On a roll in Bogota
Bogota Bike Tours is owned and operated by an American fellow by the name of Mike Ceaser, who has spent the last five years in Colombia, and just last year began offering bike tours of the capital. During the high season, he takes up to 15 people on the tour, but our group was much smaller: Kyle from Orlando, Nima from Iran, Chris and me (I was a bit worried about keeping up with four men, but I held my own).
The best time to venture out on two wheels is Sunday, when major thoroughfares are closed to vehicles from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nearly 125 kilometers of normally choked streets open up to other forms of traffic: bicycles, tricycles, rollerblades, runners and walkers. Bogoteños of all ages take to the street during what is called the “Ciclovia.”
The Plaza Bolivar, which only 24 hours earlier was filled with anti-government protesters, was now filled with families, vendors serving snacks and entertainers. We rolled past the cathedral, the Palace of Justice, the Capitol building and presidential palace, called the Casa de Narino.
Mike, a former journalist, provided insight into Colombia’s turbulent history as we rolled by sites where significant events have taken place over the last century.
But at Puerto Amor, it was clear the shopkeeper preferred love over war. We stopped there to try what he advertised as “nature’s Viagara.” The smoothie-like drink is a potent mix of one live river crab, brandy, wine, milk, honey, and a particular tropical fruit called berrenquilla. The other crabs nervously clawed at the edges of the glass bowl that held them as the blender began to whir.
After filtering out the larger chunks of hard shell, the shopkeeper handed Chris the beverage. “It tastes like an overripe banana smoothie, but really gritty,” Chris says when he finished the whole thing. Everyone else in the group had a sample of what was left in the blender, including me.
Whether the concoction worked as advertised was moot after the six-hour bike ride, but at least it gave us a boost of energy to continue on the ride.
The tour also included stops at a local market, where we sampled various exotic fruits; we stopped at the Central Cemetery, where past presidents are interred; we took to the paths in Herrera National Park and enjoyed freshly prepared empanadas; and finally, got a sneak peak at the bull ring in exchange for tipping the security guard.
The day was exhausting, but well worth it. We got to see things we wouldn’t have found on our own, got a great overview of the city that makes future exploration much easier and it was great exercise.