When I went back to the HSBC bank to try to get more money the next day, I took a wrong turn and happened to see another bank that I had not tried. Although I had tried five other banks, much to my surprise, at this bank my card worked! It is BanColombia and I see they are in many other cities, too, so I think I’m in the clear about money!
A hostaler, John, from Australia and I had a beer at a local beerplace; then he showed me a good restaurant where he had eaten. It was a little hole-in-the-wall, with excellent food. I had a hearty soup with good salsa to add, (this is called Ajiaco Santafereno), chicken breast (which didn’t come from a freezer), beans, rice, salad, fried plantains and French fries. John left for a week’s trek in the mountains. It’s really cool here in Bogota—I would think the mountains would be freezing!
The next day I made some museum rounds. Luckily the Capilla del Sagrario was open, which is next to the Cathedral, and much more interesting. A nun reading in the church was kind enough to answer my question about some Vasquez paintings and when I asked if I could take her photo, she agreed.
Unfortunately one museum and one church were closed, but I did find the Museo de Trajes Regionales, which was lovely. Many of these small museums are in old colonial houses, which are fun to see, too. It showed the various ways of doing weaving and lacework, one of which was called Frivolidad, which we called tatting—my mother used to do it. They also had a nice piece about women who were heros in the Revolution, 59 of which were executed! It focused on a woman named Manuela Saenz, who eventually became Simon Bolivar’s mistress and managed to save his life from assassination more than once.
I went on to the Museo del 20 de Julio, which declared (on a wall) that museums must change with the times and so this museum had been updated just recently. Well, they were trying for the dramatic, I guess, which involved dark halls leading to dimly lit columns with paintings in them, which one couldn’t see well and couldn’t read the descriptions. I was afraid of tripping and falling. People over 60 (me) get in free—-I can see why—none of us over 60 could see anything! The museum celebrates an important date in the Revolution of 1810. A statue of two men fighting commemorates a fight that started that supposedly led to a broken vase and to the start of the Revolution.
Then I went back to the Museo del Oro for another look at some of the special items. This time I also attended the five-minute depiction of gold objects being sacrificed in a sacred lake, with authentic-sounding chanting. I took some more photos, too—one can’t help it! One I retook depicts the king being covered with gold, riding on a gold raft and sacrificing gold objects into the lake.
Although I was ambivalent about the excursion, I decided to take the TransMilenio city bus and then another to go the 53 km to Zipaqueria to see the Salt Cathedral. Salt mining has been done near Zipaqueria for a long time. It’s dangerous so as they dug new tunnels, altars were erected. The old mine became too dangerous for tourists to visit, so they dug a new mine right in town. They really did mine the salt, but the religious altars (the Fourteen Stations of the Cross) seemed kind of contrived, all lit in different colors. Of course ‘Ave Maria’ was playing on the sound system. I found the walking difficult as the floor was rough, a little slippery and so dark. At one point a 35ish woman took hold of my hand to help me, and we just kept walking that way, much to my relief. My balance isn’t what it used to be, especially when it’s dark. The woman had a husband and two children with her, so we struck up a friendship, conversing (as best I could) in Spanish. At the end, I suggested a coffee/coke in their little coffee shop and we had more conversation. What a nice family!
I ate ‘linner’ in Zipaqueria—excellent typical set meal. Then I got my bus and fell asleep, missing my stop where I was to transfer at Portal Norte. When I finally asked about my stop, the conductor said we were way past that. Well, I got a taxi and it was many miles; luckily we found the hostal without any trouble. The meter said 12,700 pesos but he looked at a chart and said the charge was 10,000, which is a little under $5.00. Pretty nice!
On Friday I, again, took the very efficient TransMilenio city bus to Portal Norte. They have special ‘islands’ mid-street that look like subway stations above ground. Some years ago the city bus ‘system’ was thousands of independently operated ‘busetas.’ Former Mayor Enrique Penalosa, known to be an outstanding urban planner, was the instigator of the change.
At Portal Norte I got a bus to Tunja, way up in the mountains making it a pretty bus ride. The city is at 9,100 feet elevation, plus the town is all on a steep hill. That is HIGH! I walked with my pack from the bus station about five long blocks, all uphill, which completely exhausted me!
The town is lovely with a pretty plaza. There was one slight problem, though, with the street signs. My map’s signs were all numeric, For example, my map showed a street as ‘carrera 4’ or ‘calle 10’ (the carreras go one way and the calles the opposite, making it easy to find) but all the street signs had names, not numbers. I gather that they also retain their traditional names as these were what were on the corners; then somebody had gotten a little too creative so those were hard to read!
There were many beautiful churches, some of which have Mudejar ceilings—combining Spanish and Islamic influences. The Santa Barbara church, built in 1599, was splendiferous. The Santo Domingo, even more so. On one altar they incorporated the Sun, which was a Muisca deity, which I’m sure helped convert them.
A chapel was called “The Sistine Chapel of New Granada’s Art.” It was very beautiful!
Two of the museums in old colonial houses were fascinating. The Casa del Fundador Suarez Rendon was the original home of the founder of Tunja, built in 1559. It was right on the Plaza Bolivar. It had some pretty Spanish tiles, and some weird ceiling paintings that were only discovered when a ceiling collapsed.
A second museum was the Casa de Don Juan de Vargas, also built in the 1500’s. He was a scribe and had a large library on European art and architecture, ancient Greece and Rome, religion and natural history. Apparently these books were the source of the paintings on the ceilings that were done by local artisans.
In this house they were even more elaborate. There was also a small collection of Muisca pottery.
While there was quite a bit of English spoken in Bogota, out in the hinterlands there wasn’t. Although I’m mostly able to say what I want in Spanish, I can hardly understand anything said to me. Most of the problem is that I simply don’t know it well enough, but there are pronunciation differences, too. One day a waitress said I owed ‘sa-meel.’ I was at a loss until I figured that she was saying seis (says) meel, meaning ‘six thousand.’ The double l (ll) in Mexican Spanish is ‘ya’ but here it sounds like ‘ach.’ And then the guide at one of the museums talked faster than I’ve ever heard anyone speak. I couldn’t begin to understand what she was saying. But I’m still plugging along with my half-hour Spanish lessons every day that I listen to on my iPod.
In Tunja most people wore typical Western dress, but occasionally one would see more rustic clothing. I did see someone leading a burro through the street. Tunja, population 150,000, is the capital city of the Department (state) of Boyaca, the highest in elevation in Colombia.
Sunday brought out families to the Plaza Bolivar, and also was ‘funeral’ day. There were notices posted by each church, and I saw many people all dressed up heading to these churches, presumably for funerals.
Certainly the Police are a big presence in Colombia. I often ask them for directions as they are always right there. To me that seems comforting, but who knows how it works here. When I was leaving for Villaleyva I asked a policeman in front of the bus station where I needed to go to get a van to Villaleyva. He pointed, and I thanked him, but he said, no, he would accompany me, which he did. We walked about a block where there were many small buses parked; he discussed things with a driver of one, and motioned me into the bus.
Villaleyva is a small town of 8,000 people, hardly changed in 400 years. They have even hidden the electric and phone wires downtown (buried?), which I’ve never seen before in Latin America. It is absolutely PERFECT! It has a huge Plaza Major with a charming little church and a 400-year-old fountain in the middle, which was the water source for the town. The large cobblestones are authentic, but a little hard to walk on! The altitude is about 7,000 feet so it’s still a little cool, but lovely.
I explored the town and then had linner in a bar-be-que place, which I had seen when I was walking in from the bus station. The quality of the beef was excellent, but unfortunately they had overcooked it a bit, so the whole meal was kind of dry. I drank two beers to juice it up a bit.