May Day Travel in Bogotá, Colombia

1 comment

AnonymousInBogota 249x167 May Day Travel in Bogotá, Colombia

One of my main objectives in traveling to “dangerous” places is to avoid danger and, by way of example, disprove such labels.

I set out in Bogotá, Colombia this morning with the intention of doing just that. By the end of the day, however, I was trapped in a women’s bathroom with a dozen other people, covering my nose and mouth for fear of breathing in tear gas.

Initially, my day went swimmingly, all though I did notice a huge number of police officers — to the tune of no less than 1,000 — as I strolled through La Candelaria, Bogotá’s historical center. To be fair, this part of Bogotá is more than a little sketchy, so for perhaps the first time in my life, I felt as if the police were my friends.

6987607532 7fe0dab50a May Day Travel in Bogotá, Colombia

Police prepare for Bogotá’s May Day “manifestations”

Upon arriving in Plaza de Bolivar I realized that the Bogotá police hadn’t filled the streets to protect me and my gaudy camera, but indeed to pre-empt May Day. For those of you who don’t live in socialist countries, “May Day” is a socialist holiday of sorts that occurs on May 1 of every year, and involves citizens protesting governments. Or something? Again, I didn’t really think much of it.

6987695442 dcaee5e5c1 b May Day Travel in Bogotá, Colombia

Plaza Bolivar adorned with banners proclaiming May Day

I continued making my way through the streets of La Candelaria, convinced that every officer I passed was in place to prevent the sketchy people standing between the two of us from harming me. Ironically when I snapped a photo of this dog, no police were around to prevent an (admittedly harmless) beggar from begging me for 2,000 pesos colombiános.

6987607532 7fe0dab50a b May Day Travel in Bogotá, Colombia

7133709237 89e1bb007b b May Day Travel in Bogotá, Colombia

A sad-looking dog in La Candelaria

I wrapped up my stroll through La Candelaria with shots of some of the amazing architecture in the neighborhood. These photos shouldn’t require much narration:

6987633130 296af1a119 b May Day Travel in Bogotá, Colombia

A colorful La Candelaria building

6987612224 89ce826da1 b May Day Travel in Bogotá, Colombia

The church in Plaza Bolivar

7133702837 209f3239e8 b May Day Travel in Bogotá, Colombia

Another church in La Candelaria — I’ll have to get back to you RE: the name

After that was over, I headed west down Carrera 3 — in Bogota, streets called carerras run east-west, while calles run north-south — in search of Monserrate, a hilltop park that’s purported to provide the best view in Bogotá. The walk to Monserrate begins with a row of reflecting pools that seems to extend forever.

6987515992 74682341e9 b May Day Travel in Bogotá, Colombia

The reflecting pools that lead to Monserrate

Bogotá is different from most of the other South American cities I’ve visited in that typically the “downtown” area of a particular city is the “bad” part. Hostels tend to exist only in “safe” areas. I wouldn’t say that the area either La Candelaria and the area between it and the entrance to Monserrate are unbearably sketchy, but much of the imagery I took in on my way to the mountain entrance was foreboding, to say the least.

6987638604 464e8f293b b May Day Travel in Bogotá, Colombia

“Vigilado” means “watched over.” Creepy, huh?

The climb up Monserrate is relatively strenuous, although you won’t bat an eye if, for example, you scaled Machu Picchu. If you do need to stop, most of the places where you can do so make for great photo ops.

7133766579 75edefff8d b May Day Travel in Bogotá, Colombia

One of the many miradors on the way up Monserrate

In addition to the view you enjoy from Monserrate, the peak is home to a tranquil garden filled with flamboyant religious imagery, quaint cafés and a church:

6987649780 cdcb70811a b May Day Travel in Bogotá, Colombia

Inside Monserrate church

6987674096 6945e48de4 b May Day Travel in Bogotá, Colombia

The plaza at the top of Monserrate

7133748839 d1228e2c70 b May Day Travel in Bogotá, Colombia

Are you feeling guilty yet?

If you walk past all this, you end up in a decidedly more local, less “nice” market, which is arguably more interesting anyway.

6987657716 a22422e117 b May Day Travel in Bogotá, Colombia

The “local” Monserrate market

In total, I spent about three hours at Monserrate: One hour getting to the top, an hour and a half exploring what’s up there and half an hour getting down. You see, I made plans to meet the lovely Megan of Bohemian Trails at a coffee shop called Juan Valdez at 1:30 — and at 1:00, I was just beginning my descent down the mountain.

7133769307 3f5b265bb3 b May Day Travel in Bogotá, Colombia

When I saw the dude in the “Anonymous” mask, I had a feeling something was about to happen

Eventually, I found Megan and the coffee shop and we began a lively discussion about traveling, writing and how much better we are than everyone else who does those two things. (I kid, kind of). I noticed a sketchy character wearing an “Anonymous” mask and snapped his picture. What followed after this was a blur.

I remember that a huge mob of people from the street ran inside a café, and people who’d already been in the café were ducking and running for cover. Megan and I assumed this meant that someone in the street had a gun.

6987691198 54f3031d51 b May Day Travel in Bogotá, Colombia

Minutes later, I was barricaded in this bathroom

It wasn’t until we’d changed locations within the coffee shop no less than a dozen times that we asked what the problem was. The police, it seems, had thrown tear gas at protesters in the manifestation in order to get them to disband. Here we thought we were about to be robbed at gunpoint, and it was tear gas! This is not to say that tear gas isn’t serious, but I felt no tears coming on, personally.

I would learn after this ordeal that May Day probably isn’t the best day to begin a trip to Colombia. Oh well! Here’s to hoping this is the most dramatic thing that befalls me during my stay here.

Robert Schrader
Robert Schrader is a travel writer and photographer who's been roaming the world independently since 2005, writing for publications such as "CNNGo" and "Shanghaiist" along the way. His blog, Leave Your Daily Hell, provides a mix of travel advice, destination guides and personal essays covering the more esoteric aspects of life as a traveler.
Read More Share

Recent Author Posts

Join Our Community

Connect On Social Media

Most Popular Posts

One Response to May Day Travel in Bogotá, Colombia

  1. Medardo Díaz Grey May 23, 2013 at 7:00 pm #

    “Bogotá is different from most of the other South American cities I’ve
    visited in that typically the “downtown” area of a particular city is
    the “bad” part. Hostels tend to exist only in “safe” areas”

    is not. downtown Bogotá is one of the dirtiest areas of the city, only two blocks from Plaza de Bolívar there is the biggest “olla” (a place where drugs are sold) in the country. all the area is full of homeless people, etc.

Leave a Reply

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!