We arrived in Bogota on January 12th. We had pre-booked a private room at a hostel in an area that had been recommended to me by someone back in Australia. It was in the area called La Candelaria, which was a section of the old city. Having been warned by our American dining friend in Cartagena that we should be careful in Bogota, we went out that afternoon without our usual appendages of cameras and handbags, only the minimum. As we had arrived from the very hot city of Cartagena, we were still wearing our shorts.
Now, Bogota is actually situated at a high elevation and everyone we talked to about Bogota before our arrival would say “mucho frio” (very cold). It was a bit chilly, admittedly, but we were still able to bear the cold with our attire, or lack thereof. Which is why it was rather surprising the amount of looks we drew . It got to the point where we were uncomfortable with the amount of attention we were drawing! It was like these people had never seen bare legs!!
When we returned to our room, my Aussie radar was acting up again, having heard some Accents nearby. I walked out of my room to see 3 Aussie guys checking into their room. I said, “I hear Aussies”, they turned around and we exchanged the usual “Where are you from” conversation. One said he was from Toorak, I said “Hawthorn and Caulfield”. He said “where in Hawthorn?” (I started to suspect where this was heading) I said “off Tooronga Rd”. He said, “I went to school in Tooronga Rd.” I guessed at Bialik and told them I went there for a few years. They were a bit stunned, as was I, to find, a half way around the world, some guys from the “community” and then I discovered later through the wonders of facebook that they were friends with my cousins.
That night, Jackie and I set out to find a place to have dinner nearby. We walked, and walked, and were amazed by the amount of places that had been open during the day but were closed now, especially when you would think they would want the dinner trade. We finally stumbled on a falafel place, with jewish art on its walls. The Israeli owner explained that we had just missed our Australian friends, who had moved on to the Israeli hostel up the street.
Now, I must say, this concept of an Israeli hostel is new to me. I have known of soon-to-be-demolished houses and apartment buildings in Australia that are rented out by room to Israelis until their demolishment, but apparently, there are Israeli hostels all around the world, just for Israeli travellers. But this hostel seemed just a little bit different. It was entirely occupied by Israeli men, with the few female exceptions being Colombian “girlfriends”. Israeli women aren’t even allowed to stay there. And there were certain rooms that I passed that were entirely devoted to the white stuff. That, coupled with the unbearable smokey atmosphere meant we didn’t stick around too long.
But those things weren’t the most disturbing things that we learnt at this hostel. One of the guys that had been in Colombia for a long time was telling us that the area we were in was extremely dangerous and there is practically 100% chance of us being mugged. At night, even the locals won’t venture out here (hence the reason most restaurants are shut) and the only people that are stupid enough to be out are the gringos and their would-be muggers. Women should not walk around here on their own, and only take taxis that have been called ahead of time. So we waited for our taxi and went home!
But that afternoon, after experiencing yet again the freezing cold of our room, the literal lack of available water in the taps and the fact that we felt like prisoners in our hotel after dark, we decided to move hotels to a much safer area in the north, called Zona Rosa. When we got there, it was so far from what we had experienced in La Candelaria that we felt like we were in an entirely different city. It was bustling with boutiques, shopping centres, restaurants and bars, similar to Surfers Paradise. We were able to exhale here. And we felt safe walking around at night.