Cinderella of the Andes

Modern office buildings tower over centuries-old cathedral spires. Yellow, bug-like taxis dart past ragged horse carts. The electric pulse of international house music compliments a full repertoire of folkloric standards from the provinces. Contemporary art galleries and explosions of graffiti. Boutique hotels and backpacker hostels. Theatre festivals and street performers. Five-star restaurants and five-thousand-peso luncheonettes. Highlife on 93rd and whores on 23rd. Ten minutes of equatorial sun and ten hours of ice-cold rain. Vast flatness leading to a jagged horizon of green mountains, Monserrate and the Virgin Mary blessing the whole array. Developed-world comforts and developing-world chaos. Rags and riches. Bogotá is contrast, perched 9,000 feet above sea level. That’s high.

If the only picture you can come up with when you think Bogotá is bands of kidnappers and narco-traffickers ducking and shooting at each other through a veil of chicken feathers and dusty haze in a sweltering, tropical hellhole, you’ve been bamboozled like most of the world by erroneous Hollywood imagery and selective news reporting. The Colombian capital is at once New York, Denver, Zurich, and Mexico City: a (more than) mile-high city with inroads into finance, fashion, commerce, and design, ringed by colonial architecture and pockmarked by squalid refugee encampments. It is, at heart, an Andean metropolis, most people being reserved and stoic and polite; but the influence of the warmer regions of the country is felt throughout the city as music and food from Cali, Medellín, and both coasts add spice to Bogotá’s frigid, rarified air.

For 18 months, I lived in the historic district of La Candelaria, just south of modern downtown at the foot of Guadalupe, Bogotá’s answer to Rio’s Christ of Corcovado, and a stone’s throw away from the site of the current city’s founding in 1538 (the original inhabitants, the Muisca, had been there for centuries). Yes, I did see nuns slowly parading past pidgeons and soccer-playing schoolboys in the shadow of colonial church towers and indigenous Andean women lugging pack-laden llamas up and down cobblestone streets. I’d hang out at matchbox-sized salsa spots in Downtown and multi-story electronica clubs filled with drug-addled glamazons up in the Zona T. I’d take tango lessons on the 30th floor of the Residencias Tequendama or Afro-Brazilian dance classes at the Instituto Cultural Brasil-Colombia. Taxi drivers were nuts, buses jerky and old, and the TransMilenio crowded, but there was always somewhere to go: cruising at Gran Estación over in Ciudad Salitre, catching the ever-changing exhibits Downtown at MAMBO, chilling at Juan Valdez in Chapinero or Andino, or seeing an art film at Cine Club El Muro‘s various participating theatres. There’s the world’s best burgers at La Hamburguesería in La Macarena and Ciclovía Sundays on the Séptima, where the whole city turns out on foot, bikes, or roller blades to take it all in. There’s Rock al Parque and Salsa al Parque and Hip-Hop al Parque, and in this corner of South America, Bogotá’s the only place to catch the Black Eyed Peas, Caetano Veloso, Lenny Kravitz (though he “got sick” and cancelled), and Kylie Minogue (eh, not so into her, but…).

I had to move because my job there paid peanuts, but there’s much to miss about Bogotá (except the weather…think springtime London), which is why I’m there every chance I get. And it gets better cada vez.

Please don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @FlyBrother, and “like” me on Facebook! You can subscribe, too! ;-)

Get in a Travelin’ Mood

A true Fly Brother or Sister is restless. He or she cannot stay put in one place for very long, lest neurosis set in. But many aspirants are not yet in the habit of stepping out the front door for anything other than work, personal errands, or picking up the Sunday paper.

With Netflix, broadband, and on-demand cable, there’s no reason to leave home. For many people, being home is comfortable, as it should be. But for many of those same people, the idea of travel, of experiencing something different, is an actual desire that they may not yet know how to turn into a reality. And it’s much easier (and cheaper) to catch an episode of Wild On: Panama than to actually get crunk in Panama (Panamá, that is, not Florida).

Well, I’m here to change all that. You’ve already ordered your passport, but while you’re waiting the six weeks for it to arrive, you can get your minds right and get out of the house!

Honestly, it’s as simple as gassing up the car, breaking out the Rand McNally, and hitting the road.

(This may be a little difficult for car-less folk, but we’ll make the assumption that most of that group lives in the Northeast and has rail and bus access to other cities.)

Day trips are a great way to ease yourself into more extensive travel. There’s much of America to be explored within a couple-hours’ drive of wherever you are. And if the mood strikes and the finances are right, weekend road-trips can always be arranged. Though the more the merrier, even solo soldiers can discover their surroundings and catch the adventure bug.

For day trips, fuel is usually the primary cost factor (“costly” being an understatement these days). But to compensate, stop by a grocery store and stock up on fruit and snacks, or maybe pack a cooler with some lunchmeat and a loaf of bread. It sounds collegiate, but college is where you should have learned how to live lean but still live. You can be grand and get the deli-sliced imported turkey from France to go with your Grey Poupon, but it’s still more fun and less time consuming than wasting hours waiting for food in a restaurant when you should be enjoying the journey (unless, of course, that particular restaurant is a focus of the trip…some folks drive hours just for some Jenkins’ Barbecue in Jacksonville, Florida).

Don’t know where to go? Most large cities in coastal states, even if they aren’t located on beaches themselves, are within a two hour drive of a beach or waterfront area. National and state parks are always excellent bets for nature lovers (the National Park Foundation offers a great $80 twelve-month pass to all US national parks that require an entrance fee…more incentive to get outdoors). Alternative newspapers like the Village Voice, Washington City Paper, or Creative Loafing are loaded with info about places to go in and more importantly out of the immediate vicinity (usually just the print versions, though). Also, most cities and regions of the country have ready-made Internet guides with insight on where to go, where to eat, where to shop, and where to stay. Use an Internet seach engine to find local city guides and tourism websites, as well as other independent sources. Among some of the day tripping websites that caught our eye:

USAToday offers a great article on “seven fabulous escapes” from New York City.

AllAcrossTexas.com has a section that features day trips from all the major Texas cities like Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio.

Day trips around the nation’s capital, Washington DC, are even outlined on the US Senate website in a comprehensive, if not graphically appealing way.

ATLiens are blessed with both urban and rural excursions nearby, as covered by the Journal-Constitution‘s day trip page, while Viator serves up info (and prices) for South Floridians needing a break from the 305.

Chicagoans can hit up Metra’s “day trips by train” page and not have to shovel their car out until Monday morning.

And when it’s not raining in Southern California (they tell me never), check out Travels.com’s LA page.

In fact, Viator and Travels.com have the most comprehensive listing of interesting excursions that I’ve found, covering almost the entire US.

Lastly, if you still need advice on where to go for a day or quick weekend escape, ask around. Surely your friends, neighbors, co-workers, or even strangers might have an idea of something, anything to do that doesn’t involve a remote control.

Please don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @FlyBrother, and “like” me on Facebook! You can subscribe, too! ;-)