Before Sunday, Seth and I had not yet made a trip outside of Bogotá. We had visited Usaquén and Suba—two localities of the city which were formerly independent towns. And with my two bosses, I had briefly visited a potential client’s headquarters in Sopó. None of these experiences really counted, though.
On Sunday morning, Seth and I took the Transmilenio to the Portal Norte and hopped on a bus to Chía, a town about thirty miles north of Bogotá. We had no plan. We did not know where exactly the bus would take us or which sites we would see. At the station, we merely followed the signs and the sounds of Colombian men yelling, “Chía! Siga!”
A one-way trip cost us COP$2100, or a little over US$1.00. As we rode through the northernmost part of Bogotá, we passed shanty town after shanty town and then suddenly… nothing. Along the mountainside sat a straight, vertical line of houses and then… nothing! The city stopped. After riding another mile or so, we saw a car dealership. Then more poverty, then another car dealership, and so on.
Before we knew it, we were in Chía. Seth and I watched as all of the other passengers stepped off the bus, some at centros commerciales (malls), some in the middle of nowhere. Seth and I looked out the window for signs of a town square—a church, a city hall, throngs of pedestrians. We finally spotted it near the line’s terminus, the Chía Terminal. We only had to walk a couple of blocks to the square, which was indeed home to a church, a bank, a theater, clusters of craft stalls, and outdoor cafes. It was too early for lunch, so we stopped at a bakery to grab two arepas boyacenses. We snacked as we explored.
We had only been in Chía for about ten minutes, and I was already disappointed with how big the “town” was. I had hoped to walk to the edge of civilization, to get a whiff of fresh air, maybe even to visit that mountaintop church in the distance. From the town square, everything seemed out of reach. Finally, I asked Seth, “Do you think we could just walk until the city stops?” “Okay,” he said.
We trekked a couple of miles in the blistering sun, past social housing, past makeshift homes, past “restaurants” and “bars”. (I put those words in quotes because the “businesses” were really just extensions of residents’ homes, much like suburban American lemonade stands.) We made plans to stop at one on the way back for a beer or some fresh juice.
It seemed like no time had passed before we reached the edge of the city. I tilted back my head to catch a glimpse of the church above us. I asked Seth, “Do you think we could just walk up that mountain?” “Okay.”
After taking the bend in the road, we walked up a wide, somewhat crowded dirt path which became increasingly narrow and deserted. We hiked through a small village and dodged a car every now and then. The experience reminded us of the epic roadside treks we had endured in the rural Czech Republic a year and a half prior. We eventually made it to the top of the mountain, to La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Valvanera. From its peak, we could see all of Chía and even some of Bogotá; we could see the vertical line of houses that had marked the edge of the city; we could see Monserrate in the distance.
Seth and I snapped a few photos before taking the pedestrian path back down the mountain. (Apparently there was a proper pedestrian path. Who knew?) We stopped at a “bar” at the mountain’s base, where we ordered a couple of beers and another snack of chorizo and salted criollas. Once we had regained some of our strength, we continued on our way.
We returned to the town square in search of a place for a late lunch. On an emptier street just northeast of the plaza, I spotted an inviting chalkboard sign. We peeked inside the establishment, looking for hints of fare and cost. On the back side of the restaurant, past the indoor dining area and the kitchen, we noticed a hint of green. We had stumbled upon the Holy Grail of small-town restaurants: the elusive beer garden. “Sigan,” the owner said.
We made our way toward a table for two in the distant corner. As we weaved around the other tables, all of the other patrons stopped shoveling food into their mouths to stare at us. Silence. My God. Gringos! they must have thought. We adjusted our seats, and the conversation around us gradually returned to a comfortable volume. Seth ordered a beer, but since I was dehydrated I ordered a glass of fresh strawberry juice with water. As the smoke from the parilla (grill) floated through the garden, we knew we had to taste the meat sampler: 200 grams each of steak, low-roasted chicken, and pork tenderloin accompanied by a tarter sauce and chive-coated salted potato.
I know I sometimes talk about all of the delicious foods we eat here in Colombia, but I will admit right now that the meat is not among those delicacies. I will always recommend a bandeja paisa or lechona for their novelty factor, and I do love a creamy cazuela de mariscos or mojarra frita every now and then. But as far as straight-up beef, chicken, and pork are concerned, Colombian meat is anything but condimentado (flavored). At our Chía dining spot of choice, however, the meat was so flavorful and moist that I thought I had inadvertently left the country.
After lunch, Seth and I decided to wander around the square to recover from our animal protein-induced food coma. We sipped a quick café con leche at a French coffeehouse on the northeast corner of the plaza and watched puppies frolic in the center. As the sun began to set, we returned to the Chía Terminal, boarded a bus, and headed home.
I thoroughly enjoyed our first excursion out of the city. Seth and I have found it easiest and most comfortable to travel on a three-day weekend, as it allows us to run all of our necessary errands on Saturday and work on the designs for his parents’ bayhouse on Monday. We have another puente next weekend, so we hope to travel to Zipaquirá to see the Salt Cathedral.
In the meantime, if you would like to see more photos of Chía, kindly click here: