My good Venezuelan friend Jon likes to joke about the great Liberator, Simon Bolivar – his countryman and fellow Caraqueño.
“He was just so small,” he exclaims, shaking his head. “How did he liberate five countries? How did he command all those people?”
Standing at the foot of Señor Bolivar’s old bed, or a replica anyway, in his old Bogotá home in La Candelaria, it is difficult to disagree.
Simon Bolivar apparently fit into a child’s bed. History puts him somewhere around 5ft 4, but I’m going with shorter – unless he slept curled in a very unliberating ball, which I find hard to imagine. He was a warrior after all.
Still, what the Liberator lacked in stature he apparently made up for in the ability to oversee a beautiful, lost garden and the spirit of that divine, twisting, rose-filled place remains – surrounding his old home at the foot of Monserrate mountain.
La Quinta de Bolivar is gorgeously green and hardly over-run with visitors, leaving you free to wander beneath the boweries and follow the maze of paths at will.
The house is worth a nose too, especially if you’ve read García Márquez’s The General in his Labyrinth and nurture an impression of a grumpy, frustrated Liberator, barely kept in check by his faithful servant José Palacios and resourceful lover Manuela Sáenz, both of whom are in evidence here.
Most of you know that I forced myself to finally visit this quirky house and garden – Calle 20 # 2 – because I’m determined to enjoy some of the Bogotá gems I’m always leaving for tomorrow.
Comically, this also included taking a boat onto the lake in Parque Simon Bolivar and, when a fine ‘autumn’ afternoon presented itself, I didn’t have a non-seafaring leg to stand on.
My legendary Health and Safety instincts kicked in though, so I first inspected the rowing boat for leaks then donned both myself and my boyfriend in fetching life jackets.
Once I could breathe easily, I found myself free to laugh until I cried, aware of the ridiculous spectacle that was the pair of us attempting to row in unison. Instead, we weaved in gentle, out-of-kilter, circles.
“Victoria,” my boyfriend yelled. “You cannot take photographs and leave me rowing alone. Put that camera down or we will be stuck here forever.”
“No,” I giggled, trying frantically to keep hold of my oar, which in typical Colombian fashion was unattached and could easily have disappeared into the depths.
“No-one is ever going to believe that you and I ended up in a boat, in the middle of the lake, in the middle of Bogotá and it turns out we can’t even row.”
What with that episode and the joy of Simon’s secret garden (and the delicious ‘cheeky’ Juan Valdez coffee I’ve also since enjoyed) this mañana demolition is working out quite well. Now I just need to summon the energy to dance until dawn at Piso 30 or rise at dawn and tackle the ciclovia. Not sure which will be more gruelling… but at least there’s always tomorrow.