Colombia’s biggest military base happens to be located in Melgar. The area is huge and holds houses for officials and their families, apart from buildings for soldiers in training and combat.
The military activities that I could see included a helicopter cruising over the mountains – possibly to keep an eye on the oil drilling installations. And in down-town one could see groups of some six to eight soldiers walking by every 10-15 minutes. One soldier is caught on the photo here to the right. Those soldiers were all wearing the letters ”MP” on the uniform, telling they are military police, i.e. employed by the Army but fulfilling police-like duties such as maintaining the order on the streets and in bars.
CAFAM is a big Bogotá non-profit organization that thru affiliation with companies is giving social security to their employees (and the families of those). In Bogotá CAFAM runs a hospital and supermarkets. In Melgar CAFAM runs Latin America’s biggest resort with two high standard hotel, one of them with five stars, and a number of bungalows. In total the capacity must be some 5-7.000 beds.
The resort offers anything the vacationer may need: a number of swimming pools, supermarket, luxurious places to eat at, as well as hamburgers, BBQ and the marvellous tropical fruit juices. On top of this there’s a zoo, a lake, bars and more. An inhouse bus service makes sure that you easily get around. Best of it all probably is that you can relax from the stressful city life – watching the tropical birds in the early morning hours withouth having to fear pickpockets and cars. Another plus is the high standard when it comes to food and hygiene.
Well, what more can I say apart from that we had a nice, relaxing stay in Melgar? Sunday afternoon around 5 PM we started the bus trip back to Bogotá. Having an aged bus climbing up to 2.600 meters in heavy traffic is a rough ride though. So just like many other travelers we made a short stop at a ”paradero”. A number of buses stood parked in front of this long building with an open front. Loud salsa and merengue music was streaming from the old loud-speakers. Some people went for dancing, while others had arepas or soup. Personally, I chose to jump the fast food this time. One has to pick the risks with care.
My first weekend in Colombia was coming to an end.
Melgar – a small town only a few hours west of Bogotá. This is where we arrived around 8 PM (20.00) on Friday night.
Whereas Bogotá is situated on 2.600 meters above sea level, Melgar is down on some 4-500 meters. Surrounded by mountains, Melgar has a protected, tropical and extremely pleasant climate for vacationers. The town has become a place where lots of people from Bogotá go to warm up when the capital’s chilly nights start to bother. But people now come even from the U.S.A. since oil has been struck in the area and U.S. engineers have to eat and sleep as well.
Melgar has a small down-town that offers the most necessary in foods, clothing etc. Apart from that there’s a number of hotels, bars and restaurants. Tourism is indeed important for the local economy, and night life is vivid – especially during vacation peak seasons. But it’s obvious that people are struggling to find a decent income.
This past Friday afternoon my friends and I took a cab to the modern and rather big central bus station of Bogotá.
Since there are hardly no trains in Colombia, bus is the way that people tend to travel – if they can’t afford a car or if aircraft isn’t an option. There’s harsh competition and you have the option of very comfortable buses, or you may go for the smaller, dirtier and cheaper ones. Leaving Bogotá we went for the cheap option – my friends didn’t want me to miss out on that part of Colombia…
And yes, that was quite a ride. It took about 1,5 hours just to get out of Bogotá. The bus was oftentimes slowing down, so that the guy selling the tickets could announce the destination to potential passengers waiting along the road. One woman entered as the bus was already full, but didn’t accept the floor seat she was offered, and so she left. All kinds of vendors were entering – selling cakes, sandwiches, chewing gums and what else travelers may need. Made me wonder if we were in business class…
The bus ride started in the northern, more pleasant parts of the city and was then going south. Gradually the panorama was getting quite miserable, and on the way out we were passing the infamous ”Belt of misery”, formally ”Ciudad Bolivar”. This is a huge slum area, much of it dangerously climbing up a steep hill. So-called displaced people, i.e. economic victims of the civil war, are moving into Bogotá en masse. Many of them end up in the ”Belt of misery”, starting out with a primitive home built of carton. The Belt suffers from extreme social problems and the drug dealers are in charge.
The Belt supposedly has more than one million inhabitants. The settlers arrive and make some land theirs, subsequently starting the rough struggle to survive. The government does offer schools and more in the area, but the problems are immense. I would have liked to offer you deeper insights, but since The Belt is an absolutely mortal place to go to, I can’t. The only somewhat safe way to go there is if you have have friends inside. Elsewise you may get mugged and killed.
After passing an industrial zone we were finally out of Bogotá. It got dark around 6 PM (18.00). A couple of hours later we arrived in Melgar…