Welcome to this week’s Postcard From – the feature where I chat to some lucky explorer about their recent travels.
This week, I’m mega excited to be chatting to Alicia Lauhon about her recent trip to Bogota – because I’m flying there myself NEXT WEDNESDAY! Alicia is a freelancer working in social media, and a website administrator. She’s been passionate about food, travel and all things cultural from an early age, which she says comes from growing up with a family that travels: “Some of my earliest memories are of being a flower girl in a wedding in Venezuela when I was four, a bullfight in Spain when I was three and road tripping from Illinois to Mexico when I was six.” You can read all about Alicia’s food and travel experiences on her blog, Alicia Tastes Life, and on Twitter @TasteConcierge.
Welcome, Alicia! Tell me about your trip…
I went to Bogotá, Colombia. This wasn’t a typical trip/vacation. It was a journey back to my birth country to meet my birth family. I was adopted and came to the US as a baby. I started a search for my birth family last year. The day after I bought my ticket to Bogotá I got the call they had been found.
Bogotá is a beautiful, immense and pulsating city of 8 million people located almost 9,000 feet in the Andes Mountains. I can’t speak enough how beautiful it is to look up at the Andes surrounding this immense city of contrasts with sparkly new skyscrapers and cobblestone streets of La Candelaria. This city moves fast and I dubbed it Beautiful Chaos.
Christmas time is a nice time to go because the city has so many massive Christmas light displays in malls, parks and neighbourhoods.
Wow, congratulations on finding your birth family. That’s so exciting!
What was Christmas like in Colombia, weather-wise?
The high altitude keeps the climate pretty mild, it reminded me of the weather in San Francisco. You can experience different weather throughout the day, cloudy and foggy, rain and then sunshine. The temperature ranged from about 60 degrees to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (15 – 21 Celsius). Dress in layers and you will be fine.
Where did you stay?
I would recommend staying in La Candelaria neighbourhood or Zona Rosa if you like boutique hotels in interesting neighbourhoods. We chose the JW Marriott based on proximity to my birth family’s house, price and perks from having elite status with Marriott. It is located in Chapinero Norte about 20 minutes north of downtown depending on traffic and close to Zona Rosa which has all the food, drink and shopping any person could want. It is walking distance to many cafés and restaurants so you have options if you don’t feel like eating in the hotel. It’s a five star hotel with excellent service and gorgeous decor. The concierge was more than helpful and they are equipped to help you with anything you need. There was a full spa and swimming pool as well. You will feel spoiled here.
Besides meeting your birth family for the first time – were you able to get much sightseeing done?
We packed in what we could in four days (many museums were closed due to Christmas). Our first outing was to Cerro de Monserrate the mountain that is located in central Bogotá and is 10, 300 feet high (3,152 metres). You can walk up 2km but the altitude makes it a bit tough. Since we were short on time we took the cable car. You can also take a train. Construction of the church on top started around 1640 and hundreds of people make the pilgrimage here every year. Climbing up in the 40-person cable car provides a wonderful view of the houses on the mountainside. You can feel the air get a little crisper and the traffic sounds fade as you ascend. An absolutely stunning view of the city awaits you.
We toured around La Candelaria the historic center of Bogotá where there are famous churches, universities and Gold and Botero Museums. The Spanish style architecture is captivating and clearly many renovations are underway. Although touristy it feels authentically Colombian, perhaps because of the vibe and unchanged buildings. There is a vibrant street art scene so one can spend hours wandering the cobblestone streets following art. They even have tours for this. You can get great street food and fresh juices on almost every corner.
Plaza de Bolívar is the main square and from here you can see the Palace of Justice, National Capital, Mayor’s office and the Primary Cathedral of Bogotá. So much history in one place and it was always bustling with people.
We also ate a lot in between all our visiting and sightseeing.
What was your highlight?
My highlight was meeting my birth family for the first time, undoubtedly. My favorite activity was visiting Monserrate. I had actually been there when I was an infant with my American family and visited again on the exact day I left Colombia three decades earlier. It’s an adventure climbing up in the cable car and the view is unbeatable. You really get a feeling for how vast the city is. Besides the church, which holds Mass, there are cafés, restaurants and shops so you can spend hours up there.
What was the food like?
As an international dining city you can get any type of cuisine you want. I wanted to eat mainly Colombian food so had empanadas, ceviche, maracuyá (passion fruit), flan etc. Everything I had was amazing. I wanted to try ajiaco, a thick soup that involves some of my favorite foods: potatoes (3 types of Andean), chicken, sour cream, avocado and a corn called Cuzco. My birth mother made it for me on Christmas Eve and it was delicious! I am going to try to recreate it at home.
I also had a popular Bogotano snack called chocolate santafereño, which is hot chocolate and white cheese. You dunk your hunk of white cheese in the chocolate and drink away. It was so good! We also went to the famous steakhouse Andres D.C. in Zona Rosa (sister restaurant to the original in Chia about 30 minutes outside of Bogotá). You come here to celebrate and have fun in five levels of craziness. Imagine Mardi Gras plus New Year’s Eve and throw in some serious rumba music and you have Andrés D.C. We had Aguardiente; Colombia’s variation is made with anise-flavoured liqueur and tastes similar to Sambuca. This is a must try. We ordered some serious Colombian comfort food: Patacon, Andres empanadas, Yucca (Cassava), Yellow “Baby” Andean potatoes, pork rinds (chicharrón), guacamole mini chorizo, Morcilla “Blood Sausage” and Hogao (sauce made of onion, tomatoes and garlic used for meat and rice dishes). We also ordered Tostón con Todo a plantain rolled out like pizza dough with cheese. I loved it! It came with a bunch of sauces and sides so you could customize every bite. Guacamole, carne molinda (ground meat), hogao, pork rinds (chicharrón), antioqueño cheese and red beans.
Were there any embarrassing moments?
After sixteen hours of travelling we were a little tired by the time we went through customs. We accidentally declared 86,000 dollars when we meant pesos. We realized our mistake immediately and had a good laugh.
What about disasters?
No disasters. Our trip to Monserrate was postponed because of the bad rain but it gave us a chance to sit in a cool café and I had my first aromática tea with mint and fresh lime.
Do you have any tips or advice for anyone planning a similar trip?
If you go over Christmas time or another holiday time check to make sure historical sites like museums will be open while you are there. The city is huge and there is a lot of traffic so take that into account for travel time. Don’t assume you can just zip over to one part of the city it may take an hour or so to get there. The climate is temperate so dress in layers and bring an umbrella. There are people that speak English but I would recommend knowing at least basic Spanish. Come soon before the rest of the world gets there!
And finally… what’s the most useful word you can teach me ready for my trip?
You will hear people saying chimba or chévere a lot and that means cool. Instead of de nada for you’re welcome, in Bogotá people usually say, con gusto.
I hope you’ll all join me in offering Alicia a huge congratulations for having found her birth family! What an amazing story! Plus I’ll very soon be sharing my own stories from South America, starting with Bogota, so keep an eye out for those!
NB – all photos are owner by Alicia Lauhon.