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Couchsurfing in Bogota

My first impressions of Bogota, and Colombia, were shattered when Laura opened the door to her apartment.

Inside, her and her roommate were using their laptops with Wi-Fi, while The Simpsons was on TV in the background. It could have easily been a university student's apartment in any major American city.

View of Bogota from Laura's apartment

I don't know why this shocked me. But it did. And I'm slightly embarassed to admit it now, since it reflects how little I knew of the city and country when I first arrived.

I'd reached out to Laura through Couchsurfing, while still in Spain. I introduced myself, shared the details of my arrival, and how long I hoped to be her guest.

She responded by agreeing to host me for almost a week, and providing her address so I could go straight to her house once my flight landed.

We immediately began getting to know each other better, though the jetlag from Madrid ensured I went to bed early that first night.

The next day, Laura showed me around La Candelaria, Bogota's most famous (and touristy) neighborhood.

It was a chilly, overcast day, with occasional rain showers, as would be the case for much of my first week in Bogota.

Juan Valdez

One of our first stops was the Juan Valdez Cafe, where I ordered a tinto, the name for a small black cup of Colombian coffee.

At the time, I didn't even drink coffee, aside from the occasional capuccino after a nice dinner.

Later, after living in Medellin for a year and a half, I'd become quite accustomed to the caffeinated beverage.

The Botero Museum

Next, we stepped inside the nearby Botero Museum, which served as my introduction to the unique style of Fernando Botero, Colombia's best-known artist.

We walked through the numerous galleries, filled with his larger than life paintings and sculptures of women, horses, and scenes depicting the culture and history of Colombia.

Ajiaco soup

A walk around Simon Bolivar Plaza was followed by lunch at a nearby restaurant proclaiming to serve the world's best ajiaco, a potato and cream-based soup with chicken which would ultimately become my favorite Colombian food.

After lunch, we walked around La Candelaria a little more, and then called it quits with a bus ride back to Laura's place.

The Gold Museum (Museo del Oro)

The next day, Laura was busy so her roommate accompanied up Cerro de Monserrate.

Despite the heavy clouds, I wanted to go for a ride up the teleferico on the off chance we'd have a good view.

We didn't, but at least I was able to visit the church up there.

Afterwards, I spent an hour walking through the Gold Museum (Museo del Oro).

There were so many artifacts on display, I could've easily spent double the time there.

Expat poker night

With some of the major sightseeing accomplished in the first few days, I was able to relax and enjoy some other experiences Laura had up her sleeve.

For example, one night she brought me to a regular expat poker night, where I quickly lost $20 in Texas Hold'em.

When she and her friends collected me later that night, we took a drive up one of the mountain roads to a scenic outlook. The sweeping view of Bogota was beautiful at night.

It was one of many little experiences that enriched my first week in Bogota, and Colombia.

Experiences you won't likely enjoy if you're staying at a hostel with other foreigners, or cloistered by yourself in an upscale hotel.

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