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Seeking gold in Colombia

Colombia day one

View Colombia 2023 on ToonSarah's travel map.

A face mask in Bogota's Museo del Oro

Our flight to Bogota didn't leave until 9.40 pm so we had most of the day at home to pack and do last minute chores. I even fitted in a visit to my chiropractor!

We left for the airport in good time, as we were required to be there three hours before departure. Just as well perhaps, as the check-in was quite chaotic, with many people not having realised they needed to have completed a form in advance online. Meanwhile those of us who had been aware, and had done it, discovered that we still had to log on to the website to show the form, a task made harder when the form kept reverting to Spanish even if English was selected as the preferred language.

Eventually we were given our boarding passes and could proceed to security. There we found that they were trialling the new scanners and didn't require us to take liquids and laptops etc out of our bags, making the whole process much faster and smoother.

We had time for a drink and a snack before our gate came up. That was at the farthest reaches of the terminal, so once there we didn't have too long to wait before boarding. The plane was full and we were pleased we'd paid a bit extra to have what Avianca term 'plus seats' - still in economy but with more leg-room.

We took off on time and a meal was served soon after - fairly ordinary pasta and chocolate cake. After that the 10+ hours passed very slowly but uneventfully. I struggled to sleep more than the odd half hour, and none of the films on offer took my fancy so I alternated attempts to sleep with spells of reading. About two hours before landing breakfast was served (fresh fruit, omelette and chicken sausage) and not too long after that we started our descent.

We landed 50 minutes early, and at that time of day, 3.00 AM, the airport was quiet; I think ours was the only incoming flight. So immigration moved quickly, we didn't wait too long for our bag, and after pausing to change a small amount of money we were outside and being met by the local tour company rep. It took less than half an hour to drive to the hotel. It was dark of course, but I spotted some excellent street art on the way.

The B.O.G Hotel was lovely and stylish. After checking in we took just a few minutes to unpack the essentials and then went straight to bed to catch up on some sleep.

Hotel lobby

Our room

Street performer near our hotel

We awoke, refreshed, around 8.00 and had a good breakfast of cereal, fruit, bread and cheeses before going out for a walk around the neighbourhood. The breakfast coffee had been disappointing for a country famed for that drink, but we found a great little coffee shop a couple of blocks away where it definitely lived up to its reputation.

We strolled around taking photos and checking out a few restaurant possibilities for dinners here, then had a chicken sandwich and excellent fruit juices in a fast-food place before going back to the hotel to relax before our pre-booked afternoon tour.

This took us to two of Bogota's best museums. Our guide Hayley was interesting and informative, which was just as well as I was feeling the lack of sleep keenly and would have struggled to concentrate if she had been less so.

Museo del Oro

Our first stop was at the Gold Museum which houses thousands of beautiful pieces from the pre-Hispanic period in Colombia. The variety of the exhibits highlights the different methods used and the differences in beliefs and cultures between the many indigenous groups here. As well as admiring the incredible craftsmanship on display we had some interesting conversations with Hayley about the parallels in beliefs between peoples all over the world, from Asia to the Americas. Belief in the power of certain animals, for instance, such as serpents, and in the value of meditation and similar practices.

Here are some of my favourite pieces:



Nose clips

I was especially interested in the Muisca Raft, dating from some time in the 14th century, which depicts the gold offering ceremony described in the legend of El Dorado.

The Muisca raft

In this ceremony the local chief, the zipa, would cover himself in gold dust and sail out on to Lake Guatavita, a crater lake in the eastern Andes, on a ceremonial raft made of rushes. There he would throw gold objects into the lake as offerings to the gods, before immersing himself in the water. The ceremony was described by Juan Rodríguez Freyle, in his work El Carnero. This is a collection of stories, anecdotes and rumours about the early days of the New Kingdom of Granada (the Spanish colonial territory of what today is Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela). Freyle wrote this account of the ceremony:

The ceremony took place on the appointment of a new ruler. Before taking office, he spent some time secluded in a cave, without women, forbidden to eat salt, or to go out during daylight. The first journey he had to make was to go to the great lagoon of Guatavita, to make offerings and sacrifices to the demon which they worshipped as their god and lord. During the ceremony which took place at the lagoon, they made a raft of rushes, embellishing and decorating it with the most attractive things they had. They put on it four lighted braziers in which they burned much moque, which is the incense of these natives, and also resin and many other perfumes…

They stripped the heir to his skin, and anointed him with a sticky earth on which they placed gold dust so that he was completely covered with this metal. They placed him on the raft ... and at his feet they placed a great heap of gold and emeralds for him to offer to his god. In the raft with him went four principal subject chiefs, decked in plumes, crowns, bracelets, pendants and ear rings all of gold. They, too, were naked, and each one carried his offering ... when the raft reached the centre of the lagoon, they raised a banner as a signal for silence.

The gilded Indian then ... [threw] out all the pile of gold into the middle of the lake, and the chiefs who had accompanied him did the same on their own accounts. ... With this ceremony the new ruler was received, and was recognized as lord and king. This is the ceremony that became the famous El Dorado, which has taken so many lives and fortunes.

Botero Collection

From the Gold Museum we drove the short distance to our second museum, the Bottero Collection. This displays works by the eponymous Medellín artist alongside his own personal art collection. He donated the latter to the nation with the stipulation that entry must remain free for all. There are works by many of the world's most famous artists: Picasso, Monet, Renoir, Henry Moore, Max Ernst etc etc. But I was most interested in Bottero's own works and what Hayley had to say about them and about him. She talked about the impact of the death of his father when he was only four. The even greater impact of losing his own son, aged five, in a horrific car crash. And the themes that run through the works of motherhood, temptation and recent Colombian history.

Perhaps his most famous painting on the left, and one of the more humorous ones on the right; the artist in the latter is a self-portrait

A more sombre painting, depicting a guerrilla group led by Eliseo Velásquez

Two of the sculptures

When we left the late afternoon sun was lighting up the nearby Candelaria church beautifully. Although we knew we would be back in this area tomorrow I took a few photos to capture the light as we walked back to the car.

La Candelaria

We got back to the hotel around six. In the evening, having failed to find a Colombian restaurant in the vicinity, we had a fairly early dinner at a nearby Italian one (good food, great value) and of course an early night to catch up on much needed sleep!

Posted by ToonSarah 08:56 Archived in Colombia Tagged art history hotel flight museum bogota colombia legends

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Having known practically nothing about Columbia, I found this an informative, educational and, as always, a totally enriching and interesting read. Thankyou Sarah.

by Yvonne Dumsday

Thank you. The naked back view of the woman in the painting has made me feel slim and believe me not much does that nowadays. Haha.

by irenevt

So glad you enjoyed this and learned something new Yvonne - and 🤣🤣 to Irene!

by ToonSarah

Fascinating story about origin of El Dorado stories :)

by hennaonthetrek

Yes, I found that fascinating too Henna :)

by ToonSarah

It seems that everyone I know has travelled to this country the last year! Since I don't have that much days off, I struggle to find a good in between to visit the country myself one day and that's why I am so keen to read how you experienced it!

by Ils1976

Yes, Colombia seems to have suddenly become very popular Ils. Several friends have told me they're interested in visiting soon. I hope you get the chance to go one day!

by ToonSarah

The check in process sounds like a right palaver, but glad the rest of the formalities were less painful.
I loved the Museo del Oro when we visited 33 years ago, I can remember the Muisca Raft as if it was yesterday!

by Grete

Hi Grete - yes, I think I'll remember that raft for a long while too, it was amazing!

by ToonSarah

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