Trip to Colombia and Brazil

November 2005

Some of the pictures are in the links in the text - have not had time to make all the thumbs!

I have been dreaming about a trip to Latin America for a long time, but the last thing I had in mind for this fall was such a trip. I had quit my well-paying engineering job a few months earlier and was just sort of getting ready to get ready to start a business, so cash was not exactly pouring in.
However, when my friend Adriana told me that her and Matt were getting married in Brazil, I knew I could not miss their wedding, nor the opportunity to see her country! Fortunately I had enough miles for a free ticket, which happened to connect through Bogota. I seized the opportunity and got a two-day stayover. Things looked even better when my friend Carlos offered his parents' hospitality in Bogota!

Bogota, Colombia

I arrived in the evening from Ft.Lauderdale, and Marta and Alberto were waiting for me at Bogota airport. They put me up in their house, they fed me traditional Colombian dishes, they showed me around - I could not ask for better hospitality!
I even got to practice my Spanish, as I asked them that we speak Spanish as much as possible. Often I had to ask how to say a word, and occasionally had to ask what something meant, but by and large I got by. I think that if I spent 2 weeks there, I could get close to being fluent.
My favorite time during my stay was the one evening I had in Bogota. We just drove up the side of one of the mountains surrounding Bogota, stopped on the side of the road, sat down in the grass, sipped wine, talked, and admired the gorgeous night-time view of the city. When we got cold, we went up to a small eatery, had a few beers and some of the meat they were grilling outside. The whole place was smaller than my bedroom, but with a lot more character!
Bogota sits at 8700 feet / 2600 meters in a valley between two mountain ranges. One popular viewing spot where Alberto took me has both a little train and a cable cabin going to it. The view from the train is quite breathtaking, but even better at the top, and I took a lot of pictures! Here are two:

There was an old church near the top, and I found it very photogenic: took pictures of the side and one of the old wooden doors.
Of course people don't just come to pray here, so there was a rustic row of eateries and other assorted shops.
After we admired the view, we went to the old town, which has very nice colonial architecture. I especially like the decorated hanging balconies, like the one of the left of this picture. We went to visit the Gold Museum (website) and the Botero Museum (could not find its website). Both were very impressive, and of course very different. The Gold Museum has mostly pre-Colombian art and artifacts, both gold and other materials, like this one. The Botero Museum of course is mostly Botero's pictures, but also has other modern pictures and sculptures from his collection.
Next day we went to see the Zipaquira Salt Cathedral (info website), which is about 50 km / 30 miles North of Bogota. Being a car guy, I especially enjoyed the drive, spotting various old cars and old trucks.
Instead of the usual 12, there are 14 stations of the Calvary dug inside the mine, and the path leads to a huge cathedral with three halls that can accomodate 8000 people! Here's a view from a balcony, this is the best picture my Minolta, with its miniscule lense, could produce. The cross behind the altar is actually a grove carved into the wall!
After the tour we ate in a lodge nearby that was built in the early 20th century for a meeting of world leaders. It had a very nice view of Zipaquira.

In the evening I had a little excitement as I tried to check in for my flight to Rio. The first thing they asked for was my yellow fever vaccination certificate. Huh? Apparently Brazil required this from everyone who stayed for more than 24 hours, and the airline issuing the ticket was supposed to tell me! Of course that was a different airline from the one I was attempting to fly, and their offices were closed for the day. I asked about getting the vaccination the next day and flying that evening, but one had to wait for 10 days after being vaccinated to travel. I pretty much resigned to flying back to Florida when a local entrepreneur came to my rescue: for a modest wad of greenbacks he provided me with a certificate, the already closed flight suddenly opened, and half an hour later I was sitting on board en route to Rio!


I spent 6 days in Rio, staying in Copacabana, mostly hanging out with Matt and Adri, and all the good folks from Matt's family who came down for the wedding. We checked out all the obligatory tourist sites, and some of us also explored some of the less touristy areas of the city.
Of the touristy sites, I liked Corcovado the best. Corcovado is the famous peak in Rio with the Jesus statue on top - 710 meters / 2100 feet high. The view from this height is just incredible, except when a clouding is passing through, in which case you are just enveloped in a thick cloud!
Here are some pics I took from there:

The other place with great view in Rio is the Sugarloaf, or Pao de Azucar: it is a huge rock formation jutting out right by the sea. It is not nearly as high as Corcovado, but still quite high given the surrounding flatness of the ocean and the beaches. Here are two pics I took of Corcovado, the first on the way there, the second at night from Cocacabana:

And here are some pics I took from the Sugarloaf:

One of my favorite off-the-beaten path places in Rio was Santa Teresa, and turn-of-the-century neighborhood that was home of the well-off middle class, then fell into disrepair, and now is making a comeback, with artist colonies and such. The architecture is interesting, the cobblestone streets are quaint, and the streetcar is just awesome, ancient and full of character.

We had feijoada, the typical Brazilian lunch dish (awesome!) for lunch at a local pub, really old and full of character:

On our way out we descended these stairs (it's actually a street called Celaron) that have been decorated by an artist over the years with all kinds of tiles from all over the world:

More on our adventures in Rio will be added as I have time!
Until then, here are the rest of the Rio pics:

From Rio we all flew to Sao Paulo for Adri and Matt's wedding. More of the story coming later for now here are the pics:

I stayed In Sao Paulo for only two days, and after the wedding went to Itatiaia where Adri's dad, Haroldo, manages a hotel in the mountains. I spent 3 wonderful days in the semi-tropical forest there before taking the bus back to Rio for my flight back to Florida.
Here are the Itatiaia pics:

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