Thursday, 30 July 2015

Escaping with the masses

In general, leaving Bogotá on a public holiday weekend, or puente as it's known in these parts, can be more hassle than it's really worth, especially if you're going overland as the majority tend to do.

Apart from the obligatory long queues at the bus terminals alongside inflated prices both for tickets and in hotels/hostels, there are the traffic jams on outward and inward journeys that have to be contended with.
Bogotá from a distance ...
Sometimes it can be good to put Bogotá well in the background ...
The Wrong Way stance has usually been to stay put; when you're a freelance worker you can take your breaks at more relaxed times, on your own terms (that's the theory anyway, practice has been somewhat different). What's more, as Bogotá tends to be a little quieter at such holiday times it can be nice to take in this, relatively speaking, more tranquil side to it.

However, with a little flexibility, getting out of the metropolis on a long weekend — and Colombia has plenty of them each year — need not be a massive chore.

Avoiding the peak times, in a similar way to using Bogotá's Transmilenio, is a big help. If you can leave before close of business on Friday and return in the early hours on Tuesday morning (that will be place dependent, but anything within eight hours of the capital fits into this) you should avoid the worst of the queues. If an early Friday departure is difficult, leaving late on Saturday or early on Sunday is also an option.

The 'ideal' Friday and Sunday morning/early afternoon escapes were something I squeezed into one weekend recently; returning to Bogotá in between two different places. Of course the destination plays an important part too; if you're going somewhere with a festival in full swing then getting in and out can be taxing at any time during its duration, plus accommodation will be both hard to come by and more expensive than normal.

That aside, most of the sunnier towns and villages outside of 'the big smoke' are lively on holiday weekends, if not on standard ones.

My recent, and what this year has been rare, sojourn out of Bogotá was firstly camping in the wilderness of a mountain desert outside the city followed by a trip to a popular 'sun city' for Bogotanos, Giradot — let's call it a second-rate, more unkept Villeta.

The main plaza in Giradot, Cundinamarca.
Giradot: it has a more aesthetically pleasing side to it ...
Both were squeezed into the same weekend, but thankfully there were no annoyingly long queues at bus terminals nor being stuck standstill (for too long) as peak travel times were avoided. (It must be said that travelling solo helps. Things could have got messy for the return journey from Giradot had there been a group with me looking to travel together; another plus point to 'singlehood'!) Neither were things ridiculously overpriced; that's always good.

Thus the whole idea to get away from, and forget about, the big concrete jungle and chill out in a, um, smaller one — the mountain wilderness excepted — was fulfilled without encountering additional stress (let's let my friend's misplacing of our food supplies for the mountain camp and a gold-digging acquaintance in Giradot slide).

A miscalculation on the return, leaving in the early evening on Monday rather than staying put early on Tuesday meant that the trip back turned into more of an odyssey than it needed to have been; an accident en route didn't help things either.

There's also still plenty of room for improvement on the main arteries leading into the capital and elsewhere. Colombia could learn a little from neighbouring Ecuador on this front (just saying like ...). Nothing is perfect though, right?
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