Transported on a Sunday

WARNING: This is full-on transportation geekdom, so it may be boring to people who work in the real world . . .

The only thing I knew Bogota was that its mayor Enrique Penalosa had started ciclovia  , and for that he was a rock star in the transportation planning world. Top of my to-do list in Bogota was to check out ciclovia.

We schlepped south to La Calendaria by taxi to go to a bike rental shop, and picked up a couple of beaters. (Poor Joe, he would end up with sore thumbs and hands because the handlebars were really uncomfortable for him.)

Avenida/Carrera 7 is one of the main arteries that is part of ciclovia. running north-south along the foot of the mountains. We decided to bike end-to-end, which ended up giving us very comprehensive look at the diversity of neighbourhoods: working class, then political cultural core of the Presidential, Congress, and Playa Bolivar, an older downtown (reminiscent of downtown San Jose around Santa Clara St.), then a financial district with spiffy Class A space type taller buildings, and a posh residential district, and then Usaquen (an neighbourhood of colonial buildings turned into upscale restaurants, which features a flea market of street vendors on Sundays.) But throughout the route there were a good mix of people.  Fathers pushing daughters on bikes, teaching them how to ride. Women jogging in lululemonesque outfits, iphone earbuds to tune out the world. Guys in sporty bikes and spandex and helmets. Teenage boys on wheelies.  Knots of friends and family walking 4 abreast. People walking dogs. One young man was walking a pig (he attracted lots of attention, and people taking his photo).  Actually in this mix it was hard to bike fast, because people would space themselves out every which way: pedestrians would walk on the left, etc. There’s lots of amenities along the way: bike stands to fix flats, vendors selling drinks, fruit and snacks. Didn’t see porta-potties, I guess you’d have to find a café or a public one somewhere.

If we had planned/known better, we would have ploughed straight to Usaquen to Restaurant Abasto, which we spotted the previous day. Unfortunately, we detoured to Parque 93 and lunched at an Andre Carne de Res Express, which was good, but they have multiple branches. Abasto, it turns out, was not open for dinner on Sundays. (It seems to be typically Columbian that restaurants don’t open for dinner on Sundays, the way many nicer end restaurants don’t open for lunch on Saturdays!)

For all that Bogota has good bikeway infrastructure, they don’t have a lot of bike racks. I wasn’t sure how OK it would be to lock up our bikes whenever we stopped, both in terms of permission and theft. We were provided with a very cheap cable and key-padlock. But since the bikes were so cheap, maybe the thieves would not have been tempted by them.

By the time we were done poking around the flea market Ciclovia was over (it only runs from 7 AM to 2 PM, and even then, some stretches of Avenida 7, they only close the southbound direction lanes, so on the other side of the median, you’re getting the pollution fumes from the north bound motor traffic! We biked back south (we had to return our bikes!) along the bike path on Avenida 11. It’s another arterial but they put a bike path in the sidewalk, and for the most part, it’s got curb cuts, although steeper than current ADA standards. The annoyance of biking there is inhaling the fumes though:  the local buses puff out impressive black clouds through the tail pipes. Still there’s a good system of bike paths to get your around the city, and they were well marked on the decent and free map we got from tourist info.

We decided to go home via TransMilenio: the bus rapid transit system, which was well marked on the map. It’s a very difficult system to navigate though (even for a transportation planner. It reminds me of Marcella R telling me that the ticket vending machines for Chicago being hard to navigate.)  You pay the fare at a ticket agent, who hands you a plastic card (unless you have a high/added value fare card like Octopus or Clipper.)  Interestingly, even with 2 people, you get one card, so I would insert it into the fare gate, it would spit out and I would hand it to Joe, who would feed it, whereupon it got retained by the faregate. Smart. Peak hour fare is 1700 pesos for adults, off peak is 1400 pesos. Although on the Sunday evening we rode it, it was as packed as weekday commute hours, and we were so squeezed, we couldn’t move forward or backwards to allow people to board or get off. (That was alarming, I was worried about vulnerability to pickpockets.

Full disclosure: We never completed a single TransMilenio ride according to our intended origin/destination! (Rather embarrassing.) We got so lost! Even with people helping us! (And people were really helpful, voluntarily going out of our way to ask if we needed help!)

On the map Transmilenio showed up as lines A through G, so I thought it would be like the NY subway system with routes named accordingly but when you got onto the platform, there were routes numbers like B89 and G2, which didn’t correspond to the map at all. We did find a map/schedule, which laid out the bus routes and stops for weekdays, weekends, peak hours, etc. It’s also complicated by skip-stop service (rather like Caltrain, where some trains only make limited stops.) And even with stops where we figured we needed to get off and catch the bus going in the opposite direction, it turned out you couldn’t. You have to get back on the bus and go one more stop in order to ‘u-turn’. Oh well, our lifeline was, we could always get off and catch a cab, sine they’re cheap.

DRIVING: I got an international driver’s license before I left home, thinking we might rent a car to drive around Patagonia (Chile and Argentina.) Little did I know I would make use of it so soon. We’d gone to Carolina’s uncle’s birthday party at her grandmother’s house. It was a lot of fun, eating birthday cake (crowned not by a mere candle, but a sparkler [fireworks]), home-made empanadas, and drinking lots beer. It’s very handy in Columbia, domicilio (home delivery service), includes an option to have some guy deliver a plastic crate of 30 bottles of Poker beer, which he will come pick up later. We played charades (actually Cranium, known as Genio in Spanish) with Carolina’s cousins and aunts. There were cultural-specific questions on salsa and merengue, which Joe and I were completely useless in helping answer. We were very jolly, ‘”We are the Champions,” we sand, everytime we scored a point. The other team sang “Bad Boys” when they scored. The party ended early by Columbian standards, and while Carolina and Mike weren’t too blotto, they decided to risk being pulled over and having their driver’s license AND car confiscated. Especially since it was her brother’s car and he’s trying to sell it. So by default I was the designated driver. . .

Fortunately, it wasn’t far away, the Columbians drive on the same side of the street as Americans, and I know how to drive stick shift. It was raining, and the streets aren’t very-lit, so Carolina and Mike had to spot me not only for directions, but “avoid the potholes!” Too late, I hit the biggest one of that 2-mile drive. Oops, a bit of pressure, since I didn’t want to decrease the car’s resale value, so I had to drive slow and carefully. Now I know why people around here drive erratically but in the same pattern: to avoid potholes. They were really hard to see, especially since my eyes have gotten older. We got home OK, and then Caro took over again, because you have to back into this very narrow parking space. I was not up to it.

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