Colombian Cost Co

Typical Boyaca farmer with hat and ruana

Typical Boyaca farmer with hat and ruana

Market day in Tunja was a surprised I hadn’t expected. On my last day in Boyaca, we went to the “market” to have breakfast.

Sounds easy, right?

First of all, traffic was backed up for miles with huge covered trucks, collectivas, cars, carts, bicyclists, huge busses leaving for Bogota, and masses of people on foot, wandering between stopped vehicles as they converged on the market.

For stray dogs, moms trailing kids, old men in dusty ruanas with black fedora hats, old women in the same costume, younger men in baseball caps ond ruanas, people in jeans and denim jackets, nuns, and families, market was the place to go, very early on a Friday morning.

Bananas for sale

Bananas for sale

We finally parked and headed for the main attraction. Huge pallets laden with onions, papayas, pineapples, vegetables that I’ve never seen before, medicinal plants, potatos, livestock (little piggies for sale! — chickens and roosters, baskets, espadrills, hats to ward off the high altitude sun, clothes, sneakers, and hand made ruanas, covered an entire city block and the entire interior of a public stadium!

Young farmer girl selling peas

Young farmer girl selling peas

If you can name it, you can probably buy it here.

If only CostCo was as colorful and as well stocked!

Dogs like the market, too!

Dogs like the market, too!

Pummeling through the crowd, we came to the “dining area”. Wood fires and huge grills smoked merrily in the early-morning light, exuding the delicious aromas of sizzling, fresh (like hours fresh!) chicken, pork and beef.

We entered a crowded restaurant — a semi-temporary structure with a tarp overhead, and quickly-constructed rough wooden walls. I ordered chicken “plancha” — a whole chicken cut into flat strips resembling something  that looked like it had been ironed on an  ironing board — that was accompanied by tasty little round  potatoes, rice, salad and a healthy glass of the juice of local fresh fruit.

My friends ordered a thick, hot, delicious soup — a regional favorite — made with aromatic stock, tiny round potatoes, maize, cilantro, and chunks of pork — steaming hot and very filling.

Boyacanese woman preparing fresh chicken and pork

Boyacanese woman preparing fresh chicken, beef, and pork.

Considering the fact the shoppers — and especially the farmers, who brought their goods to the market at around 3 AM — a hearty breakfast was in order. We sat in the crowded dining room with many locals, ate, chatted with other diners, then paid the bill — more than satisfied with the hearty meal of which we had partaken. After leaving the market we fought even more traffic on the way out, and left for Bogota.

I can’t wait to go back!


Colombia, an overview

Colombia truly is the “Land of Magical Realism”, a phrase used to describe the style of Nobel-prize winning literature written by Colombian native, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Just like Marquez’s ethereal writing, weaving fantasy and reality like a thick ruana[1], the country and its people possess many dream-like attributes layered with dark deposits of a harsh history.Bogota

With extremely varied landscape, proximity to the equator, two oceans and five other countries as borders, Colombia is situated between a land bridge to central and North America, serves as a gateway to the rest of the Southern hemisphere, and is a keystone in Latin American politics and the continent’s economy.

Mountains, jungles, rivers, rich, fertile soil and invaluable natural resources contribute to a promising future in the scope of the world economy, while history, political differences, isolation of different cultures, poverty and crime have detracted from the political and social aspirations of the country.

Bordered by Panama to the north, Venezuela to the west, Brazil to the southwest, Peru and Ecuador to the southeast, Colombia is the only South American country with coastlines on both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, and boasts more than 300 beaches.

With 340 different types of ecosystems, Colombia is one of the most bio diverse countries in the world, and is home to 1,879 Regional Costumesspecies of birds, the highest diversity of birds in the world. And it is not very hard to find Colombia’s flora and fauna. Colombia has 58 National Parks (the same number as the US) that cover 55,000 square miles, or 11% of the country.

From ancient times when the indigenous people crafted gold and silver for ceremonial purposes, Colombia has been known for rich and abundant natural resources buried in the earth’s crust and cultivated on verdant sun-drenched fields. Farmers of today raise world-renowned coffee on the Andean slopes. Colombia sells much of the world’s emeralds and considerable amounts of gold, silver, and platinum, and has the continent’s highest coal production. Development of oil resources and investment by large corporations are currently Colombia’s most important economic activity. Last year, Colombia produced 1 million barrels of oil per day of petroleum, including crude oil and natural gas.

gramamaColombia is equatorial. Seasons consist of “rainy” and “dry”, summer comes in December, and winter in June, but variations in temperature depend on altitude. High mountain towns and villages, like Tunja, range from the mid-sixties during the day to lows in the mid-forties, Fahrenheit, at night, while coastal towns like Cartagena and Barranquilla bask in humidity with highs in the 90s with lows in the mid-70s.

Colombia’s multiple climate zones and varying landscapes are divided by three huge cordilleras (mountain ranges) of the Andes that contribute to the concentration of Colombia’s people into separate clusters. Distinct regions of population include the Caribbean lowlands in cities like Barranquilla and Cartagena; isolated mountain valleys include the population centers of cities like Cali and Medellin. Bogotá, the capital and largest city, is situated in a remote mountain basin at 8,200 feet, while steamy, sparsely populated low-lying areas, like Leticia, and Puerto Alegria, situated on the banks of the Amazon River, are gateways to the famous Amazon jungle.

Most Colombians today are of mixed ethnicity, including the ancestors of slaves imported by the Spaniards and Portuguese. (About 90 percent of all Africans forcibly imported into the Americas went to the Caribbean and South America). About 20 percent of Colombians claim European descent. Remaining indigenous populations make up approximately one percent of the population.TemploDoct

The Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1499, conquering the peaceful native inhabitants, who had a highly developed civilization that excelled at agriculture, gold and silver metallurgy and textiles. Colonization rapidly followed by 1525, and the people of “Nueva Grenada” (modern day Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador) gained independence from the Spanish crown in 1820. Since then Colombia has had a turbulent history. Between 1899 and 1902, civil war claimed 100,000 lives.  La Violencia erupted in 1948 when a popular candidate for president was assassinated, and lasted until 1957. Bogota’s downtown was decimated by riots, buidings destroyed and trolley cars burned, causing around  300,000 deaths and the near-overthrow of the Colombian government. From the 1970s to the 1990s the explosion of drug cultivation and exportation brought more violence and crime.

The Rafael Uribe PalaceColombia, however, has made a remarkable transition in recent years from “off-the-radar crime hotspot” to “exotic must-see destination”. An era of headline-grabbing crime cartels and drug wars during the 1980s has ceded to social, legal and legislative reforms that have made the country a safe option for a new generation of curious travelers. Within the last 10 years Colombian drug production has decreased by 60%, violence has markedly abated, and the murder rate is lower than in some US cities, including New Orleans and Baltimore.

According to Luis German Restrepo, executive director of ProColombia, the country’s tourism agency, Colombia is steadily increasing in popularity among North Americans. The total number of visitors to Colombia in 2014 was 2,879,543 a 9.5 percent increase from 2013. The main market for Colombia in 2014 was the United States with 376,410 travelers. Restrepo cited hotel infrastructure, economic stability, investment and product diversity as a few of the reasons Colombia has become a top-notch destination in Latin America.

Colombia’s people are warm, open, polite and friendly. Modern conveniences, like huge supermarkets, malls and freeways lessen the impact of being a foreigner. Retention of the old traditions, tiny villages, and unique regional styles of dress and food, however, keep the experience of living in Colombia fresh and exciting.

Top sites to see:ClaustroSanAugustin

Each region offers a fantastic array of activities that can be enjoyed every day of the year thanks to tropical weather with indiscernible seasons and no hurricanes.

Caribbean Coast:

  • Cartagena, a UNESCO World Heritage site, whose centerpiece is “Cuidad Allmurada,” the city’s huge colonial-era walled city, evokes more than 500 years of history.
  • Barranquilla, best known for its bacchanalian, annual “Carnaval”, with elaborate costumes, parades, music, and dancing in the streets, has earned Barranquilla UNESCO’s World Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
  • Santa Marta, the first permanent Spanish settlement in colonial Colombia, is a major domestic tourist destination. Here, in Tayrona National Park, Cuidad Perdida (the Lost City), discovered in the mid-1970s by treasure hunters, was one of the most important settlements of the indigenous Tayrona people.

Boyacá and the Santanderes:

  • hs2edNorth of Bogota and located in the mountainous highlands, the countryside is dotted with beautiful, well-preserved colonial towns, including Villa de Leyva and Barichara. The area is rich in history, natural beauty, and outdoor activities.
  • Paipa’s thermal hot springs, the magnificent Lake Tota, Colombia’s largest lake, Raquira and other small native villages, and the chilly but European-style capital of Tunja are delightful to explore.
  • Miles of secondary roads serve as training grounds, where international cyclists sharpen their muscles at elevations of 10,000 feet and more.

Medellin and the Coffee Region:

Spanish style architecture and filled with coffee plantations, the region is bordered by a mountainous landscape and is rich in traditions echoed in its crafts, gastronomy, and festivals that preserve its rural folklore and heritage.burroheavyload

  • A UNESCO World Heritage City, with unique traffic-saving cable cars and an elevated Tram, has a vibrant cultural scene and nightlife.
  • Guatape and Santa Fe de Antioquia are rural villages a short distance from Medellin with rustic, colonial charm and friendly locals.
  • Manizales, the capital of the Caldas department, is situated atop meandering mountain ridges. Nearby coffee farms and national parks are perfect day-trip destinations.
  • Salento, located on the western edge of Parque Nacional Los Nevados, is home to cowboys and coffee growers, and close to Valle de Cocora, where wax palms, Colombia’s national tree, rise to dizzying heights of 200 feet.


Colombia’s lofty capital city, located in a mountainous bowl at an elevation of 8,200 feet, displays the fantastic vibe of a modern city full of history and culture with unmatched cuisine and exquisite taste for fashion.

  • IMG_0241The legend of El Dorado is displayed at Museo del Oro (The Gold Museum), tourism thrives in the historic and quirky La Candelaria, and the Plaza de Bolivar serve as the centerpiece of the nation’s capital, where Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos resides in the grand Presidential Palace.
  • Many outstanding art museums, theaters and concert hall, too numerous to name, reside alongside Bogota’s more than one hundred universities, earning Bogota the title of “The Athens of South America”.

Cali and Southwest Colombia

  • Cali, Colombia’s salsa capital is a warm, relaxed city in the Valle de Cauca, where sugarcane fields go on forever. Settled by the native Calima people as early as 1200 B.C.E. Cali’s later railroad system linked it to the rest of Colombia and the world.
  • Popayan, the White City, lies along the banks of the Rio Cauca, and is proud of its place in history as the home of priests, presidents and poets.
  • Tierradentro is an ancient site settled by an agricultural society from 500 to 900 A.D. that is a major indigenous Sogamoso Arch hutsnecropolis with monumental funeral statues and huge burial chambers decorated with anthropomorphic and zoomorphic geometric designs. This archaeological park was declared a World Heritage site in 1995.

[1] Ruana – a very thick, soft poncho-style rectangular or square outer garment with a slit for the head, that can also used as a blanket or cushion. The word “ruana” comes from the Chibcha language meaning “Land of Blankets,” woven by the indigenous Muisca natives. with sheep’s virgin wool

Oicatá – silhouettes of the past guide the future

An ancient sacred spring and observatory of the Muisca

Blanca Ocasion (right), Oicata native, naturalist, historian and photographer lead us to the Sacred Spring and Musica Observatory. Leo Castillo Amezquita, translator (left).

The wind howls across the pastures of Oicatá, whipping the clumps of grasses, bending branches of dark green trees, painting scrub brush with grey dust, and lashing the slate colored mountains of the Cordillera Oriental.

Colombia’s easternmost mountain range, part of the ancient Andes, is the backdrop of this story, and the homeland of the ancient Muisca people.

Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada founded the tiny village of Oicatá on May 9, 1593. Located in the department of Boyacá, (the equivalent of a state in the U.S.) the area is well known for its history, because the region was the scene of a series of later battles, which led to Colombia’s independence from the Spanish Crown in 1819.

Prior to the arrival of the Conquistadors, however, an ancient, highly developed society inhabited the area, the roots of which have been traced back to almost 10,000 B.C.E. In the early XVI century, Conquistadors encountered the skillful and populous Muisca Confederation — gold workers, emerald miners, agriculturalists and weavers.


Near the top of the mountain we came upon an ancient, sacred spring. It emminates from beneath a deep.

The Muiscan Confederation, a loose union of states that each retained sovereignty, was not a kingdom, as there was no absolute monarch, nor was it an empire, because it did not dominate other ethnic groups or peoples. The Muiscan Confederation was one of the biggest and best-organized confederations of tribes on the South American continent.

A short drive from Boyacá’s capital, Tunja, the bucolic landscape is one of sharp contrasts – just as the history and pieces of this ancient civilization are similarly juxtaposed. The ancient, ethereal silhouettes of the past loom over the dusty-lime-colored fields, where massive tan gashes mar the vista with scars of man’s determination to develop roads and harvest materials for bricks and the construction of modern edifices. Mountaintops, hillsides and entire escarpments have been slashed away by bulldozers, and whittled by picks and shovels.

After badly needed rainfall the previous day and night, today’s adventure  was to meet a local guide to visit indigenous places– a cemetary or an observatory.  Dressed in jeans with wool knee socks, simple walking shoes and far too many layers of sweaters and jackets, little did I know that we were all embarking on a cross-cultural, spiritual journey of discovery – connected by indigenous sacred sites and important celestial observatories – that would join the paths of the ancient Muisca with the Polynesian voyagers of my Hawaiian home.


The site of the ancient Musica Observatory. During heavy rains this flat rock face becomes a waterfall. The holes are made by centuries of swirling rocks and worn depressions made by the natives during their rituals.

The day was gorgeous – sporting cerulean blue skies — while cottony clouds scuttled across the sky, buffeted by fresh, post-frontal winds.

The name “Oicatá” is the name of the indigenous chief who ruled the area prior to the Spanish invasion. The Cacique (chief) that governed this prehistoric village was the Zaque Hunza. The indigenous Cacique and his tribes paid homage to their deities and held festivals in her honor in the village.


Omar Amezquita, whose family traces four generations in the area, stands at the sacred rocks. When Conquistadors invaded New Grenada they burnt the sacred sites and homes of the natives.

Driven by my host, Omar Amezquita, whose family has lived in the area for four generations, we dashed across dirt roads to the village of Oicatá. There,  we stopped to pick up our guide, Blanca Ocasion, a native of the village.

Ocasion recently won a second term as a representative in local government. She is also an advocate of reforestation efforts, sustainable agriculture and a proponent of the recognition and appreciation of the indigenous culture and their history.  Ocasion greeted us with a dazzling smile.

A short distance past the village we pulled to the side of the road, and surrounded by a cloud of white dust, we prepared for the hike. After slipping around a metal fence with Blanca at the lead, we scaled grassy hills, and descended eroded vales. She explained that in times past, the area had an abundance of water – rainfalls, natural springs, rivers, streams – and thickly-wooded forests.

“When the original inhabitants populated the area, there were many more trees on the land. Most of the trees you see now are introduced varieties, such as Eucalyptus and Acacias, which take a lot of water and are bad for the environment. The water system is deficient; we have very few springs and streams.”

While the indigenous population farmed, mined and wove remarkable textiles, they are not responsible for the erosion visible today. Deforestation to exploit wood for construction, cattle and sheep farming, and excavating the earth for construction materials,  compounded the problem.

We hiked up into a valley where we found an abundant spring emanating from beneath a large cave. This unique spot was the site of the Muisca’s celestial observatory. In ancient times, the indigenous Colombian tribes observed the heavens to discover the best time for planting crops, harvesting, travel and religious ceremonies. Half way across the planet in Hawaii, the Hawaiian chiefs charted the stars for their celestical navigation routes throughout the Polynesain triangle.

On the way we passed by a sunny hillside where Blanca had been busy planting native shrub and tree species.

Miles from the nearest road, and without a visible source of water in sight, Ocasion is determined to bring the landscape back to its original glory, no matter how long the process might take. As the native plants flourish, endemic birds, reptiles and forest animals, such as native foxes, are making a gradual comeback.


Brilliant pink flowers adorn this brushy native plant that thrives in dry conditions

Ducking beneath a patch of non-indigenous trees, Blanca pointed out an emerald green blanket of healthy, native moss, taking advantage of the shade. From this moist ground cover, the possibility of native species taking root will be increased.

A little further along, we stopped to examine some short bushes bearing brilliant bright pink flowers – an example of native species recovery.

While Colombia is witnessing one of the worst El Nino events since 1997, and a state of emergency has been issued by the government for certain areas of the country, Ocasion has reason to hope that one day she and like-minded people witll restore their farms and homelands to thier original forested, stream-crossed glory.

“With new farming techniques, such as using certain types of seeds, composting to enhance soil, water catchment, and drip irrigation, I hope to show others that farming can be profitable,” said Amezquita.

The Bogota bed and Breakfast Inn – Step into the luxury of the past with all modern conveniences in Central Bogota

With a stark white façade, medieval turret, and a demon-encrusted coat-of-arms, the Bogota Bed and Breakfast Inn adorns the corner of Calle 34 #17-01, in the shadow of Teusaquillo’s emblematic and ancient Santa Ana Church. The new inn provides a personalized, welcoming alternative to Bogota’s normal accommodations, with the elegant flair of the pre-World War era.


Reminiscent of the by-gone era in which it was built, the 1930s, this historic buidling and a few other remaining Tudor-style mansions, that occupied the tree-lined streets of this upscale Bogota neighborhood, live to tell the stories of the past. Echos of the clanging  bells that marked the arrival of horse-drawn trolley cars, and later electric trolleys, hang on like ghosts of times gone past. The whispers of history can still be heard at the Bogota Bed and Breakfast Inn, where guests are welcomed with old-time hospitality, quality lodging and excellent breakfast fare.

Entering a portal to the past, the grand home’s colorful, Arabian-tiled portico opens on the living room where the ambience of firelight is reflected from the original, diaphanous crystal chandelier, bathing new arrivals in warmth and golden light.

Of the six guest rooms, two are located on the first floor, while three more suites adorn the home’s second level. Here, custom-made beds adhere to the shape of the walls, some of which are rounded, while shuttered windows look out upon the tree-shaded Tesuaquillo Park, just across the street.


“We followed the history of the home that went back to the 1930s but the first time the deed documents were recorded was when it was first sold by the original family in 1953,” said Beatriz Leon, one of the businesses joint owners.

After two years of historically accurate renovations, the Bogota Bed and Breakfast Inn was finally ready to open to the public in July of this year.

“It took two years to restore the home because we stripped all the white paint from the original ceiling timbers and staircase, removed carpeting and tile flooring to reveal the original dirt and brick floors, which we replaced with wood, completely rewired all electrical connections, installed larger plumbing pipes and six modern bathrooms, designed and built custom-fitting bed frames, and had custom mattresses made. Someone had removed all the homes interior doors, so we had new ones built that followed the design theme and era.”

Popular throughout Europe and North America, but almost as rare as apple pie in Bogota, the Bogota Bed and Breakfast Inn offers home-cooked breakfast served in your room, insider tips on sightseeing, restaurants and local events, and a convenient location in central Bogota, close to transportation, museums and shopping centers.

For more information, and to book you upcoming stay, call (57) 321 425-5924 (international) or 571-703 7409 (local), or email INFO@BOGOTABANB.COM. You will be very glad that you did.


Parque natural de Chicaque – Close to Bogota in the wilds


Living in the crowded capitol of Colombia — Bogota — does not mean that you can’t enjoy nature. By taking the Transmilineo, one can easily acess the stunning “Chicaque Natural Park”, located in the southern part of Bogota, in the municipality of Soacha.

In less than an hour,  hiking boots, a backpack, sunscreen, rain gear and a safari hat — garb that is not usually part of the “city fashionista uniform” becomes perfectly acceptable for the task at hand — hiking Chicaque.

Take the F1 from Chapinero or any station along the Caracas line and you will get to Soacha (after a change of busses in Ricuarte). We traveled on a Sunday and had places to actually sit down for the enitre trip!

South Bogota has gotten some bad press and Soacha isn’t one of the better neighborhoods, but “no preoccupe”! It looks like every other stop on the Transmilineo, with empanada vendors, taxis, secondary busses (called “collectivas”) all lined up like ducks to accomodate people who are passing through.

Because it was Sunday the Transmilineo route was slightly altered and we  got a bit confused finding our exit portal. However, a short walk around the block and some polite conversation got us to where we needed to wait for the ride into the park. Its quite cheap — about $3500 COP–  and takes about 30 minutes to an hour.

Because we went on a Sunday, when we paid the bus driver to go to Chicaque, he took off in an area of major road construction, with drivers hopping curbs, doing U-turns in the middle of the highway, and back-tracking thorugh decrepit neighborhoods that I had been warned about but had never seen outside of a TV novells!

I got up the courage to ask the driver — in my deplorable Spanish — “What was happening with the road?”, and he responded, “Ciclovia!

“Ciclovia” explained everything including the traffic, the alternate route, back street shuffle, and the wierd crossng of the highway — every Sunday in Bogota, major thorofares are closed to vehicular traffic and the only type of wheled transit allowed on these routes is “the bicycle”!

Breathing a sigh of relief that we were not being kidnapped or absconded to a den of inequity with filthy mattresses and being forced to drink scopolomine tea, the city fell behind and we drove along bumpy, dirt, country roads until we reached the entrance to Chicaque. Near the area of Teusaquedena Falls, along the Bogota River in the “sabana” region, we arrived at the park. A large lodge was the first building on site but we wanted to hike and left the sighteeing to later.

Situated at a lofty elevation, Chicaque appeared to be engulfed in clouds, which gives rise to the name of this phenomena,  the Colombian “cloud forest”. After a short orientation to the park by park guides, we entered the gates and began a serious downhill descent from a lofty elevation of 7,800 feet. There was no way to go BUT down, so I said my prayers and headed below. As we descended the paved, then semi-paved, then rocky, muddy, dirt path, the visitors center disappeared into the mist and clouds.

A loop trail led to the lagoon at the bottom of the hillside, and an alternate path led to a look out of the southernColombia countryside. Due to a knee injury, I let my friend continue to the bottom of the trail while i leisurely headed for the “lookout”, an out crop of rocks about midway on the mountainside. Here, beautiful views of pasture, farm land and small “fincas” (farms) dotted the landscape below. I reveled in the sunshine and took some photos while waiting for my friend to rejoin me at this meeting place.

As I hiked the lookout trail back to the main trail leading back up the mountain, I came upon some very colorful and interesting butterflies. One butterfly, with gorgeous grey wings and orange antennae entertained me for 20 minutes as he took his time exploring the woodland floor. Other butterflies — some purple; some sky lue with black trim along thier wings — were more elusive, but I enjoyed watching thier erratic flight patterns and capricious pathways.

Late afternoon was approaching, and having reconnected with my friend, who said that the lagoon below was completely dry and a wasted hike, we proceeded  to hike back up the mountain to the gate above. By the time we arrived on top, Bogota’s eternal rain was falling and so we went to see what was available in the food and drink department at the rustic lodge located at Chicaque’s entry point.

A merry fire was burning in the huge fireplace of the Lodge, which looked like it had been constructed around 1950. A huge dining room expanded across the spacious floor beneath a  rustic timber roof of wood and thatch.

We ordered hot tea and soup and waited for the bus back to Soacha.


It was a day well-spent, in close a proximity to Bogota and easilty accessible by the Transmilineo.

For more information and to view the park’s website, please go to: