Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bogotá Ciclovía

Hey everyone. Sorry for the long absence (where does the time fly?). I got entangled in work and then had a nice 10 day vacation to Colombia! I never thought I would ever end up in South America but there you go. I have nothing short to say of its awesomeness (for lack of better words). The food is just amazing–fresh fruit on every corner and everything is organic! It did give me some stomach issues but I'd take that over the crap we consume here. What the hell is "cheese food"? Anyways so we visited 3 cities: we first flew into Cartagena and then 3 days later flew to the capital, Bogotá. We then took an hour and a half drive through the mountain range to a city called Guateque where I was the first Russian to ever visit. This area of Colombia is located in the mountain ranges and as such, the temperatures vary. Bogotá is at 8000ft and temperatures were about 18-19C at the highest ( what is that like in the 60s in Fahrenheit?) In Guateque which is about 6000ft, the temperatures were more like 28C in the daytime so it was pretty warm. Cartagena on the other hand is right on the coast so it was much toastier and more humid and overall staying at a place with no A/C and no hot water it was more than uncomfortable and I was ready to GTFO and fly away into the mountains.

Cartagena is a very beautiful city with an old Spanish fort (Castillo de San Felipe) and an old city surrounded by walls dotted with old cannons. It's a very touristy area and tourist or not, people haggle you for anything. You walk a foot closer to them and they start rattling off trying to sell you stuff. And all the stuff was the same poorly made crap but in different arrangements. We did get some "dulces" which are dried candied fruit and I am now hooked on dried papaya (called Caballito - little horse). They have lots of carriage rides but the city is pretty dusty. Cartagena smells like horse pee, food, and garbage (bags are lying around everywhere). We even managed to see 2 Batavus Old Dutch bicycles riding around but it was such a quick notice that I had no time to photograph them and it made me sad indeed :(. I believe they were either both white or one white and the other some dark colour. We took a tour on one of the traditional icons of the country–a chiva. Chiva in itself means a small female goat but they named these rickety buses that for some reason. Originally they were old trucks with a stripped down bed that they built wooden benches on and a rickety roof and they painted it wild colours. They transported farmers and peasants with all of their crapola (goats, chickens, you get the picture). Now they are like tour buses and even on a Monday, it was packed!

Bogotá smells of food and car exhaust. There are 8 MILLION people jampacked into this valley and congestion became so bad that now people with cars are limited to driving certain days of the week. You still cannot escape all the smog. My boogers were BLACK. So they've also been investing in infrastructure for a bus system called Transmilenio which is pretty neat to ride on but eventually everyone is packed so tightly in this metal sardine can that if you're riding with someone, it's very possible to not be able to get through the crowd together to both get off on the stop. It rained like all week and all the statues and monuments are covered in graffiti by the unhappies.

However, Bogotá has one thing the rest of the world can model: Ciclovía. This is a weekly event on Sundays and festivals that they close about 124km of the city's roads and open them to anyone who wants to take a stroll or ride their bike, with kid, with dog, whatever. The other side of the street that is open to traffic experiences major congestion. However, the closed side the air is actually BREATHABLE for once and we had a nice 4 hour walk down the road. What they lack are bike rental shops and we didn't want to go to the center of the city where some "gringo" did bike tours and was the only guy in town who rented bikes. But now we have the motivation that next time we come, we will take our folding bikes with us! It really was a sight to behold. Bicycle enthusiasts come from all over the world to ride Ciclovía. I saw one Batavus dutch bike and several vintage English bicycles, mostly with rod brakes so I figured they were old.

Bogotá is at the forefront to really improve the liveability of its city because it actively WANTS to get the cars off the streets. By promoting this program, they not only encourage commuting by bicycle as a friendlier and quicker way to get around town, but imagine the enormous health benefits! They are really poised to become the Amsterdam of South America. Here are some photos in all of their bicycleness splendor. Enjoy!

Me after arriving in Cartagena

Example of the vendor cargo bikes all over the city

The curbs are so high they park bikes "Italian" style
Another vendor bike

Sardines on the bus system in Bogotá

Lots of people ride bikes outside major cities as well

OMG fresh fruit I miss you!! Lulo! Maracuya! Mora!

Just a cool bike. You can see it's been raining...

The typical bike you see in Colombia

There are 2 bike commuters and you can see the bike lines up ahead

The signs

One of many rest stops along the way with drinks and repairs

Anyone is welcome here! Roadies to scooters!

Banana seat bikes!

Teaching her child how to ride a bike

And there were lots of folding bikes!

Lots of children out riding. This is so good for the city

The police are everywhere in Colombia

One of many awesome fruit stands

This guy had awesome roller blades

Some people didn't care what they rode...they just wanted to ride

One of the many English bikes

and she rode it that way all the way down the hill

Apparently there are no laws against this which is AWESOME

These guys are the leaders in the program

Don't hate. She might really need those training wheels

Really REALLY old bike with a double fork!  (about $150)

some old motorbike WITH PEDALS!

This is really a find! Crazy Colombians

Super old saddle



  1. Do you have any idea why the curbs are so high in some of the photos? Easier for people to get on a bus from a higher curb?

  2. Maybe. I honestly don't know. The curb heights are more or less inconsistent depending on where you are so there might not even be a reason lol.

  3. nice post, glad you enjoied your stay in Colombia. As Colombian and running bogota Cyclechic i really apreciate what you said about we are heading to be the amsterda in soth america. we have to work hard, the thing here is the social status of the car, for that reason i am trying to bring satus to the bicycle, is working each day you see more office people mostly in foldable bikes. Sheers

  4. It was really amazing in the morning during the week watching people go to work on bicycles. Bogotá is a city where you can't sleep in late because of all of the honking from the traffic. I was really happy to see so many new bicycle paths! Everytime I got into a car, my life flashed before my eyes because everyone drives like a maniac in a sort of organized chaos. It was always a gridlock. If you make the city worse for cars and build more infrastructure for public transit and bicycle paths, you will bring higher status for the bicycle. It took us 2 hours to get to a post office to receive a package trying to take a taxi (that got lost and stuck in traffic) and Transmilenio. If we had a bicycle, I'm sure it might have taken maximum 45 min. Parking the car in Bogotá is also a nightmare. Free bicycling parking and more bicycle rental places will help a lot to elevate the status of the bicycle. I am excited for the future of your city and hope to come back as soon as I can!

  5. The curbs are so high because there is little government involvement in sidewalks. Each building is in charge of making their part of the sidewalk which is why they are so uneven too... Now as to why some people want their piece of pavement to be so unreasonably high-- that is a mystery. I used to have several long straight skirts but got tired of wearing them because it made getting up on the curb difficult at times. That was when I really noticed the high pavement.

    Also our fruit here is amazing. our beef is great because it really is almost organic and is all grass fed. BUT most things here are definitely not organic. There is no winter here to keep bugs under control which means that certain crops get lots of pesticides. Slowly organic veggies are becoming available in higher end groceries. But organic fruits--unless they are from your own garden are very hard to find.

    As for bike paths there are more and more everyday---yay--and ciclovia is great. BUT air pollution as you noted is a major problem.

  6. Yes I did notice that. The pollution is horrendous. I was told it's because the cost of new cars that emit less exhaust is so steep and high that it deters purchases. People choose to drive their clunkers instead, especially all of the old buses run by independent drivers and not the city or county-run public transport like they do here in the US. Here all the public bus transport is becoming hybrid to offset gas costs and emissions. The cash-for-clunkers program in the US would have been much more beneficial in Bogotá if the goverment can subsidize or offset some of the cost of a newer car for everyone.

    The Netherlands and Denmark only started building more bicycling infrastructure because of a push for children's safety and the death tolls that came about with all the cars moreso than pollution being an issue. There was also outrage over buildings having to be destroyed to make room for more cars in the old compact European cities. What many municipalities do not understand is that the more roadway you put in to offset traffic congestion, the more cars will fill it up. It's an exponential problem that won't get better without finding a way to get rid of the excess of cars. Unfortunately in a valley such as Bogotá, that's where the pollution settles. It doesn't go over the mountains. I really hope and wish for greater resolutions in Bogotá's future concerning this and to be one of the greatest examples for the rest of the world.

    Recently, our governor in Florida, Rick Scott, refused over $2Billion in federal money, effectively killing high-speed rail in the state. Instead, he opted to move the funding to building more roads. This is becoming a problem in South Florida. A good example is the 595 interchange in Broward County where it's just a clusterfuck of ramps and roads being built, one over atop the other. Perhaps one day the US can learn from examples put forth in South America.