If it wasn't for a trio of wonderfully hospitable Colombians, I would have said the 'B' in Bucaramanga stood for boring.
This is a population-dense city, full of sky-bridges crossing over busy streets. I don't see much in the way of large office buildings, but there's plenty of apartments and condos. This isn't a poor city, and from what I've seen I think a strong percentage of the 900,000+ inhabitants are middle or upper-class Colombian families.
There are no tourists here—not a single postcard to be found. As it compares to other cities in Colombia, Bucaramanga is an average, uninteresting metro with pleasant weather, and a name I love to say—Buk-er-rah-mahn-gah.
The tourist in me doesn't care for the lack of landmarks, but the traveler side of me loves being in place where locals are going about their daily lives, without impact from the tourism trade that drives so many other cities. I would have probably passed along in a day or two, if it wasn't for a three Colombian girls who took it upon themselves to show me a good time in and around the city during my time here.
The girls are all veterinary students attending a university in town. One afternoon I was taken out to a ranch (some distance from town) where one of them keeps her horse (she use to compete in expositions). All the girls have family farm land, and know how to ride. I had pretty entertaining time getting up on one for the second time in my life, putting around the grounds, surprisingly comfortable.
Other days have been filled with introductions to friends and family (I always enjoy seeing the inside of peoples homes); learning about some of the nuances of Colombian culture; an afternoon at a penthouse-level pool; drinks and dancing; a driving tour of the area; billiards followed by a stroll through a nice shopping mall (the girls were very entertained with how everyone stares at me—some snapping paparazzi style photographs); and many other unique experiences that I'll remember above many others.
Earlier in the week I took an afternoon trip and bused to Girón, a small, attractive colonial village half a dozen miles outside of Bucaramanga. So close to the city, I think it's more like a suburb than a town. Founded in 1631, city ordinances keep area looking historic—I enjoyed the look of the white-washed walls with brown trim. It was a nice to get out of the metro area and back onto cobbled streets for a few hours.
As I was walking around town, I popped into a shop where a man was in the process of creating what appeared to be a very large tablecloth with an elaborate raised pattern. It was interesting to watch this guy work—I chatted and observed for a good twenty minutes.
Some interesting motor culture here. Cars in Bucaramanga (and in the capital city of Bogotá) aren't allowed to drive during the morning and evening rush hours if their license plate ends in one of two designated no-drive numbers specified for that day of the week. Scooter and motorcycle riders have to wear a helmet and a vest or jacket with the plate number printed on it. And Bribing yourself out of trouble with the transit police is easy and common here; simply place a few thousand pesos in with your registration—ahem, your papers appear to be in order—and you're off. P$20,000 (about US$8) is usually more than enough to do the job.
They've got some good pizza here, and I might even go as far as to say that it rivals the tasty NYC variety. On the exotic side of the spectrum, Bucaramanga is known for the hormiga culona, a very large ant (only found in the immediate area) that is fried and eaten. The girls helped me find a vendor, who sold me a small bag containing a couple dozen for a cost of P$2,000 (about US$0.80). They crunch in your mouth, with a taste reminiscent of a peanut shell—not bad.
I'm not looking forward to the weather of Bogotá—sounds an awful lot like the cold mountain climate of Xela, Guatemala. I can't believe it's been nearly two weeks in this country already. I hear really nice things about Medellin, and hope to catch a rumored festival of music that is taking place sometime soon.