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For somebody who likes to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, to discover new, more tranquil settings, having not left the greater environs of Bogotá for over 15 months has been far from ideal.
Indeed, how I haven’t completely cracked up is perhaps puzzling (although some will say I have, at least on occasions).
Part of the secret in keeping me relatively sane — outside of moving house regularly — has been my making the most of the spots of serenity Bogotá does have available.
Most will find that statement a paradox: spots of serenity in Bogotá? Well, they do exist.
The first of those that became my retreat in the middle of 2020 is the area behind the rough-and-ready barrio of El Codito.
While many would advise against a non-resident walking up through El Codito, I haven’t had any issues traversing its many steep, narrow steps. This is part of the attraction, the pumping of the legs needed to get beyond the bustling barrio and into loftier, quieter territory. I’m not fully certain of the altitude at the higher points but I’d wager they reach about 3000 metres-above-sea-level, 400 metres above the Bogotá mean.
That settlement behind El Codito, taking the 185th Street to the turn-off for La Capilla and beyond — actually officially leaving Bogotá and crossing into the municipality of La Calera — gives you a sense of being in the countryside yet with a sprawling metropolis in full view.
It’s not completely serene. There’s always the chance of an aggressive dog or two spoiling the walk but at least the air feels fresher with more greenery about than in the grey, uninspiring concrete jungle below.
There is also a pleasant trek from La Capilla, along the mountain ridge, to Santa Cecilia, the hillside barrio with brightly painted houses that, when viewed from a distance, collectively resemble a butterfly.
‘There’s even a generously branched tree or two enticing one to climb. I felt like a child again!’
I only walked that route once, on a relatively busy Sunday. Why I haven’t returned is largely down to the fact that I’ve been told it’s a “popular” spot for thieves. A lone wanderer would be a bit exposed and isolated in the event of an unwanted encounter. Oh well, nothing’s perfect.
There are no such concerns on the direct opposite side to El Codito and Santa Cecilia, namely Cerro de la Conejera on Bogotá’s north-western limits.
This is the hill that meets you when you take the partially closed-to-traffic 183rd Street to its conclusion. The fact that it’s home to the Antares Naval Club probably plays a part in keeping it free from “undesirables”.
The gentle climb up the road to the club’s entrance is popular with cyclists, offering a nice workout as it does. I’m guessing it’s at least a 200-metre ascent.
The best bit, though, about this hill is going off-road, where the cyclists can’t really go. About 100 metres before the club gates, there’s a path into the woods. This breaks up into various interconnected trails. A ten-to-fifteen-minute wander in and you’ll get views of the flat land leading to the town of Cota further west, tucked away in the foothills of another mountain range. To the north, you can see Chía.
There’s even a generously branched tree or two enticing one to climb. I felt like a child again! When the sun shines, there are a few uncovered spots that catch the rays, allowing for some tanning/burning should one be that way inclined.
I’ve done this walk on two occasions thus far and each time I met nobody — I was completely on my own. Not even a canine — crazy or otherwise — in sight, a rarity for Colombia.
Both times were Fridays, so it might be different at weekends, perhaps there are more people about then. I must wander up some Sunday to see what it’s like — Sunday being the day when practically all of Bogotá tends to get out to do some form of exercise or activity.
Whatever the case, I’m more than happy to have it to myself midweek. These little spots of serenity together with the never-dull barrio living help to keep one ‘in the game’, so to put it, in these strange, troubling times.
Listen to Wrong Way’s Colombia Cast podcast here.