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It only took two weeks of being back home for the travel bug to reinfect me (though the sub-zero wind chills certainly buoyed those sails as well). Shortly after getting home from Mexico in December, I put together a rough plan for a trip around South America. The idea was to spend a month each in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Argentina. As usual though, I kept plans flexible, only booking the first week's accommodation in Bogota. In early January I flew from Detroit to Bogota. Aside from the occasional shorts-clad, sweater-wearing pirate, I'd say the flight was pretty smooth.

My initial impressions of Bogota weren't great. Arriving in the evening, I found the streets to be virtually barren, and wound up taking a cab to get some dinner rather than risking a walk in search of it. Admittedly, I chose to stay in a more local/less touristy area, there are much nicer neighborhoods one can stay in.

The deserted streets near my apartment in Bogota.

On the very first day after my arrival, I set out on a planned hike with my friend Jazmin (whom I ironically met a year prior on a language exchange app immediately before my first trip to Colombia). The hike was in Chingaza National Park, a freaking gorgeous high-altitude park (up to 13,000 ft) not too far outside of the city. It's a great example of a "paramo", a unique ecosystem existing above the timber line but below the permanent snow line, existing only in central and south america.

Jazzy Jaz, jazzing it up with her beloved frailejones.

The only complaint: it gets real muddy on those trails.

After a long day of hiking, the best option for replenishing calories is the bandeja paisa. Colombians like to say that it's a "bomb" for the digestive system. My batting average on finishing these is about .400.

How it feels to finish a bandeja paisa in one sitting.

Tania arrived a few days after I did, her first time in South America.

We took the cable car up to Monserratt, which offers great views of the city, and features a 17th century church that is a very common destination for pilgrims.

We visited the most touristy part of the city, La Candelaria, the historic section of downtown. It features cobble-stoned streets, artistic graffiti, and lots of color. It's great during the day, but it too becomes dangerous at night. As for the rest of downtown, much of it is dangerous day and night.

How it feels to finish a bandeja paisa, go into the bathroom, only to find that it doesn't have any toilet paper.

However, downtown is not without a few gems. Plaza Bolivar is the city center, an open space flanked by several important buildings.

For those of you who've seen Narcos, yes, this is the Palace of Justice, which was the site of a bloody siege in 1985 when M-19 Marxist guerillas took it over and held the Supreme Court hostage.

Tania and I made a few trips outside of the city, in this case, to the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira, an underground Roman Catholic church built within the tunnels of a salt mine 200 meters underground.

We capped that day off with dinner at Andres Carne de Res, perhaps the world's funkiest restaurant.

We did some hiking of our own:

That face when you're tired and you've been walking uphill for an hour and you're only half way there.

And we met up with a friend of Tania's who happens to live in Bogota. He brought us to Lake Guatavita, which is the basis for the legend of El Dorado. Apparently, before the arrival of the Spanish, the indigenous people living here had a ritual in which the leader would cover himself in gold dust, and venture out into the water on a raft, tossing valuable trinkets and jewelry into the water before tossing himself in there too. Ever since, both the Spanish and the British have attempted to drain the lake to varying degrees of success in order to salvage what precious items they could find. Many of the findings are now on display in Bogota's Gold Museum. Anyway, here's the pretty lake:

On the way home, we drove through the charming nearby town of Guatavita.

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