Saturday, November 17, 2012

Venturing Out: Zipaquirá

Written by Karen.
We ventured out of Bogota about 17 miles to the north to visit the small colonial town of Zipaquirá.  According to Wikipedia, Zipaquirá, or Zipa as it is also called, is one of the oldest colonial towns in Colombia and is more often associated with the Salt Cathedral that was built inside the mountain on the outskirts of town.  We didn't go up to the Salt Cathedral on this day, but did explore the cobblestoned streets and enjoy the ambience of the town itself.

We left the Portal Norte bus station in Bogota on a small - maybe 25 seater - personally decorated bus.  The cost was $4,000 COP each way for each of us (or about $2.22 USD).  The bus driver sang to the hits of the 1980's, while his partner - a smaller version of ex-Oakland A's outfielder Jose Canseco - would jump off and on the bus at the traffic signals, trying to entice additional customers to come on board, without the promise of a seat!  We found out that the bus fare was the same whether you had a seat or not.  

Eventually, we did leave the environs of Bogota and began to drive towards Zipaquirá. On this particular bus route, there are no actual bus stops.  Instead, people wave down the bus and jump on.  While the trip distance was only 17 miles, with all of the starts and stops, it actually took over 45 minutes to arrive in the center of Zipaquirá from the Portal Norte bus station.

The town is walkable with tiny, cobblestoned streets to explore.  Most of the small shops were open for business even though it was a national holiday.  While a nice place to wander and look at the colonial architecture, what I most enjoyed about this town was the friendly interactions that we had with the locals.  

It was getting close to lunch and food options abounded. We often will ask for a local recommendation, and today was no exception.  Despite the language barriers, we are seldom sent in the wrong direction.  

We walked into a tiny local artisan shop and asked the woman behind the counter where she would go for lunch.  She asked us what type of food we wanted - I think that's what she said!  And, we replied, traditional.  She asked us to follow her and we did.  She left her shop and started walking to a restaurant across the street.  She ushered us into the restaurant, and, not surprisingly, this is where we decided to have lunch!  It was a great recommendation!  

The food in this small family restaurant was delicious. Our 16-year old, high-performance waiter named Matteo was a neighbor of the female chef/owner, Nelly.  He was a delight to interact with.  I even had the chance to watch Nelly and her sister make their family version of chimichurri, which they were making fresh for the lunch service.  When asked, Nelly wrote out the recipe on a piece of paper for me to try at home.  

We wandered the streets looking for something sweet and stumbled across Luis and Blanca's sweet shop.  Their shop was already completely decorated for Christmas and we stopped and chatted for awhile.  Oh yes, and we both had the delicious and traditional obleas con arequipe - two thin, round wafers about 8 inches in diameter filled with caramel, or dulce con leche.  I love anything with caramel, so this particular treat is a particular hit with me.  

We peeked into the gates of the local bombero (firefighter) headquarters for the town, and were promptly invited in.  We got the tour of the facilities by Jorge, the primary firefighter on duty, and Blanca, the dispatcher on duty.  These two individuals are paid personnel, and the organization is comprised of a combination of paid firefighters and volunteer firefighters.  As we understand things, the primary paid firefighter works in 8 hour shifts, while the paid dispatcher works in 12 hour shifts.  The rest of the staff is supplemented by volunteers.  In addition to the typical fire station layout, there is also a fairly large workshop where at least Jorge builds very nice model fire trucks.  Very nice people and a great tour. 

We continued to wander around the town for a couple of more hours until we decided that it was time to head back to Bogota.  

The scenery around Bogota is surprisingly verdant with rolling hills, yellow day lilies, french bloom and eucalyptus trees along with other variants of flowers and trees along the roadside.  We saw rows upon rows of lettuce and what looked to be cabbage, along with huge hot houses filled with plants and flowers.  We noticed a lot of cows tethered alongside the highway or under the underpasses eating grass with their owners close by keeping a keen eye over their herd.  We observed that there were a lot of new buildings going up - primarily small condos in gated communities.  

The driving styles of the two bus drivers must be commented on.  The first bus driver was a singing Mario Andretti passing on curves, while the bus driver who took us back to the Portal Norte bus station was Grandpa out driving on a Sunday afternoon.  Both drivers, however, stamped fairly heavily on the brakes on a moment's notice.  Both buses quickly responded by stopping on a peso - keeping everybody on the bus on their toes!


SurlyTraveller said...

I love seeing the colors of these pictures and reading about your experience of just seeing what might happen while exploring. It's remarkable how clean the streets look too! Seeing all that delicious food and savory beverages makes me realize that I didn't have lunch either :)

Observers of Life said...

Hi ST!

Thanks for your comment! Zipa was such a quaint town to just wander and soak up the ambiance. A very low key place. The food choices were wonderful - hopefully your lunch was awesome!