Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Colombia Adventure - Day 3

November 22, 2016

After only one full day in Bogota, we had a tour that took us to two sites out of town: to Lake Guatavita and the Salt Cathedral. Both sites got high ranking from the guidebook and both deserved it.

Before we explored Lake Guatavita, we stopped at the town that shares its name. While the town wasn't much to see, the snack we had after exploring it was definitely a highlight. The drink is named 'aqua de panel con queso' and translates to: water with cane sugar and cheese. And that's what it is: hot sugar water that you drop chunks of cheese into. That may not sound especially appealing, but I'm telling you, it was delicious. I'm so on board with adding cheese to all my hot drinks! The specific cheese used in our drinks was campesino.

Lake Guatavita has a storied past, as the indigenous tribes used to deposit offerings of gold and other precious materials there. Along come the Spanish colonists who take any number of measures to retrieve said goodies, mostly failing to do so and inflicting horrendous amounts of environmental damage. At one point in the 1600's, using little more than hand tools, they basically broke the lake.

While we didn't find any gold, we did find wonderful views and interesting trees and plants.

I know what you're thinking: you've see one church, you've seen them all. Not so with the Salt Cathedral. What started as a salt mine has been turned into a massive, and I do mean massive, underground church. The rooms are huge and there's essentially a large wing dedicated to just shopping. The official tour apparently takes two hours, though we zipped through the whole experience in a little under an hour (thanks to Shira). It's one of the most remarkable architectural achievements I've ever experienced.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Colombia Adventure - Day 2

November 21, 2016

The first *real* day of vacation, let the adventures begin!

My brilliant suggestion to Shira: let's do the recommended bike tour of Bogota. In my mind's eye, it would be just a guide, Shira and Myself, as we take a relaxing ride through the city. Yeah, that wasn't reality. Instead, we found ourselves as part of a 20 person tour, dodging downtown Bogota traffic. It turned out to be more adventurous than relaxing. However, it was an excellent way to dive into Bogota head first.

Of all the things we did on the tour, from tasting fruit, to appreciating street art (sanctioned graffiti), to drinking coffee, the most impressive activity was playing Tejo.

Tejo is, and I mean this in only the most respectful way possible, the most American Redneck activity I've ever engaged in. Here's how it works: you go to a large open air space and pick a "lane" (as in a bowling lane). At each end of the lane is a mud backstop with an iron circle embedded in it. You take small white packets and smoosh them into the mud on the iron circle. You then grab a hefty chunk of stone or metal, the tejo, and hurl it at the iron circle. If you hit the mud or outside you get 0 points. If you hit a white packet you not only get a point, but also trigger a small explosion. Yes, the white packets are filled with gun powder! If you get a bulls-eye, there's no explosion but you do get two points. Finally, if you manage to embed the tejo in the middle *and* trigger an explosion, you get three points.

As a rule, the cost for playing tejo is free. Instead, you are expected to buy and consume beer.

So it was 10 in the morning and everyone on our bike tour was taking their shot at playing tejo. We've all got our beers in hand (Shira did opt for a coke instead), and we're all pretty crummy at the game. Someone finally manages to hit a packet of gun powder, and the explosion is deafening. Shouldn't we be wearing eye and ear protection? Never mind, let me have some more beer. I land a couple shots close to the iron ring, but there's no boom for me.

Then Shira steps up to the line. She tosses. Kapow! Not only does she hit a packet of gun powder, but she manages to embed it in the bulls-eye. Three points!

By now you're thinking, OK Ben, I see the alcohol, gun powder and reckless disregard for safety, but do you have anything to make this even more redneck? As we were finishing up, Shira asked to use the bathroom. She was directed to the cafe in the front of the building. As I followed, the woman in the cafe pointed back to the tejo area when I asked for the bathroom. As I walked back to the tejo area, I realized that separating two blocks of lanes was a short pass through. And in that short pass through was a small, open area trough. And there it was, the "men's room." Imagine if they took the standard stadium urinal idea and said, what the heck, let's put it in the middle of the arena. Truly, it was the most surprising bathroom setup I've ever seen.

So Tejo and the tour itself was fun and eye opening. From there, we grabbed an Uber to the cable car up to Monserrate. We caught the sunset from the top of the mountain, and then watched as the city of Bogota light up for the night. From our high vantage point we could see just how huge the city is, it was truly a site to behold.

We ending the evening at one of the many casinos we passed. Shira opted for a hand shuffled blackjack table that had a buy-in of 200,000 COP. Now, before you start thinking that Shira is a high-roller, I will tell you that that equates to roughly $66. The minimum bet for a hand was 10,000 COP, which is about $3. So yeah, it felt like we were James Bond playing at the VIP table, but really, it was the cheapest games of black jack we've ever played.