The Last Bit: Mongui and Bogotá
Mongui is an odd little place. It is almost 3000m above sea level, is in gorgeous hilly countryside and has a lovely square with some great buildings. Outside the main bits, it is a bit scruffy. Think of a scruffy Switzerland about 100 years ago, before they managed to invest all that loot the Nazi’s stole, put in Swiss banks and were unable to pick up when they lost.
Our hotel – the Otti Colonial - was one of the smarter places in town but the bar was low. Some reviews describe it as ‘authentic’. I think ‘authentic’ means that small animals live in the wooden roof, occasionally poo on the bed and make the place stink of rat pee. We had booked a king bed and got a king bed, in a room approximately the size of a king bed. J and I had to coordinate movement around the place and if one of us was dressing, the other could only stand next to the door. Other than that the place was great. Well, it had a small garden that was a real sun trap and they sold good wine by the bottle……..
J and I took a walk to the towns ‘Pena’ (a big rocky hill) about 2km outside town. The way out is mostly uphill and at 3000m above sea level, that gets one panting a bit. The hill is nothing special, but there are lovely views and it is a really nice walk. It also gave us the justification to have a good lunch, followed by a good supper…..
I am glad we stopped off there: the architecture is a little different and it was great to be in the clean, cool mountain air.
We drove back to Bogotá on the main route, having had our fill of car based adventures, and stopped off at the salt mines at Nemacon, about 30km north of Bogota. The mines are no longer working and are now a reasonably well oiled tourist attraction.
You have to go down the mine with a guide who provides an interesting running commentary but only in Spanish. Our Spanish has come along heaps in the past few months so were able to roughly follow him but not quiet closely enough. For a while we were convinced that 33 miners had died down there in an accident, then we decided that 33 miners had been trapped down there. It was a about half way through the tour that we realised that the film ‘Los 33”, about the Chilean miners trapped in a Chilean mine was filmed there.
They’ve done a good job to make the mine visually engaging and a good experience so it was a interesting way to spend a couple of hours.
Back to Bogotá
Driving in Bogotá is not for the faint hearted. To survive you need to be both defensive and aggressive, wth eyes everywhere at all times. Indicators are used sparingly and often do not indicate where the vehicle is going. A left indicator from a slow moving truck can either mean it is safe to pass or ‘I am turning left’, and you don’t want to get that wrong. Motorcyclists can be all around you, passing both sides at the same time and for extra excitement there are frequent huge potholes that need to be swerved around. If you aren’t prepared to join in and go with the flow, you become a liability and may never get anywhere. All that said, in amongst all this seems to be a reasonable amount of kindness; no one is trying to kill you, people often let you in to a line of traffic and as long as you are prepared to learn and play by the rules, you’re going to be ok.
We stayed in the same area as we were in when we arrived on 1st Nov and it felt very comfortable and familiar whilst at the same time being a reminder that the 1st of Nov was a world away in terms of our experience. For the first couple of days in Colombia we were paranoid about safety, we could just about order a beer in Spanish and were was a post Egypt/Jordan culture shock. This time, we could do pretty much everything we needed to in Spanish (bad Spanish, but we are largely understood), we felt as comfortable about our our security as we would in any big city and we had probably visited more of Colombia than most Colombians, so we felt we understood the place a bit more.
We didn’t do a hell of a lot in the city; washed the car and returned it, ate well, went on an Emerald tour to learn about both the Black Market sellers and how to spot a good one (www……….it’s a good tour), and did some hard core organising for Cuba.
We had our farewell dinner in the downtown Andres Carne de Res after enjoying a round of 3 for 1 cocktails. It was great fun, seemed like a good idea at the time, but seemed like less of a good idea when we got up at 4am to catch our flight to Cuba.
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