Tuesday, May 15, 2007

More Colombia Chronicles

Now, on with day 4, the 8th of May. It was a very foggy morning, which was unfortunate because the place I was about to go next was known for its great view of the city. We took a beautiful cable car ride to the top of Monserrate Hill(wikipedia has a pretty complete page on this... considering it is a hill in South America... wikipedia is so great...). During the little cable car's long climb to the top of the hill, we could see parts of the faint foot trail to the top. As the top features a 17th century church, many pilgrims show their devotion by climbing up this dangerous looking path. It was raining lightly on this particular day, so I didn't get to see anyone struggling up the steps.

Here's a nice shot while we are awaiting our cabled chariot from the sky.

A foggy view of downtown Bogota.

The city is slowly being sucked up by the mists.

Once at the top, we had a nice lunch at Saint Clair's House restaurant. We sat by one of the many large windows so that we could continue to enjoy the view through the clear patches in the deep haze that hung over the city below. Apparently the house was built in some other town, but it was later moved to the top of this hill. Why you would move a house up what is almost a mountain, not to mention how, was not explained, but still entertaining to imagine. I had a glass of wine that was warmed up with spices, the taste of the alcohol is strengthened, but so was the flavor and aroma of the wine.

Here's a view of the restaurant. Notice the giant religious statue on the hill in the distance.

After a light lunch, we continued to what is the main attraction of the hill, the little chapel. The Colombians have an interesting way of depicting religious characters. While we generally just have white statues of saints and whatnot, the statues that I saw here were much more graphic, and a lot less peaceful looking. The statue of Jesus at this small church was almost too much to look at. The skin was the color of a man who had spent his life under a harsh sun. His crown of thorns caused blood to run down over his face. It looked like more of a wax replica than a statue.

An outside area of the church is covered in small plaques. When people pray to the scary Jesus statue, and get what they want, they buy a thank you stone and place it here.

After another fun ride on the sky ride, we were ready to continue our exploration of downtown Bogota. One of the big things I was interested in seeing was a bull fight. Apparently the Spanish tradition has a firm footing in this country as well. Unfortunately there is only a short season for the fights.. Oh well, something to look forward to I guess. One of the most interesting sites on the whole trip was near the bull fighting ring. The Museo del Oro(Museum of Gold) contains countless examples of golden artifacts crafted by Pre-Hispanic peoples. At times, the level of detail that these people put into their work was amazing. If one can make generalities, many of the artifacts fell into two groups. Some were for emphasizing the power of the ruler at the time, making him seem more stable and awe inspiring. Things such as large breastplates and masks could make a normal person seem like a god. The other large group of artifacts revolved around the shamans of the civilizations. The gold figures depicted the powers of the shamans, and the terrifying creatures that they could transform themselves into. With our little audio guide/players, we walked around to each of the cases and listened to an explanation, by the time we got to the second floor though, the sheer mass of information and material there causes us to wander and only listen to the especially interesting exhibits.

An interesting side note. The legend of El Dorado, the lost city of gold, originated from stories about these gold covered people living in present day Colombia.

A popular motif in the leaders' accessories was the jaguar.

Here are a couple of implements for the use of coca leaves. They are shaped to symbolize man and woman.

Some pretty excellent headgear.

At one point in the museum, I turned and realized that a small group of school children were standing motionless and staring at me. Among other mumblings, "where are you from?" seemed to be the question coming from them. I replied with a deep "Estados Unidos". Angelica said that their next question was "where is that?". I think that this is a nice illustration of the situation in the country. Even in Bogota, a city of over 6 million inhabitants, I rarely saw a white person. I think that until just recently, tourists have avoided this place because of the threats involved. The fact that the government has been pushing the crazies farther away from the popular areas means that this place will be crawling with annoying foreigners in no time, for better or worse. In the mean time though, I can enjoy being an oddity in a strange land.

After another long, but satisfying day, it was time to go back to Angelica's home and do some quick packing for our next excursion. More on that next time.

A Colombian airport is quite a large pile of confusion.

Having spent some time in such a wonderful place makes my current reality a bit more harsh. After sitting in my little gray box for a week, its time for my weekend reward. Tomorrow starts an over 8 hour drive trip to Saginaw, MI. Ought to be cold and dull. Exciting.