Day 39 – Zipaquira Salt Cathedral

Up early this morning to prepare for our outing. Jorge picked us up around 9:30am to take us to the Zipaquira Salt Cathedral.

The drive was relatively uneventful – traffic wasn’t too heavy. We headed north and turned off the main road just out of Bogota. We stopped at the town square in a small town called Cajica, but the coffee shop we were planning to stop at for morning tea was closed, so we decided to continue to Zipaquira instead.

The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira is an underground Roman Catholic church built into the tunnels of an old salt mine, 200m below ground. Apparently, while it receives up to 3,000 visitors on Sundays to attend services, it actually has no official status as a “cathedral” in Catholicism – the name is mostly for the benefit of the tourists.

Rather than wait for an official tour, Jorge was able to act as our tour guide to the mine – he regularly brings tourists here, so knows the mine well.

We headed down into the mine along a wide, smooth road – I’m not a huge fan of mines and caves, but the ceilings were fairly high and it was not very claustrophobic at all.

The entrance to the Zipaquira Salt Cathedral – colourful changing light patterns

One of the stations of the cross at the Zipaquira Salt Cathedral

Near the entrance to the church were 14 small chapels, representing the stations of the cross. Various crosses, either sculptured or carved into the rock, adorn this area.

Another of the stations of the cross at the Zipaquira Salt Cathedral

At this point, we were feeling a bit disappointed by the whole thing – if this was all there was to see, it was a bit underwhelming.

However, we then continued down to a viewing platform over the main hall, with a huge cross carved into the wall at one end, with an altar, pulpit and pews making the main part of the cathedral where services are held. The area was massive, especially when you remembered we were so far underground.

Viewing platform over the main hall of the Zipaquira Salt Cathedral

Main hall of the Zipaquira Salt Cathedral

What is more impressive was the distinct lack of supporting beams or other structural elements anywhere – the Halite mine is quite able to support itself without such requirements.

Salt “waterfall” at the Zipaquira Salt Cathedral. This thing was probably over 20m high!

Salt … at the Zipaquira Salt Cathedral

We continued down further into the mine and were able to wander through the main part of the cathedral, where the size and scale of the architecture was truly impressive.

Large cross at the Zipaquira Salt Cathedral

Zipaquira Salt Cathedral

We eventually headed back up to the surface, and headed off to find some lunch - Jorge took us to a small restaurant nearby.

While we were waiting for our food, something on the TV up on the wall of the restaurant caught Jorge’s eye.

Apparently, there had been a car bombing back in Bogota, not all that far from our hotel. Some political radicals had targeted one of the ex-ministers who was very outspoken against the rebels. We found out later that the attacker had ridden a motorbike along side the car and placed the bomb directly on the roof, then sped off. The target survived with relatively minor injuries, but his driver and bodyguard were killed. Reports said that around 40 people had been injured in the blast – it was in a fairly busy area. We were surprised to see how little coverage the attack got back in Australia – some of the international news outlets gave it coverage, but there was no mention at all on the ABC website.

After lunch, we headed into the main square of Zipaquira and found a small coffee shop where we enjoyed some afternoon tea, before heading back to Bogota.

Zipaquira

Zipaquira

Zipaquira

Just out of Bogota, we were stopped at a police checkpoint – these are everywhere in Bogota, but they seem to only randomly choose people to stop, unless they are specifically looking for someone or something. Jorge had quite a chat to the officer – he seemed quite interested in our kids, Jorge explained about the adoption process and where we were from and what we had been doing. There had been a bit of negative media attention towards adoption in Colombia recently (a local current affairs program using typical hysteria to attract attention and viewers!), so the police officer was quite interested in the process. Jorge did his best to educate him on how the process really works and why the media reports were largely inaccurate and misleading.

We arrived home late afternoon, and Leanne then walked around to a nearby hospital to visit one of the guests from the hotel whose young child was quite ill. She mentioned to me later that there was a large media contingent outside the hospital, which I suggested might have meant that the injured target of the car bombing earlier in the day was also at the hospital.

All up, it was an “interesting” day.

Andres playing computer games with headphones on after Nicol has gone to bed

Day 38 – Monserrate

We had a quiet morning at the hotel, catching up on some washing, doing a little grocery shopping and playing with the kids.

After lunch, we caught a taxi to Monserrate, the mountain which towers over down-town Bogota.

There are two ways of getting to the top – a funicular (cable-train) and a teleferico (cable-car). Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately after I saw what it looked like!), the cable-car was not operating due to maintenance – so we only had a choice of taking the funicular. This was probably the steepest and scariest funicular I’ve ever been on (save perhaps the the Katoomba Scenic Railway, which is quite different in operation) – especially given how high up you end up getting.

The very steep funicular heading up to the top of Monserrate. The angle is much steeper than is apparent in the photo – look at the platforms to the left and right of the track – they are actually horizontal, this photo was taken looking up at a steep angle!

In the funicular heading to the top of Monserrate

The views from the top were absolutely spectacular and you can start to get an appreciation for just how big Bogota is – especially in the south (which is the poor area).

Views over southern Bogota from the top of Monserrate

Gardens around Monserrate

Leanne and Nicol at the top of Monserrate

The church and gardens at the top of the mountain were very nicely kept, and there were a number of coffee shops and souvenir shops to browse through.

Views of down-town Bogota from Monserrate

Leanne and Nicol at Monserrate

Leanne, Nicol and Andres at the top of Monserrate

One thing we did find a little out-of-place were the large tracts of eucalyptus forest around the area – you’d almost expect to see a koala or two!

The church at the top of Monserrate

Leanne, Nicol and Andres at the top of Monserrate

Given the mountain is over 3,100m above sea level, it was quite cool at the top – a good thing we remembered to take jumpers with us!

Cable-car near the top of Monserrate (not working due to maintenance)

Andres and Simon hold on while heading back down the steep funicular railway

Our driver took us back to the hotel and we relaxed for the rest of the day.

Nicol plays with Pooh bear in her cot

Nicol looks to see what Andres is doing on our bed (Answer: playing computer games. Again.)

Day 37 – Parque Jaime Duque

Mothers Day today – we were warned not to try and go out somewhere for lunch, all the restaurants would be booked out and places such as cemeteries would be crowded with people visiting.

Jorge’s wife Patricia picked us up at 9:30am to drive us to Parque Jaime Duque, a fun park and zoo about an hour north of Bogota. We also visited here in 2009 and we enjoyed it enough that we thought it might be nice to visit again.

The drive was a bit slow until we got out of Bogota – traffic was heavy in some parts, especially around some cemeteries close to the main road out of the city.

When we arrived, we decided to hire a pram in case Andres didn’t feel like walking. Unfortunately, as we discovered a little later – the three-wheel pram they gave us had a flat front tyre and no pump, which made it virtually impossible to push him in it. As a result, I ended up carrying Andres on my shoulders for most of the day (I was getting used to this by now), but at least we were able to put our bags (including my heavy camera bag) in the pram, which made things a little easier.

 

Parque Jaime Duque

Parque Jaime Duque

We didn’t get to enjoy the zoo as much as I would have liked – Andres was in a grumpy mood and made it difficult to stay in one spot to watch the animals for very long. He did improve a bit as the day went on though.

Parque Jaime Duque

Parque Jaime Duque

By the time we got to the end of the zoo, we were feeling like eating lunch, so we stopped at a nearby restaurant. After falling off his chair and hitting his head, Andres was even more grumpy, but he did perk up a bit when we paid for him to go on one of the large little kids playgrounds, which had a lot of fun things to play on.

Parque Jaime Duque

Parque Jaime Duque

Parque Jaime Duque

Parque Jaime Duque

We walked back to the main fun-park area and after trying to convince Andres to go on a few rides, he decided he wanted to jump on the trampolines. We had only paid for a general admission ticket, which did not allow any free rides, so I went and found a place selling “monedas” (coins – special tokens you purchase for rides and other activities) and purchased enough for him to go on the trampolines. Fortunately it wasn’t that busy at the fun park, so he was able to go a lot longer than normal. They actually had four trampolines separated by padded walkways, so he was able to run along, jump on one trampoline, then roll over the walkway and onto another trampoline. He had a great time doing somersaults and jumping around.

Parque Jaime Duque

After his time was up, we walked over to the train station and caught the scenic train which does a tour of the park on an elevated railway.

Parque Jaime Duque

Finally, we decided to head home – due to some road closures, we took a rather scenic route which we hadn’t been on before, which was nice – but took quite a while to get back. It ended up being after 6:30pm before we arrived back at the hotel and dinner had already started!

We all went to bed early, exhausted from the day’s outing.

Day 36 – Halifax Again

Another, unintentionally quiet day today.

We had intended to go out and do some tours around Bogota today, but Leanne had spent most of the night with diarrhea and vomiting, so wasn’t feeling up to going anywhere.

She spent a lot of time sleeping while I looked after the kids.

In the afternoon, when Leanne was feeling a little better, we sat in the lounge and watched Madagascar 2 with Andres (Nicol largely ignored the TV) – although he doesn’t really have the attention span to be able to watch an entire movie yet.

By dinner time, Leanne was feeling up to eating a little food and so we booked a tour for tomorrow, hoping she would be okay to spend the day out and about.

Nicol seems to be sleeping a bit better now – she is only waking up once a night for a feed, which is much easier for us to cope with!

She is also much more responsive to us and looks up when we call her name. She is cheeky enough that if I tell her not to do something and shake my head at her, she will smile at me, shake her head, and then usually go and do it anyway.

We have also heard her say “Papa” a couple of times, and also do the baby-sign for “Mama” when she wanted Leanne to pick her up. She’s a quick learner!

Day 35 – Halifax

A quiet day today – we had decided to hang around the hotel and relax for a bit after being out every day over the past week or so.

Leanne spent some time putting a few loads of washing on while I looked after the kids. The hotel provides a washing machine that the guests can use themselves for a nominal charge, which is far more economical than paying for hotels to do it for you. That being said, we weren’t charged at all for the washing we had done at the Hosteria Mi Monaco and it was done quickly too, so we couldn’t complain about that service!

We sat around the toy room while Andres and Nicol played and tried to keep Nicol out of the dirt in the garden and away from the power cords in the lounge.

After lunch we went for a walk to the nearby Parque 93, a very up-market area surrounded by restaurants with a beautiful park in the middle. We spent some time at the playground while Andres played and made friends (his friend spoke Spanish and French, but not English), while we watched the “beautiful people” of Colombia assemble for what turned out to be some kind of fashion event in temporary marquees in the park.

Before dinner, I ducked around to the supermarket again to get some more supplies, and this time I picked up a tub of arequipe (dulce de leche) icecream to stash in the freezer for when I was up late sterilising the bottles. Made the time much more pleasant!