I spend many hours of my day downtown, running between classes at the one of the city’s private universities, and teaching English to students scattered across this urban sprawl. During a year in the capital, I have clocked many hours on the red rocket of TransMilenio, to the degree that, I should be eligible soon for an upgrade to Platinum passenger.
From the window of my daily route, I have seen the decay of Santa Fé with its sinister back alleys, where the dispossessed shuffle like artful dodgers between Residencia and Whiskeria. The station of San Victorino is one of my TM “hubs” and a relatively close walk to the University, once I reach the Jimenéz “crossing” and the jewelers of the Carrera 5 with Calle 13 selling precious stones which smolder after every downpour. I am always tempted by the coconut cocadas stacked high in the sweet shops of the Calle 11, up from the Plaza Bolívar, and nestled between the shops selling life-sized plaster statues of the Virgin Mary, and other devotional accessories.
I make an obligatory stop at the Juan Valdez coffee shop at the base of the Gabriel García Márquez Cultural Centre on the Calle 11 before walking up hill past the Old Mint and the bronze hand of the Botero sculpture, bidding me safe passage from the lobby of the Museum. Just past the Carrera 4, facing the mountain, there’s De Una Travel Bar and Café Andante Ma Non Troppo.
The staff at ‘De Una’ are friendly and they stock a good selection of travel books and brochures on Colombia. During lunchtime, they serve organic soups and fresh juices. Across the street, Andante Ma Non Troppo is a popular restaurant and bakery, which serves fresh salads and sandwiches. A small organic supermarket up the street on the Calle 11 towards the Carrera 3 is where I go to stock up on grains and Quinoa harvested by indigenous communities in the highlands of the Nariño department.
As you walk north along the Carrera 3, towards the Las Aguas station, you come to the Israeli restaurant L’Jaim (Cra 3 No.12C-79) owned by Conny, and who serves kibbes, humus and shawarmas. Her main dining room of white tablecloths is decked by a large picture of Haifa Bay. Sitting down for a meal, I am always swept of my feet by the authenticity of the dishes, and the very personalized attention the proprietor offers her walk in guests.
On a recent stroll through the green corridor that is Parkway, and a few houses north of Casa Ensemble theatre, I found Quipile Café de Origen, thanks to an eye-catchy logo and a cozy six-table setting. Founded by the anthropologist Eduardo Esquivel, whose farm in Quipile, Cundinamarca grows the “origin” coffee I met Minerva Asprilla, the café’s assistant and who offered me jars of her unique marmalade ‘Bacao’ made with the Pacific coast’s aphrodisiac fruit, Borojó, as well as other more tame selections, such as passion fruit (maracuya) with jalapeño and raspberry with cinnamon. Quipile is a little piece of the Pacific in this metropolis and a “secret” I am all too happy to share.
Chapinero is a world unto itself and the streets behind Parque Lourdes sell everything from stove fixtures to cellphone accessories. If you are looking for a very specific kitchen item, then brace yourself for the emporium that is ‘Almacen El Condor’ (Calle 60 No.14-41). With its wall to wall assembly of everything corkable, stackable and breakable, this locale is well known to Bogotá cooks needing to stock up on plates and cutlery. Lodged between a seedy bathhouse and parking lot, El Condor is no Crate and Barrel in looks, but a real bargain secret for all your cooking needs.
The Calle 59A is a treasure trove of boutiques dedicated to both old and new. From vintage apparel to designer pieces by up and coming talent: explore this trendsetting village part of Chapinero and make sure to pick up a tub of Dulce Mini-Mal’s (Calle 57 No.4-09) exotic fruits-inspired ice cream, such as their Tamarind and Bitter Lemon. Another tip of the now, not so hidden secrets of this capital.