|On their way: A couple starts up Monserrate.|
After more than two years under repair, the footpath up to Monserrate reopened yesterday, restoring access to the church for many Colombians.
|Their goal: The church, which overlooks Bogotá.|
The three-kilometer hike, from Bogota at 2,600 meters above sea level, to the church at 3,150 meters, is challenging and dramatic, with tremendous views of the city and Bogotá's Eastern Hills. The path snakes up the hill's face, giving you the impression that you're close, when several zigs and zags remain.
The trail was popular with many Colombians, particularly on Sundays. Some wanted to get exercise and fresh air; believers who could not afford the cable car ticket hiked up to the church, getting exercise as well as blessings. I even saw people doing penance by climbing the trail on their knees.
|Runners start up. Just watching makes me tired.|
I always felt cheered seeing families hiking up together, often with their dogs - but more on that later.
A few very fit souls get up early and actually run up the trail. I've heard of people doing it in 20 minutes; I generally took an hour and a half.
Unfortunately, the climb is not the trail's only challenge. It's also notorious for muggings, which is why it's generally best to hike on Sundays, when there are many hikers and police.
When I visited today, a park employee warned me not to climb higher, because 'they'll take your camera.' A pair of junior police at the entrance gate checked people's bags - a pointless practice, since muggers just sneak across the hillside.
|Stay on the path, don't pick flowers, no dogs, |
minors must be accompanied...enough rules already?
I hope the trail recaptures its old spirit, but the officials appear to be doing their best to strangle it by regulation. A new sign at the entrance limits the early morning hours to 'sportspeople.' From 8 a.m. to noon, people can only climb up with tour operators. After noon, it's open to the public. Fortunately, these rules likely won't last. After all, who can say who's a 'sportsperson,' and restricting the trail to those accompanied by 'tour operators' will exclude common Colombians from morning hikes. And, in a city where it often rains a bit after noon, you've got to hike in the morning.
|Police search hikers. Do you think |
the muggers take this route?
Officialdom has also sanitized the trail. The park employee told me they'd eliminated the informal food and drink kiosks that used to line the way. Sure, those places probably didn't practice top hygiene, but they did offer refreshing stops along the way, as well as bathroom breaks. If the kiosks generated trash, they also provided trash cans. Now, the snacks and bathrooms are gone. Those bathrooms probably weren't septic, but now expect to see hikers slipping into the bushes to do their business. Undoubtedly, the kiosk owners also discouraged robbery, which scared away their customers.
|Sorry guys. Man's best friend is forbidden.|
The park employee also told me that the IDRD - which administers Bogotá's parks - intends to ban pets from all the parks, "because not all owners clean up after them." How about this: I propose that they also ban kids from the parks, since they tend to run around and make noise.
|The house at the base, where you can |
get aboard the cable car and funicular.
|A helpful map.|
|Parchita, in forbidden territory.|
|Make sure you come at the correct time period.|