Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sunday Excursion

My first weekend trip out of Bogota was last weekend when five of us from the Embassy got an early start on our Sunday and met at the Usaquen train station in the northside of the city. Each weekend this train station comes to life as the admittedly tourist-train takes people (we were the only Americans that I saw) a few hours north into the countryside to two small towns: Zipaquira (Zee-pack-ear-ah) and Cajica. In Zipaquira there is an optional side trip to the Salt Cathedral by bus, where the visitors can meet up with the train on the return trip in Cajica. However, we chose the simpler route, and spent some time in Zipaquira first, then a longer time in Cajica for lunch and looking around.

The train is a beautiful old steam train, fueled (I think) by coal, judging from the car I saw loaded with coal as we boarded. Oh, and the black steam/smoke that drifted by the window when the wind was blowing our way. We pulled out of Usaquen and began chugging and rocking along the tracks through the northern reaches of Bogota, into a countryside where brand-new American-style suburbs are being constructed. It was odd to see familiar cul de sacs and townhomes in such a foreign setting,and I wondered where all these people were coming from to buy all these modern new homes. We continued into more open land: all very, very green, and past a horseshow in progress; greenhouses full of rose bushes answering my question about where all the perfect long-stem roses come from that are sold at every intersection, alongside one of the previously-mentioned dog fincas; and by loads of fat cattle grazing in lush pastures, although often tethered by their necks or crude halters with rope. The mountains rose steeply to both sides, creating a wide and green valley.

To keep us entertained en route, if the scenery weren't enough, bands came through the train cars, stopping at each for a few songs. They were really good, and quite loud:

At each tiny settlement or town we passed through, everyone within sight and earshot of the tracks rushed to see the train go by and waved, smiled and pointed us out to their children. It was as if this were an annual, not weekly, occurence; they were all so happy to see the train. By about 11:00, we pulled into Zipaquira first, where well over half of the train lined up for buses to the Salt Cathedral. My friends and I stayed behind to explore the town and walked first down a narrow, partially car-free lane and onto the main plaza headed by a huge brick cathedral. The other sides of the plaza were lined with important-looking old government buildings (based on their flags) or lovely storefronts with wooden balconies on the second floor. One of my friends noted that the plazas were usually built so spaciously to allow for room for executions and crowds of witnesses. Hmmm...

We explored a bit, found the weekend market full of candy and clothing stalls, and got back on the train for the short trip to Cajica. I don't recommend visiting on an empty stomach, as every-other store seemed to be a bakery or candy store! (We gave in and tried some local pastries before lunch.) 

Cajica seemed to be a larger town, and we were met by a throng of restaurant hawkers passing out paper fliers and menus. As it was past noon, we made our way into the town square area and found a lovely plaza with a center park full of flowers and a fountain and a cathedral packed with people just outside. Fortunately, we got into the restaurant "Jica" just before they did, as the place filled up fast for Sunday lunch. I ordered a Colombian favorite soup, "Ajiaco" (chicken soup with corn and other bits), but all my friends went seriously carnivore and ordered a variety of mixed grill-type platters. And I mean platters!  After a big lunch, typical here, we waddled back through town and onto the train for the trip home.
At the train station, I learned about another favorite Colombian passtime: kites! Alongside the tracks was a big field full of families flying kites. Even in the crowded streets in the town, families and groups of kids flew kites despite what I had always believed was a certain way to electrocution - low wires. One kite's string was wrapped around some electric lines and draped across a busy road. While waiting for the train to leave, I watched car passengers, to my surprise, get out of their vehicles, and carefully lift the kite strings as the drivers continued beneath them. The group of teens at the other end of the string seemed oblivous to what was happening.
The train took its time, stopping inexplicably along the way a few times, and brought us back to Usaquen before 5pm. It was a lovely day in the country of my new country and gave me a nice look around at the horizon that so far has been obstructed by tall buildings and windowless offices.

In two days Tim and Daphne (third Tabby to be introduced soon) will join the boys and I finally. I'm certain that there will be many more weekend excursions like this one in the next two years!

C'mon down - it's lovely!


  1. I'm so excited about your journey to Colombia, my husband really loved the Arepa de choclo in front of "parque de Jaime duque" near where you guys were venturing out and about. He's starting training in Sept.

  2. Arepa de Choclo sounds pretty good and boy they do baked goods well here! Thanks for reading and good luck to your husband in training - is this as an FSS?