogotą. The photo below, taken from the peak of Monserrate, shows the heart of downtown, La Candelaria, and surrounds. A rain shower has just drifted through, a common afternoon occurrence.


The forefathers didn't want a river running through so they paved overtop and called it Avenida Jģmenez de Quesada. Recently, when urban renewal plans were drawn up, city council had a change of heart. Now, in a tasteful design, the river shares the sunshine with the Avenida.


Sharing the avenida with the rģo is the new transportation system adopted from Europe. The TransMilenio uses articulating buses with two dedicated lanes each way on an expansive network of arteries servicing all quadrants of the city. Maricio reports the reduction in traffic since the new bus system came online in 2001 is dramatically noticable. That's great because to my way of thinking, it is the only transportation system here that is recognizably organized.


The TransMilenio paraderos (bus stops) are like C-Train stations, but simpler and more efficient. Just buy a credit card full of rides and scan the card at the turnstile. No cheating, no lines, no problems. Four to eight (you read that right) police officers, with handguns and bullet proof vests, descretely loiter about at each and every station.


Posted by Murray Castle at June 21, 2006 06:22 PM GMT

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