Friday, April 19, 2013

Peru > Colombia > Costa Rica: A New Years Family Trip, Part 2

On January 5th we took a plane to Bogota and all went smooth again. Upon arrival we did not want to take our entire luggage into the city, so I tried to store the excess suitcases at the airport for the remainder of the Colombia part of our trip. However at El Dorado Airport they are not prepared for that yet: they can only charge per day to hold a suitcase and that daily charge is so high that for the 6 suitcases I wanted to leave for about 3 weeks the total amount would have been close to 2,000 USD. This deserved of a hotel upgrade and management allowed us to leave all our stuff there till we were ready to move on.
The Colombia part of our trip definitely was not meant to be a holiday. We went to Bogota to open our 6th office there and select and install a new manager. Apart from that we had selected a few destinations in the country where we felt we need to reestablish our presence or which we had not seen before and wanted to connect to. Therefore it was not your typical holiday with children, this part, rather it was much more a work trip, with children. Interesting learning experience, as it is with most things regarding parenting. You can only read so many books, talk to so many people; in the end we really play it by ear, don’t we? Whatever your circumstances, you have to find a way to make it work for every member of the family. In our case, we took turns: one making sure Edie and Noa would have a good time while the other would be talking to lawyers, interviewing candidates or visiting hotels.

Bogota is a great city, but we had to be there a little too long for it to be fun for children. I would say 2, 3 days is fine. There are more than enough parks, playgrounds, etc. available (I especially liked the botanical garden), but we had to be there for work for a full week and that turned out to be a little much. We were happy as we were opening our new office in Bogota and were lucky to be able to meet with a host of highly motivated and qualified candidates for the Region Manager’s position, but for the kids we could have left a few days earlier.

When we finally left, we rented a car, with booster seats and a GPS, something that is still expensive in Colombia, but becoming more and more common. The country makes for really nice driving, if you stick to daylight and know how to speak some Spanish. Many of the roads are relatively new, lot of construction being done still and some roads are in need of a fix urgently, but generally speaking, the roads in Colombia are very good. Driving does take longer here than for example in Argentina. Where I can usually achieve an average of around 100kph in Argentina, this is halved in Colombia. This is due to roadwork, the mountainous nature of most of the land, and an impressive amount of trucks, consequence of a country that is on the rise. Safety isn’t a real issue, if you keep to the rules, which in this case means stick to the parts of the country that were declared safe to drive. There still are remoter areas where you should not cross alone or better not at all, but these you will find in many countries in the world. Just inform beforehand and you will be fine. The roads that are declared safe are patrolled by friendly military, who go out of their way sometimes to make clear that they are there for your safety. Once you get used to that, driving in Colombia is a breeze. Ah yes, one last detail here: Finding your way.

Tip 1: our GPS practically always took us the wrong way, every time we used it. Later we found out that it was programmed to “shortest” route, which brought down the amount of goat trails we were suggested to take a lot, something our little Kia Rio was very happy with. Still, final destinations were hardly ever reached using only the GPS. I guess properly mapping a rapidly developing country is not the easiest of things. However, with our iPhone / Google Map apps we did get a lot further, especially if we planned the journey in the hotel where we still had wifi, so that the route stayed programmed in the app. While driving, even without cell phone reception, the built in GPS kept us on course.

Tip 2: When you drive back to Bogota yourself and want to get back to your hotel without loosing lots of time, best thing is to simply stop a cab driver and ask him/ her to drive ahead of you. They usually want one of you to sit with them in the car as to assure payment, but it’s the best way to make it to your hotel through the myriad of Bogota’s closed, blocked or rerouted streets and avenues. We actually do this in many larger cities, when GPS turns out not to be up for the task.

We made our way to Villa de Leyva a beautifully preserved colonial town a little over 200km North-East of Bogota. We had been here before, so it was nice to walk down the cobble-stoned streets and see what our daughters still remembered from it. After we had made some work-related agreements with one of the hotels we work most with here, we could do some exploring of the town and its surroundings. Villa de Leyva is a very nice place to just ‘be’ for a couple of days. Beautiful colonial architecture, nice little tucked-away restaurants, an amazing plaza central and an overall very nice climate make it an ideal stop en route. Not too far from the town, we visited “Jurassic Park” (the name is Parque Gondava. Ask for the Dinosaur park; interesting place, great for the kids), located close to the less entertaining (in our experience) ostrich farm (although our perception of it is maybe a bit tainted due to the fact that one of those birds picked Edie’s hand last time we were there…). There are several more museums and other fun places to go to, check trip advisor! Sad enough we could not do some of the more ‘off the beaten path’ visits we wanted to do due to the fact that we had rented a relatively low-by-the-ground car, great for tarmac, bad on the goat trails. Better next time!

Let us know if you'd like to be the first to know when we include Colombia in our South America tours!

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