Back to that Altitude feeling.. South America’s specialty is putting its capitals on top of big mountains and Bogotá is no exception, though it was quite a pleasant surprise. Set at 2600m I had imagined it would be similar to the other high capitals but although the LP described it as noisy, crowded and polluted I didn’t think it was at all. Down town was full of modern buildings next to shack-type old buildings and grand colonial churches. The Northern suburbs smacked of wealth with mansions and hundreds of swanky restaraunts.Colombia obviously has as much poverty as other SA countries, but the difference is that here you don’t see it unless you look for it. The buses were of this decade and the whole place had quite a cosmopolitan feel to it. The biggest surprise to me was how rich in western culture it was – full of museums, exhibitions and theatres. Jason’s ( well known for his love of culture) biggest surprise was “the amount of women with skinny frames and huge knockers”; he decided it was plastic surgery capital. Bohemian Bogotá After our luxury few days in Cartagena we were catapulted back into backpacker-ville and landed with a bump at the only hostel in town. The only room left was a cupboard with a bunk bed but the owner was a lovely, helpful guy and the hostel had a very friendly atmosphere. As always it was located in the older less-than-salubrious part of town and we were warned not to walk around here late at night. Again this was a small price to pay for being in such an atmospheric part of town. La Candelaria is the old Bogotá with cobbled streets and little stone houses with narrow doors. Unlike many colonial areas it hasn’t really been spruced up and is buzzing with bohemian atmosphere. It’s full of dark little bars and candle lit cafes where you could just imagine poets and writers lurking in corners composing their great works. More crazy nights Bogotá’s real appeal though is in its nightlife with dozens of bars and clubs in La Candelaria alone.We went out with the usual multi-national group of travellers from the hostel but one of the best things about Colombia is that when you go out you usually end up befriending as many locals as backpackers. On balance this is a much better way to find out about how the country works and its culture rather than visiting museums etc. We were quite proud of ourselves when we managed to have a conversation in Spanish about Colombia’s complicated political problems and quite surprised that the people seemed to be so positive about the government and the paramilitary. After dancing a bit of salsa (and the usual offers of Colombia´s biggest export) we decided to head to the top hangout of the wealthy locals – a club (Cha Cha´s)on top of the Hilton hotel which had great city views from the 41st floor, but much more pretentious people than the bars of La Candelaria. Gold central Slightly jaded we dragged ourselves to the famous gold museum the next day. The Spanish came to Colombia first and with a rather narrow focus: gold, gold and gold. They found much of the beautiful gold objects the Indians had buried with their dead, and believed they would find more at the bottom of lakes but didn’t. Apparently many churches in Spain contain Colombian gold, but about 15,000 pieces of what they left behind is on display in Bogotá’s gold museum. Each object was intricately carved and seeing so much gold in one place was quite an experience. The centrepiece was a kind of circular vault room which I came across accidentally whilst eaves dropping a tour in English. Suddenly the wall next to me opened like something out of James Bond and we went into a pitch-black room. The lights came on bit by bit, illuminating the 8000 pieces of glittering gold housed in a circular glass cabinet all around the room. In the middle there was a kind of transparent vault, like a well with shelf after shelf of floating gold objects going down as far as you could see. I felt mesmerized when I came out. Colombia: a secret to good to keep So the time came to leave Colombia. I don’t think I need to tell you what a great time we had in this country. All I can say is that Colombia suffers from a serious image problem.The guerillas and the cartels are still there but many of the major ring-leaders have been dead for years and Colombia is struggling to shake it`s dodgy repuation. The scenery alone is enough to bring you here – mountains, jungle, Caribbean and Pacific beaches plus 15,000 years of history and ruins. Although it’s beautiful it really is the people that make Colombia so special. Constantly lively, positive and warm, though their lives are often dictated by danger, they are inspirational.I have never met people with such spirit and you only need look at a Colombian to receive a heart-warming smile back. If you ask directions here they will get up out of their seat and walk with you until you find what you are looking for! They are just grateful that a foreigner took the time to visit their country. Eventually their optimism and happiness just has to rub off on you. Despite all its troubles, ask any Colombian where he would rather live and he will say Colombia. For the backpacker Colombia rocks. It’s almost as cheap as Bolivia but without the tourists and the money hungry people of other more touristy parts (taxi drivers charge the going rate here and not one single person tried to rip us off), It has the liveliest nightlife on the continent and the food is good quality even at the local cheaper restaurants. Then there’s the feeling of discovering something that not many others have yet. The only question is how long this secret can stay undiscovered…. Exotic, exuberant and fascinating, it`s all South America should be, and although what goes on there exemplifies some of the continents worst points, the danger factor is no more than other SA countries.I heard someone say that Colombia is a country only just being born and for me this is what sets it apart from the rest of the continent. If we had been to Colombia first, the rest would have been nothing short of a disappointment.