Thursday, 13 January
Our Avianca flight to Bogota arrived on time; we gathered our luggage and hit the tourist desk in the airport for lodging ideas. We picked Hotel Cosmos out of the blue, knowing only that it was in North Bogota, an area our guidebook indicated as desirable. When we arrived at the hotel, a guard with a dog was standing by the front door. Elsa asked him about the dog, thinking it was used to discourage bringing drugs into the hotel. We found that the purpose of the dog was to discourage bringing explosives into the hotel.

Bogota is a clean, modern city. At 8500 feet, it reminds one of Quito, with cool, clean air, but the mountains don't close in as tightly. There are shopping centers which rival the best SoCal can offer in terms of quality and designer names. The "T-Zone" (three city blocks, arranged in the shape of the letter "T") offers a variety of good restaurants, without tons of unwanted salt on your food, as provided by Argentina and Brasil. It isn't cheap, though; prices are only slightly less than those in the states.

Friday, 14 January
Once again ready to "risk" taking a city tour, we signed up at a travel agency. They provided a private car and driver instead of the bus trip we expected. The first stop was the Gold Museum, where we saw many examples of 400 year-old gold ear-rings, nose-rings and other ceremonial items. The best item, kept secure behind thick glass, was a very intricate gold sculpture of a raft with a half-dozen people on it, about 6 inches long and 4 inches wide. The work was so detailed, it would be hard to imagine how a finer piece could be made with modern tools and techniques.

Every afternoon, a cable car takes visitors to the Monserrat church, hundreds of feet above the city. Visitors arriving in the morning take a funicular railroad, instead.

The area known as Candelaria, adjacent to the current governmental buildings, has been preserved, much as it was hundreds of years ago. Streets are narrow and cars are not permitted on some.

Saturday, 15 January
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.

Week 40
Sunday, 16 January
Took a taxi the Artesans market is Usaquen. We were dropped off at the local flea market; the artesans were a few blocks away, so all was not lost. Relaxed over lunch overlooking a small city park, watching church-goers parade into the local church.

Monday, 17 January
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.

Thursday, 20 January
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.

Friday, 21 January
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.

Saturday, 22 January
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.

Week 41
Sunday, 23 January

Monday, 24 January
We paid an exit tax of US$48 each at the airport in Armenia, twice the amount we expected. "No way around it," they explained when I pointed out that those staying in Colombia less than 60 days were exempt. "There won't be time to complete the refund procedure in Bogota, so get over it."

The Avianca agent who greeted us at the airport in Bogota said the same thing, but after some pestering, agreed to call another agent who might be able to help us. The second lady arrived in due course. Immediately sizing up the situation, she whisked us to the front of the incoming Immigration line we were in for 1 hour by now, dragged us past hundreds of people waiting in the outgoing Immigration line, out through the baggage claim area past the Customs Inspectors, out to the sidewalk, where we actually had to go into the street to avoid the crowd, back into terminal to the Tax Exemption desk, where she filled out two refund forms and got them stamped, on into the bowels of the Avianca office, where tourists never trod, for a full refund, then back out to the Departure area, where we paid the correct smaller amount, then back up to the departure lounge where she turned us loose in front of the hand-baggage X-Ray machine.

The guy in Armenia was absolutely correct, there wouldn't have been time for a tourist to complete the procedure and make a two-hour connection. But he didn't count on having a five-foot-tall human dynamo on our side. Many thanks to this nameless Avianca employee, who added to our feeling that Colombia is an OK country.

Having bypassed Colombia while we were in Panama due to overwhelming bad press, we found quite the opposite to be true. Colombia, though not the least expensive country in South America, was certainly the most pleasant.

The Colombian people are friendly and a pleasure to deal with. Always courteous and helpful, they greet you as though they are glad to see you and be of service to you.

They certainly give a bad name to the Brasilians we left behind.