August 17, 2006

Impressed
Bogotá, Colombia

Dabbling in a bit of tourism during my final two days in Bogotá did not leave me disappointed.

Cerro de Monserrate

I stood in amazement as an endless sea of concrete buildings stretched further and further towards the white horizon, every few seconds revealing thousands of unseen streets, homes, and businesses. I was ascending gently on a teleférico (cable car) up a mountain overlooking the city center.

The cable car deposited me inside a small religious complex on the summit. A pleasant church stands here, hosting the statue of Señor Caído (Fallen Christ), to which many miracles have been attributed.

It was a cold and drizzly afternoon—I was wearing every piece of warm clothing I owned—but the sky broke enough to release the majority of the capital from its cloudy grip. The sight of so much city was stunning; its presence powerful.

I sat, soaked in the view, and observed the other visitors. Accompanied by a pair of British girls, they remarked that I was the youngest person they had ever seen smoking a pipe. They were entertained, and I always enjoy the curious stares this activity brings from locals and travelers. In a world of furiously inhaled cigarettes, my casual pipe puffing is unusual and antiquated.

Catedral de Sal

A two hour journey north out of Bogotá took me (and four other backpackers) to the largest mountain salt reserve in the world. Located near the town of Zipaquirá, indigenous populations have been mining this mountain of salt for centuries, and it's within its depths that an amazing cathedral has been created.

A guided tour escorts you down into a labyrinth of large passageways, blasted and chiseled out of salt. The composition and texture of the walls varies at different depths. Lighting has been placed with great care and precision, many on dissolving color wheels. You can hear gentle, spiritual music in the distance—the ambiance is tranquil, mysterious.

Earlier in the 20th century a chapel was created inside the mountain for the deeply Catholic salt miners. Eventually the structural stability of the resource was questioned, and consequently closed. In the early 90's an architect and his laborers spent three years constructing the impressive complex I visited today.

Descending down a tunnel, soft blue and white illuminated walls of chiseled salt reveal over a dozen massive, rectangular caverns—former points of intense underground excavation. Each of these caverns, and a handful of points along the tunnel, has been transformed into the 14 Stations of the Cross. The stations can look similar to each other, but the guide explained the architect's intent, and what he was expressing with the use shape, wall composition, and light.

The smell of sulfur grew as we proceeded deeper into the mountain, finally arriving at the climax of the complex: the principle cathedral cavern.

Containing the largest underground cross in the world, the magnificent cavern and its adjoining rooms can hold up to 8,400 people. Apparently you can rent the cathedral or an adjacent cavern out for weddings and concerts (the acoustics are amazing). When I asked how much it would cost to rent for a wedding the reply surprised me—only US$150.

The mountain is still being mined for salt, and is expected to continue to offer up this resource for the next 500 years.

Frustrated

My apologies for the lackluster Salt Cathedral images; photography inside the cave was difficult because of the lack of light and stable surfaces. I'm also having problems getting my camera to fire the flash. It's been a problem that has been increasing in frequency, now to the point where I can count on it to not work more often than it does. I'm still trying to troubleshoot—it might be a problem with the rechargeable AA batteries that I'm using. There are some good images on the cathedral's Web site though.

Entertaining

The trio of British girls that accompanied Aaron the Aussie and I to the cathedral rolled their eyes and gave me a bit of a hard time this afternoon.

After making pleasant small-talk on the TransMilenio ride out of town, three Colombian high school girls broke out their camera and asked to swap e-mail addresses and have their photo taken with me. Click! went the digital camera (a dozen times over) in the crowded, standing-room only bus. Their twenty-something teacher wasn't particularly pleased—maybe she would have been happier with a photo herself… hehehe

A Word About Ego

Men and their ego's are very interesting things. Such a sensitive component of the male psyche, ego factors into most every facet of a man's life. I think most guys don't realize exactly how much it affects their daily actions—the ability to step back and analyze the personal impact varies from man to man.

I honestly don't get an inflated ego when events like the TransMilenio trio happen. I acknowledge it, find it flattering and of course very entertaining, but I'm humble enough not to let it go to my head. I only mention it in this medium because I do find it to be an interesting part of the culture of Colombia.

That being said, a gentle stroking of the ego is nice to have every now and again, and this country seems to like to pet it like one would a warm, sunbathing cat. I can imagine a young, blond, British teenager on holiday here feeling like a god. He would get noticed here—something that might not happen at home.

Mystery Solved

The other day I commented on how I found it interesting that motorbike riders are required to have their plate number printed on a vest/jacket and helmet; I believe I now know why. It would seem that drive-by shootings were (are?) a big problem in the country, and many murders involved the use of motorcycles. A Colombian told me that the law was passed to help curb the problem.

Onward

I'm jumping on a bus tonight—off to go play with the beautiful Colombians of Medellín. I hear it's a three-day weekend because of a holiday on Monday; the nightlife should be exceptionally vibrant.

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