Monday, August 30, 2010

Bogota Part 2

When we told friends that we were going to Colombia they sort of gave us a half crooked WTF smile as if we had some sort of death wish, like we were going to end up bound and gagged in a FARC camp for the next dozen years or so. I can sort of see where they were coming from; in the past Colombia has had a crime ridden reputation for drugs, kidnappings, and murders. Those thoughts did minimally cross my mind like when we made a left turn instead of a right one when we wandered out of the Candelalria district. Let’s face it, crime happens everywhere and I would say Bogota is just about as dangerous as any other big city in the States.

Overall Bogota is pleasant and the consensus between Ana and I is that Colombia needed further exploration. We did take a half-day trip out of the city to the touristic pueblo of Zipaquirá known for their salt mines and the underground Salt Cathedral. The drive there was educational. Here is what we learned. August is the kite season and there were many roadside vendors selling them. The offerings ranged from simplistic flat constructions to elaborate multi-level 3D shapes. The Ninja College (literal translation) is also on the way to Zipaquirá. Something my brother explained to us about the motorcycle riders is that by law they are required to wear a reflective vest and helmet with their license plate number visible. This is to curb any would be assassins. Apparently many assassinations were carried out on a bike as to maneuver through traffic rapidly and make a quick getaway. As a gesture of goodwill and support giving "thumbs up" to the soldiers at army check points along any given road will earn you brownie points and a thumbs up in reply.

Around almost every corner in Zipaquirá were speared meats cooking over an open flame. And for the record I have to state that the best steak I've ever had was on this trip. I'm not just saying that because I was caught up in the moment, we had it on 3 occasions and it was a grand slam every time.In Zipaquirá there is a street called Calle Inferno ("the road to hell" mind you).

More Zipaquirá

The Virgin and Jesus overlooking Zipaquirá.

Sister Joanne, Brother Tom, and Wifey Ana

A one-legged solider metal sculpture made from recycled parts.

The cathedral in the main square. Later when we went to the Zipaquirá museum, there was an older photograph taken during the mid-late 80's of the square with its' lush plants and trees juxtaposed to a recent one. What a contrast. I made a faux pas statement. Instead of asking the girl at the museum (as Tom suggested) "que piensas sobre la plaza nueva?" (What do you think about the new square), I said pointing to the older picture "antes, la plaza muy bonita, ahora esta fea!" (before, the square was very beautiful, now it is ugly!") Thankfully she agreed.

From grass to bricks. Que fea!

A funeral had just ended as we tried to enter and just as we stepped through the door we were kindly asked to leave.

I wanted to ride the horsey, but Ana said I was too big for them.

The Colombian precursor to Kin Casali's Love Is... comic strip.

Love is...Gag me with a spoon!

The afternoon would come to a screeching halt in the town of Chia at Andres Carne de Res
You might be asking what is Andres Carne de Res? Think of it as a visionary environment akin to Howard Finster's Paradise Garden or Tressa Prisbrey's Bottle Village if food and drink were involved. However you wish to describe it, the food is delicious and Tom said this IS a destination spot.

An article by Tracey Eaton from the Dallas Morning News sums up Andres Carne de Res pretty well. To read it click here.

Corked cow.

The inside doesn't fare much better as items are clumped together with some sort of a controlled chaos element involved in it. There were performances, singers, and magicians. Your bill came in a metal box with a bag of assorted candy. If you were lucky enough you made it out of there alive. The trick is to arrive early and claim your table. The word is that most people are committed to making a day out of it.

For some reason my brother wanted me to take a photo underneath the sign, good thing it came out dark.

The menu comes in a metal box on a scroll. The extensive offering provides a nice workout for the biceps.

I want one in my yard too!

Ciclovia. Every Sunday in Bogota certain lanes and/or streets are closed to automobiles and are made as designated bike paths. This last from the hours of 7 or 8 am until 2 pm. Joanne even said that there are aerobics outside the Santa Barbara Mall, though she suggested that some appropriate attire should be mandatory. This seems to be a progressive idea in making the city healthy and active. I know I was wishing for my bike.

Calentado-traditional Colombian breakfast (a friend egg, beans, rice, chorizo, and hoago. Most breakfast places we ate at started off with a basket of assorted breads.

Sunday is also known as a flea market day. Joanne hyped about the one downtown. Ana and I rode a cab there prior to attending the bullfights to see what the hype was. It's a good thing we don't live in Bogota; I can see a good portion of my paycheck being spent there. Why the above painting was made is much of a mystery to me as it is to you. Maybe she is looking for her friend who fell off the bed?

Need an old telephone paperweight/weapon? If you had one in each hand you could do some serious curls.

A luxurious pinhole camera. We had a photo made and it took about 15 minutes, just enough time to enjoy some local ice cream. Ana had the coconut and mine tasted like sweet goat cheese on a stick.

Plaza de Toros Santa Maria. There was one line for the men and one for the women to enter the plaza. Most people brought their own snacks and drinks. Leaflets were distributed asking people to keep the art alive in Colombia warning not to take the path like in Northern Spain (Catalonia) where it will be outlawed beginning in 2012.

Presenting the 5 novilleros (amateur/novice matadors). The professional Bullfight season in Bogota is Jan-Feb

There was rain, and the audience was well prepared.

We left after the disastrous 4th bull. Novillo Santiago Sanchez Mejia first brought on his mother and brother into the arena. The bull was released and he took the first two passes lying down then it was all show from there. It is one thing to show off if you can produce the goods, but when the bull snags your capote a couple of times, rejects your swords for ten minutes, you are going to get a rather civilized audience angry and bottles thrown at you. Sadly this was Santiago's fate. There were some promising future matadors, the third one Manolo Castaneda, proved ready for the big league as he earned himself an oreja (ear) that afternoon.

Be looking for me on the Antiques Road Show in the near future. One of the booths at the flea market had some poorly pulled Picasso etchings on weathered paper. On the backs of them are museum certificates and stamps. There is even a stamped and a signed Christie’s authentication. The guy before me bought 5 and I picked-up 3. For less than $10 each, why the hell not.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Bogota part 1

In keeping with the "if you invite us, we'll show up" theme, we decided to take my brother and his wife up on their offer to come and visit them in Bogota, Colombia. It would be our 5th continent in a year and our first time going south of the equator and just in case if you’re wondering "which direction does the toilet water swirl when it is flushed?" I didn't really pay it another blown opportunity. But one thing my mom did tell me growing up is that on the equator you get 12 hours of sun light, my sister in-law and the sun confirmed this.

We flew out of LAX and switched planes in Panama City. The skyline along the coast is amazing then you feel a little short changed when you land at the airport, which a good distance from the city. FYI don’t expect to finding reading material or a Hudson News type of shop at the airport in Panama, now if you need a pair of Lacoste shoes or a big screen TV you’re in luck. We found our little plane bound for Bogota. My brother met us just as we found ourselves at the end of a long line to customs and we were quickly escorted to the express one designated for VIP types which we hardly fit the bill, but I wasn't going to pitch a fit or much less ask any questions.

The road in and out of the airport is under construction and resembles a labyrinth at night. We arrived back at their place and took the elevator to their penthouse which overlooked the city and what a view it has at any hour of the day. We chatted awhile while admiring their digs until bedtime. We were nice enough to bring some sunshine in the land of erratic weather; Joanne had mentioned that when my niece was there earlier in the summer it rained pretty much every day. Que lastima!
The living room looking out to the balcony. My brother had his own Sapo game out there.

We were told that since the weather was cooperating that we should take advantage of the view at Cerro de Monserrate. We took a taxi through the hills outlying Bogota to the base of the hill and waited in line for the was that or the teleferico. Bogota's elevation is already 8,300 ft. above sea level, and from where this photo was taken we were about 10,400 ft. up. Amazing views all around.

Aside from the church, there were the 14 Stations of the Cross, food vendors, restaurants, and souvenir stalls.

Another view of the city center.

The clouds opposite of the city reaching into the hills.

Stained glass in the sanctuary.

Local cuisine.

There wasn't much of a crowd in the morning.

Who doesn't love a llama ride?

Mueso de Trajes Regionales is tucked away in La Candelaria district (old part of town). There were quite a few of the traditional wears on Colombians and the history. I was more into what some of the tribes wore along the Amazon region. You can see where George Lucas might have borrowed his Ewok ideas from.

Juan Manuel Santos was recently elected president of Colombia with almost 70% of the vote. We just happened to be in town during his inauguration. People are hoping he continues similar policies the former president Alvaro Uribe had set in making Colombia a safer country by containing the drug cartels and FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia/Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-a violent Marxist guerrilla group). Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez stated that he wanted his country to improve relationships with Colombia and flew into the country the day we departed. A few days later a car bomb went off not far from where we stayed, it is suspected that the FARC was involved. Ubire has accused Chavez of allowing the FARC to set up camp in Venezuela. As much as a police state Bogota appears to be with all the police and the strong military presence, there were signs of discontent with the newly elected president.

Plaza de Bolivar was busy with students and government officials. Security was high as the workers were setting up for the inauguration.

You love the hat! A guard outside the gate of Palacio de Narino

Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Carmen in La Candelaria

Several years ago after watching a 60 Minutes segment on Fernando Botero, I dismissed him for one reason or another perhaps I was put off by his ego. He has made the claim that he is "the most Colombian of Colombian artists." Now, I was confronted with this orange-obsessed, obese figure painting/sculpting artist and I have to admit that his paintings won me over. Just in case your life doesn't have enough Botero, his museum near Plaza de Bolivar just might be the fix you need.

The Botero Museum not only houses his work, but his collection as well. You will find a Picasso, de Chirico, Max Ernst, and many other heavy hitters.

When the guard wasn't looking I touched this sculpture. Truth be told...I have touched a lot of famous paintings and sculptures. Name the artist and I most likely touched one of his/her pieces in my 20 or so years of doing this. It's something I'm not really proud of; it's more like an obsession.

You might ask why Botero's figures are slightly overweight; this might clue you in dear reader.

Somewhere in-between the Botero Museum and Casa de la Moneda there was an exhibit of dead nun paintings. Unfortunately, there were no postcards of the images in the museum shop, but the postcards they did carry were a bit steep, over a dollar each. And if that wasn't bad enough sending one will set you back almost $4 with no guarantee of it getting there.

A Medina favorite.

At one time Usaquen was a little town on the edge of Bogota, now it sports a Carrefour, Hacienda Santa Barbara (a maze of a house turned mall-maybe MC Escher might have had a hand in the design), boutiques, and hip trendy bars and restaurants. You can even find a Bogota Brewery IPA on draft at the Irish Pub. There are rustic pizzas, Mexican food, and just about everything in between. Not as crowded or congested as Zona Rosa and plenty of room in the square to walk off your meals as you peak at the crafts the hippies are selling on the sidewalk. The streets on the weekend turn into a makeshift flea market in addition to the main one in a large parking lot.

One of the trendy restaurants I'm talking about. I'm sure if this was back in the States it would not only be a fire hazard, but the cost of the termite bond would be ridiculous.

Super Whopper King anybody?

Street art on the way to Andino Mall in trendy Zona Rosa.

Andino Mall has bears...

...and a giant eagle swooping down on large poisionous frog sculptures.

The charm of Andino Mall wore off quickly and next on the list was Plaza de Toros (Santa Maria Bullring) and as good fortune would have it, there would be a free bullfight in our near future.

More sour grapes of Santo's victory.