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Our second attempt to enter Colombia was not thwarted, nor was Jason detained or probed.

Bogota was much more charming than one might expect. In North America, the only mass-media portrayals of Bogota and Colombia seem to be of drug smugglers, guns, or chicken-infested podunk airports. We saw none of that.

Our hotel was in Zona T, one of several trendy areas in the city, and I’m happy to report it was much more pleasant than our lodging in Lima. Venturing into Zona T at night (yes, it is safe), we were reminded of South Beach. Light strobed and music blared from trendy clubs, bars and restaurants. Sushi, Thai, fusion, ceviche, and other New York or Miami staples were on offer. And wealthy, fashionable city dwellers sported tight jeans, visible thongs, stilettos and wraparound sunglasses. Shops sold Versace and Diesel. A local Harley Davidson club showed off hogs on a closed off street.

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It was as surprising to see a Harley Davidson club in Colombia as it was in Indonesia. Colombia has some very cosmopolitan areas.

The next day, we cabbed it to the city center. Breakfast was at an old cafeteria type place, with a lot of elderly regulars and decaying diner decor that hadn’t changed since maybe the forties. We were obvious gringos, but it was a fun experience. Small empanadas were delicious — meat and potatoes inside a fried corn pastry. Every South American country we’ve been to has its own ways of making empanadas; for instance, we had giant, mutant dinner-plate sized ones in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

We walked around the pretty colonial buildings a bit, though police guards with massive guns (okay we did see a few guns in Bogota) made it feel less jolly. The Iglesia del Carmen is reputed to be Bogota’s prettiest.

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The Museo del Oro has the best and largest collection of pre-Colombian gold in the Americas. It was quite a treat to see so many pieces, and apparently they’re all Colombian.

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Hundreds of years ago, the local goldsmiths were very sophisticated, and knew all the methods current goldsmiths use, such as welding, lost wax casting, electroplating, etc. After we’d learned about the richness of Andean culture in Bolivia and Peru, it was surprising that Colombia contained so many other ancient cultures, with their own unique traditions.

Lunch was ajiacos santafere├▒os, a delicious, thick chicken stew.

That afternoon, we met up with my friend Camilo’s cousin, Sergio, and his wife Vanessa. They were kind enough to show us some different parts of the city that afternoon and evening. We started by driving up into one of the mountains that borders the city, for a nice view, and some morcilla (traditional blood sausage), chorizo, and local beer mixed with a local soft drink. We could see some housing developments; wealthy locals live on the hill to get away from the city.

Back in Bogota, Vanessa pointed out the local bullring, which is kind of embraced by curved brick apartment towers, the Torres del Parque, by Colombian modernist architect Rogelio Salmona. The photo doesn’t do them justice.

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Conceptually, they’re interesting buildings; the curvilinear brick forms were an innovation, and their positioning around the bullring gave residents box office seats. Salmona is generally known for his unconventional brick structures; in fact, much Bogota architecture is based on bricks.

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After drinking some of the local sugarcane-based firewater, aguardiente, at a fun bar with a toys-from-the-Salvation Army aesthetic, we had a nice dinner in a colonial neighborhood in North Bogota.

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The next day I pretty much stayed in bed with the flu.