Bogota, Cartegena and Medellin, Columbia

January, 2005


January 16th

Bullfight in Bogota

We went to a bull-fight in Bogota, the first one of the season. On "Junior Matador" day, there were three teenage 15 year old matadors and 6 bulls. The bulls staggered out into the ring and the picadors had a hard time keeping them mad enough to charge the cape. One bull had to be retired because he kept falling down. Hector Jose didn't do too well on his first bull, but he got a clean kill on the second one. Many in the crowd waved white hankerchiefs, a request for the mayor of the city, in a box at the top of the stadium, to honor him with the bull's ear. Moments later, a white flag protruded from the box, indicating the honor was deserved. So they sliced the ear off the dead bull before they dragged him out of the ring. Hector got to make a parade-lap around the edge of the ring, giving spectators a chance to throw flowers, hats, and bota-bags full of wine to him. He kept some of the items and threw others back into the crowd.

The whole thing seemed a bit one-sided; it would be more interesting if the matadors killed each other. Or maybe put a small circle in the center, marked 1000 points (the Bull's Eye), and other larger circles outside that marked with lower numbers (like a dart board) and award points based on where the bull drops.

Elsa is taking me to my first (and only) bullfight
Santamarķa Bullring, the Plaza de Toros de Santamarķa

Name of the bull - Calafetero
Weight of the bull - 400 kilos or 880 pounds

Name of the Matador - Moreno Munoz
Name of the Farm - Ganaderķa San Martin

This will perk up Calafetero a bit

Not a "clean" victory for the matador

The horses were not too happy, watching their brethren meet their end

The idea is to stick knives into the bull to get him mad enough to charge

But it doesn't always work...

This bull kept falling down on the job and was removed from the ring

Bullfighting was discontinued in 2012, but resumed in 2017 to preserve "cultural traditions"

If the sword is inserted in the spine properly... this... the bull dies instantly

The bull, soon to be missing an ear, is dragged away

A victory lap for the matador

January 17th

Flew to Cartagena for a few days. The old city inside the wall is unique and interesting. Many buildings are over 400 years old and have been restored several times. Leonardo, owner of the Emerald Plaza Jewelry Factory, one of the many Emerald stores in town, offered us a personal four-hour walking tour of the city, which we gladly accepted. His acquaintance with many building owners got us into areas which never would have been available to a large bus-tour. He pointed out that the huge doors on many buildings were for moving horse-carriages in and out, while the smaller door carved out of the larger one was for people. The brass door-knockers, placed well above Elsa's reach, were intended to be used by those on horse-back. Much of the walled city is a walking zone, but a few horse-drawn carriages are allowed.

The Vitrola restaurant, visited during our walking tour, forgot our reservation for the second table away from the band. They made up for it by carrying a table for six over the heads of the assembled diners, with glasses, silverware and burning candle undisturbed. They replaced it with our smaller table. Bill Clinton and George Bush, who also dined there, didn't get such personal service.

The adjacent Boca Grande high-rise area offers nothing except beach access, but the wind was so strong, sand was flying everywhere. The million people who live outside these two areas have a more traditional existence, with dirt, noise, stinky busses and trucks.

Our conventional bus-tour of the rest of the city was done on a Chiva bus, an open-sided bus with bench seats arranged from side to side. Passengers board by climbing up to a row of seats and scooting across. The main attractions are the Mission del la Popa, a church high above the city, and Castillo San Felipe, a huge fort used to defend Cartagena from overland attacks.

Hoping to find Juan Valdez, who picks the best coffee beans, we chose to change our Avianca tickets to fly on to Medellin before returning to Bogota. The airline office in Cartagena doesn't have a printer for their reservation computer, so they could only copy the new flight information, as well as all of the remaining flight information, onto the new ticket by hand. The agonizing process had to be repeated for the second ticket, keeping us in their office for an hour and a half.

January 18th

January 19th

Can I go home now?

January 20th

The taxi ride from the Medellin airport to the city took 45 minutes, long enough to find out Juan Valdez doesn't live anywhere near Medellin. It appears he lives in Armenia, a 5 hour bus ride from away. Once again, bad information is easy to get.

Departing Cartagena for Medellin

Racing our shadow

Passing over El Laguito

Approaching Medellin

January 21st

Not anxious to go through the Avianca ticketing experience again, we had bus tickets clutched in our grubby paws at 6:30 AM. An hour out of town, the country-side turned into one coffee plantation after another. The 5 hour bus ride stretched out to 6 hours. Bad information is easy to get. The Armenia Estrella Hotel checked us in and the travel office in the lobby organized a tour of the Parque Nacional de Cafe for the next day.

The prospect of a 7 hour bus ride to Bogota (which could easily become an 8 hour ride) prompted us to reconsider the agony of going through another Avianca ticket change. The travel agent in the hotel couldn't do the job; a trip to the Avianca office was required so they could determine what restrictions had been placed on our tickets. The Avianca agent told us the Medellin-to-Bogota ticket we were fully prepared to abandon could be exchanged for an Armenia-to-Bogota ticket at no cost! And we could fly a day later, connecting directly with the flight from Bogota to Caracas, giving us a free day in Armenia. Our luck has finally changed.

January 22nd

The Parque Nacional del Cafe is Colombia's answer to California's wine country. It does have some nice exhibits showing coffee production machinery and fields of various kinds of coffee plants, but with a water slide, roller coaster, train ride and bumper cars, it's really a thinly disguised theme park for kids.

The Willys Jeep, the one you see in the MASH TV series, was widely used in the early 50's and many are still on the road.