Another early start today – this time we arranged for a driver to take us south to Zoologico Santacruz. Our driver picked us up around 10am and we headed off, expecting to arrive at the zoo in around an hour or so. Alas this was not to be.
It is a long weekend here in Colombia and there are quite a few road closures on Sundays – every Sunday and public holiday, many roads around the central part of Bogota are closed to cars and only cyclists and pedestrians are allowed.
The road we took south took us through some of the poorer areas of Bogota – vastly different to the wealthy inner city and northern suburbs. After about an hour or so of traffic, we met up with our other driver (the same guy we had yesterday) who was to take us the rest of the way to the zoo. We thought at this point we would be out of the worst of the traffic, but it actually got worse! The main road heading south seemed to be heavily congested – I’m not sure how much of the traffic was local and how much was people leaving town for the rest of the long weekend.
Then it got even worse, we discovered what seemed to be the main source of the congestion – the police had actually blocked off one part of the main road for some reason. We were directed down a side street along with everyone else, and three lanes (with five lanes of traffic!) became two lanes, and then one as we made our way down the back streets of this area at the southernmost end of Bogota. At times we were stationary for 5 – 10 minutes at a time, watching pedestrians and cyclists go past enjoying a Sunday outing.
Fortunately Andres seemed unfazed by all of this and laughed and played with us in the backseat of the car. He had fun smiling at people in cars and buses stuck next to us in traffic, and dancing to the 80s music on the radio. The driver tuned the radio to his favourite station (the same station we listened to yesterday as well), which only seemed to play hits from the 80s – which suited us fine!
After two and a half hours of fighting the traffic, we finally cleared the city limits and sped off down the country roads trying to find a way back to the highway south. Eventually we found the road we needed and then we found the turnoff to head towards the zoo. The sign said 16km, so I thought it would be just a short distance – but then things got really interesting!
The road we were now on wound its way through a valley following a river. I thought nothing of this until we passed a rather large waterfall which dropped down several hundred metres from where we were. You may have difficulty picturing it – so I’ll try and explain why this seemed amazing to us.
The city of Bogota is largely flat – with a north-south running mountain range rising steeply along the eastern edge of the city providing a spectacular backdrop to the city skyline, and providing an easy landmark to get your bearings (to head north, keep the mountains on your right hand side, and on the left to head south).
With a flat landscape where we haven’t driven up into the mountains at all, we didn’t expect to be arriving at the top of a large waterfall, with a valley disappearing below us. What’s more, as we drove further, the road now narrow and winding its way down along the mountainside, we were able to see where this narrow valley lead to – an enormous valley that spread out below us, probably a kilometer deep – below the level of Bogota.
When I thought about it, it does kind of make sense – Bogota is quite high up at around 2,600m above sea level. It is quite reasonable for there to be valleys nearby that are substantially lower than this. After heading north the previous day where the road was pretty much flat the entire way, we just found it surprising to see such different terrain here.
Checking the logs from my GPS tracker, it seems that we dropped from around 2,500m to around 1,800m where the zoo was, and the zoo was only halfway down the mountain, with spectacular views further down into the valley from there!
This last part of the journey took us 30 minutes – despite our driver’s enthusiasm for getting us there sooner along the narrow winding roads (we would have rather he took it a bit more slowly so we could enjoy the stunning scenery more). So all up, it took 3 hours to get to the zoo – although we consider the last 30 minutes of the trip worth suffering through the first 150 minutes of it.
The zoo itself was somewhat of a disappointment, despite the interesting location perched on the side of the mountain, and the narrow winding path that took you down from the entrance past each of the exhibits. The exhibits themselves were generally small empty cages which would be deemed vastly inadequate in most zoos back home. They have a reasonable collection of local species, plus a few exotics (lions, tigers, emus, ostriches), but I think most of the same animals can be seen at the Zoologico Jaime Duque that we visited yesterday, with much better enclosures. Once again, Andres took a liking to the birds – colourful and noisy.
I guess part of my disappointment was the overcast conditions we found ourselves in down in the valley – which made it less than ideal conditions for taking photos. Also, due to the layout of the zoo (one path which winds its way down the hill from the top of the zoo to the bottom), it was not really practical for me to go back and take photos with the wide-angle lens (and I didn’t want to be swapping back and forth between lenses the whole time we were there).
In the end we stayed only about 90 minutes at the zoo, we were already about 2 hours behind schedule and didn’t want to arrive back at the hotel too late. We also didn’t feel like waiting around for lunch at the zoo, and so we ate our snacks (oreos and snakes) and ignored our rumbling tummies.
The trip home was much faster – we made it back to the hotel in around one hour, which was what we had expected for the trip there. Apparently while we were gone they had some heavy rain all afternoon (which would explain all the standing water we found over the main road while driving in!), they even had to cancel the BBQ they had planned at the hotel for lunch.
After we got back, we headed around to the supermarket to get some supplies and some more snacks for a late lunch (mmm – Haagen Dazs Dulce de Leche icecream!), and then started our packing for our trip to Cartagena in the morning.
As usual, I’ve only shown some of the best photos from the zoo here, I’ll upload more photos to ZooChat.