Three Perfect Days: Bogotá - United Hub
Hemispheres

Three Perfect Days: Bogotá

By The Hub team

Story by Justin Goldman | Photography by Chris Sorenson | Hemispheres, January 2019

Five hundred years ago, when the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the gold-rich, mountainous area that's now Bogotá, they thought they'd found El Dorado. Today, Colombia is still defined by its natural bounty—albeit neither the kind that lured the Spaniards nor the kind that attracted American law enforcement in the 1980s. Instead, what strikes visitors is the kaleidoscopic population of nearly 50 million people, all united by a welcoming spirit. What's more, the landscape is among the world's most biodiverse—diving from the roof of the Andes through grassland, swamp, and jungle to the Pacific and Caribbean coasts—yielding perhaps the best cuisine in Latin America. The locus of all this is the 8,660-foot-high capital, whose 10 million residents infuse modern energy and inventiveness into a centuries-old colonial setting. El Dorado? Maybe not, but after a few days here you'll surely agree Bogotá has entered its golden age.

A harpist performs at the Teatro Nacional Cristóbal Colón

Day 1:

Sampling Bogotá's culinary and architectural delights

The courtyard at Casa Legado

It's gray and damp on my first morning in Bogotá. As a former longtime San Francisco resident, I'm accustomed to these conditions, but even if I were to get gloomy, I'd know exactly where to find a cure: among the flower vendors at the Mercado de Paloquemao. All shades of carnation, orchid, and rose—Colombia grows the second-most roses in the world—burst from the makeshift tables set up in the market's parking lot. It's impossible not to feel cheery in the face of all the bright blooms, but I don't have time to stop and smell the, well, you know. I'm here for the food.

I cross the lot to meet Juliana Salazar, a local restaurant consultant and guide for the tour company Foodies who's showing me around. “We're gonna start by eating," she says, “because you never want to go to the market on an empty stomach." Conveniently, a stall at the entrance sells breads called amasijos. I try three: pan de queso, pan de yuca, and a fried, corn-based buñuelo.

Now that I've eaten, it's time to start eating. We begin with the fruits. “The Paloquemao is the only market in Bogotá where you're going to see the variety from the entire country," Salazar says, and she's not kidding: I taste tart, aromatic fruits such as kiwi-like lulo (which is used in a popular juice), gulupa (a variety of passion fruit), and granadilla (“the first fruit we give to a baby," Salazar notes). I'm dazzled, even more so when my guide tells me, “This is not the specialized fruit section—this is just common fruits."

Flowers at the Mercado de Paloquemao

"All shades of carnation, orchid, and rose burst from the makeshift tables set up in the parking lot of the Mercado de Paloquemao."

We continue on, past vendors selling herbs, chocolate, chilies, meat, and the more exotic fruits (cherimoya, mangosteen), to the back of the market, where a counter makes rice-and-pork-filled tamales and lechona, roast pig stuffed with rice. “For a hangover situation, I think it's perfect," Salazar says. I file this away for later, although I'm probably never going to eat again.

After thanking Salazar for helping me stuff my face, I head from Bogotá's culinary center to its political one. A quick drive through downtown delivers me to the Plaza de Bolívar. I walk past a Hells Angels–looking guy who's pulling the strings of a skeleton marionette to the tune of Guns N' Roses's “Patience" and then around a family being swarmed by pigeons (the kids seem entirely too happy about this) to the center of the plaza. The square is fronted by the French Renaissance Palacio Liévano (now city hall) and the Neo-classical Capitol and Palace of Justice, as well as the 200-year-old Catedral Primada. Between the cathedral's towers I can see another church, a distant white ornament at the peak of the towering 10,341-foot Cerro de Monserrate.

"It looks as though Dr. Seuss and Antoni Gaudí combined forces on a cathedral and then dropped it into Yosemite Valley."

I continue around the Capitol building, skirting the Colegio Mayor de San Bartolomé, an imposing Jesuit school that dates to 1604, and then the grounds of the Casa de Nariño, the president's palace. A soldier shoos me off the sidewalk in front of the building—apparently I don't appear very presidential—and as I turn to go I glance up an alley and catch a glimpse of the Santuario Nuestra Señora del Carmen rising before the misty cordillera. It looks as though Dr. Seuss and Antoni Gaudí combined forces on a candy-striped Gothic cathedral and then dropped it into Yosemite Valley.

The interior of the Santuario Nuestra Señora del Carmen

I begin to hike up the hill and into the heart of La Candelaria, Bogotá's old town, passing below the dormers and enclosed balconies of the multicolored colonial houses. A light rain begins to fall just as I reach one of the city's most exciting new restaurants, Prudencia. The space, designed by renowned Colombian architect Simón Vélez, is a stunner, boasting a vaulted glass ceiling and walls adorned with line drawings of flowers and fruits and vegetables. The food is tasty too. I dig into house-baked levain bread, followed by lomo de res (beef tenderloin) with roasted sweet potatoes and an oyster-mushroom aioli, and then finish with a slice of fig cheesecake.

Refueled, I proceed to spend a couple of hours ping-ponging up and down the hills of La Candelaria. The neighborhood—its name comes from a Catholic festival that honors Mary and Joseph's presentation of the baby Jesus to God—overflows with historic sites. Here's a golden-balconied house where Simón Bolívar worked during the fight for independence from Spain. There's the house where Bolívar's mistress, Manuela Sáenz, helped El Libertador escape assassination. Farther down the hill is the 19th-century Neoclassical Teatro Nacional Cristóbal Colón opera house. Then there are the lively crowds: people dancing to the rhythms of busking rumba bands, leading alpacas down the street, and selling jewelry and grilled corn and hormigas culonas (“big-a** ants").

Lomo de res at Prudencia

I'm not quite ready to tackle the ants, but it is about time for dinner, so I call a cab to take me north, to the nightlife district of Zona T. I'm unlucky enough to have caught Bogotá's brutal rush hour—it takes nearly an hour of crawling along the hillside on Carrera 1 to travel six miles—but the instant I reach Segundo, any complaints I have melt away. The dining room, around the corner from Segundo's renowned sister restaurant Central Cevichería, is hung with colorful abstract art and looks down through a two-story glass wall onto bustling Calle 85, and the food somehow manages to outshine the space: crudo de res (beef carpaccio) stuffed with mango and chimichurri, squid-ink asparagus tempura, trout in leche de tigre pepper sauce, and a couple of Santísma Trinidads—coffee syrup–spiked Manhattans served in tobacco-smoked glasses. ¡Dios mío!

Getting a little too close to the pigeons in Plaza de Bolívar

I'm feeling a bit woozy after my meal—surely it's from the altitude and has nothing to do with those Latin Manhattans—so I take a car to Casa Legado, a stylish seven-room boutique hotel in a 1950s house on a quiet street in the upscale neighborhood of Quinta Camacho. I cross the Alice in Wonderland black-and-white-tiled floor of the foyer, brushing aside the vines hanging from the ceiling, to find the only rabbit hole I need: the space between my sheets.

Street art in La Candelaria

Day 2:

Running with the dogs and stopping for contemporary art

You haven't had a hangover until you've been un poco crudo at 8,660 feet. My tropically wallpapered room at Casa Legado is charming, but I still wake up feeling compressed, like I spent the night in a coffin with Andre the Giant. To snap out of it, I strap on my sneakers and jog north on Carrera 9, past the chichi Zona Rosa, until I hit Parque El Virrey, where I follow a trail along a canal, dodging scores of dog walkers and their enthusiastic hounds.

The only place that might be more dog-friendly than El Virrey is the parkside Canasto Picnic Bistró. The sunlit patio is hung with wicker picnic baskets, and the tables are taken up by neighborhood residents with, yes, their pups lying underneath. I'm a little sweaty but also in need of food, pronto, so I take a seat, sans four-legged friend, and order an arepa with roast beef, fried egg, and hogao (Colombian creole sauce). As I'm cutting into the arepa, the restaurant's owner, Alejandro Cuéllar, a brash raconteur-chef in the mold of Anthony Bourdain (RIP), stops by. When I tell him I'm enjoying my meal, he offers to take me on a tour of a few of the city's culinary standouts. “Is everyone in Colombia this welcoming?" I ask.

"I ask for a recommendation of something '...not by García Márquez,' the clerk finished my sentence."

“We're very good hosts," Cuéllar replies. “Very serviciales. When people get here, we're really excited to show them that this is an amazing city and an amazing country."

We make a date for tomorrow, because I've got a different kind of hot spot on the menu for the rest of this morning. A few blocks north, in the posh Parque 93 neighborhood, I visit Galería La Cometa (The Kite Gallery), where I see a show of midcentury Colombian photography, including the busted camera Carlos Caicedo used in 1965 to snap a shot of then-President Guillermo León Valencia when the politician got drunk and fell down in a restaurant. (You can probably guess how the camera got broken.) I then continue the art hop with a quick car ride to the charming Chapinero neighborhood and Casas Riegner, perhaps Bogotá's best-known gallery. Here, I catch a show of 27 textile artists, including five Colombians. My favorite works are Olga de Amaral's gold-leaf wall hangings and Conversation Piece, an ongoing knitwork by María Angélica Medina.

Lifelike street art in La Macarena

The artistic stimulation has me starting to feel peckish, so I take a 10-minute walk through Zona G (for Gourmet) to El Chato, where Alvaro Clavijo, an alum of Noma and Per Se, serves refined cuisine focusing on Colombian ingredients. I take a mini tour of the menu, scarfing down grilled chicken hearts, delicate ceviche, and arracacha bread with bone marrow, all of it exquisite.

Looking for a little more local color, I take a 10-minute car ride to the up-and-coming neighborhood of La Macarena, where I stroll up and down hilly streets, past graffitied walls and coffee shops, and stop at Luvina, a bookshop and salon space. The friendly clerk who greets me explains that the store is named after a town in a short story by Juan Rulfo, the Mexican author who pioneered magical realism, the style favored by Colombia's greatest writer, Gabriel García Márquez. I ask for a recommendation of something “... not by García Márquez," the clerk finishes my sentence. He clearly gets that question a lot, and he's ready with a book of travel narratives by Santiago Gamboa, Ciudades al final de la noche. My Spanish is gonna have to get better in a hurry.

The Wall of Diversity at the Museo Nacional

From the bookshop, I wander downhill, along brick-paved Calle 30, lined on either side with brightly colored houses and restaurants, to the Museo Nacional. The museum's highlights include a replica of an excavated 13th-century tomb; the “Wall of Diversity," with works by artists such as Guillermo Wiedemann and Enrique Grau that portray Colombia's ethnic and cultural heterogeneity; and a room that documents the 1948 assassination of presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, which plunged the country into years of chaos.

Pouring a shot of chicha at Chichería Demente

From a dark moment in the nation's past, I go to one of the bright stars of its present. All it takes is a knock on an almost entirely unmarked door (and, OK, a reservation made well in advance) for me to enter Leo, which is run by Leonor Espinosa, who was named Best Female Chef on the Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants list in 2017. Though the space feels a bit like a restaurant in New York—jazz music, a sculpture of what looks like the Empire State Building—the ciclo-bioma menu is fully engaged with Colombia and its many biomes: Pacific tuna crusted with Santander ants; flan made from tucupí (wild manioc sauce); the giant Amazonian fish pirarucú, served with fermented yuca; local duck on an arepa-flour tortilla. This is where I start to lose track of the courses—did I mention that each one comes with a drink pairing?

To follow up such an insane meal, I need a lunatic nightcap, so I take a car to a quiet street on the edge of Chapinero, where I find Chichería Demente, a cavernous bar and restaurant that specializes in the traditional fermented-corn drink chicha. I've had chicha once before, poured chunkily out of a gasoline jug on a dirt farm in the hills of Panama. This stuff is much better—smooth, funkily sweet, and, most important, served in a clean clay jar. A large mural on the wall depicts a politician crying out “¡Que viva la chicha!" and I raise my drink to him in solidarity.

Day 3:

Going from a golden gallery to a blood-red bar

The stunning gold room at the Museo del Oro

With all the running around on day one, I missed the city's two most famous museums, both right near the Plaza de Bolívar. I start at the Museo del Oro—or, more accurately, the café in the museum's basement, where I knock back a cup of Chemex-brewed black coffee from San Alberto, one of Colombia's best-known growers. It's very strong and bitter—a bit potent for a guy who usually likes a little coffee with my cream, but also exactly what I need to combat the aftereffects of the chicha.

Fully caffeinated, I proceed upstairs and into the galleries. The 55,000-plus-piece collection focuses largely on works the country's pre-Hispanic peoples made with gold and copper alloys. Most impressive is the pitch-black “gold room," where, as a ritual chant of the Muisca people plays, the lights slowly come up to reveal, in wall and floor displays, 3,000 brilliant gold artifacts. El Dorado indeed.

"As a ritual chant plays, the lights slowly come up to reveal 3,000 brilliant gold artifacts."

It's just a five-block walk to another cultural landmark, the Museo Botero. Medellín-born artist Fernando Botero is famous for depicting rounded, voluminous subjects, using their exaggerated bulkiness to question our sense of proportion (and sometimes to poke fun at historical works or political figures). I love them all, but especially the painting of a bloated Mona Lisa and the bulbous bronze sculpture of Leda and the Swan.

The courtyard at the Museo Botero

That powerful cup of coffee is the only thing I've put in my body so far today, and there's a reason: I've been saving space for the lunchtime odyssey Alejandro Cuéllar promised me. I meet him back in Quinta Camacho, at El Pantera, a hole-in-the-wall that he and a couple of partners just opened that makes Mexico City–style street tacos using Colombian ingredients. As we chow down on chicharrón and cochinita pibil tacos, he explains the effect Colombia's incredible biodiversity has on its cuisine.

A patron viewing Fernando Botero's Una Familia

“When I travel, people ask, 'What do you cook in Colombia?'" he tells me. “We do everything. We have all the climates in the world. You can drive an hour and go from cold to completely tropical, so you can have all the ingredients there are, within an hour."

We finish our tacos, and Cuéllar smiles conspiratorially. “What do you say we go and eat a proper meal?" Ten minutes later, we pull up to Mesa Franca, a restaurant that chef Iván Cadena—the former sous chef at Lima's legendary Central—opened two years ago in a 1930s house. We sit in the lovely, sunlit, garden-style dining room and have calamari and veal sweetbreads, red snapper ceviche, yuca fritters with smoked trout, and pork belly in peanut sauce.

I don't think I can eat any more, but Cuéllar insists on one more stop. We walk three blocks uphill and through the blue-tiled entrance of Salvo Patria, where we order a decadent milhoja (mille-feuille) with buffalo-milk ice cream and dulce de leche and another cup of bold Colombian joe. “This is a typical dessert, but it's not usually made this detailed," Cuéllar says. I tell him that I wouldn't use the word typical to describe anything I've consumed today.

"Peering over the railing, I cast my eyes across the glass skyscrapers of the city center and the orange roofs of La Candelaria."

After rolling me out of the restaurant, Cuéllar offers me a ride to my new hotel, the Four Seasons Casa Medina, back in Zona G. Skirting the open-air brick courtyard makes me feel as if I'm walking the passageways of a Spanish castle—but the only royalty I'm interested in right now is my king-size bed. Hasta luego.

The funicular railway and the city below, seen from Cerro de Monserrate

Rejuvenated by the nap, I dial up an Uber. Fifteen minutes later, I'm at the foot of Cerro de Monserrate, the mountain that stands sentinel over the 600-plus-square-mile Bogotá metro area. I take the teleférico up, the cable car climbing through evergreen forest and into the clouds. At the top, it takes only a few steps for me to feel short of breath, but that doesn't stop me from trudging up the stone walkway to the white stucco church at the peak. Peering over the railing, I cast my eyes across the glass skyscrapers of the city center, the orange roofs of La Candelaria, and the shantytowns that sprawl across the hillsides to the east. Right below me, a couple of pilgrims are climbing the footpath from the base of the mountain. I wish I believed in anything enough to do that.

The Red Room's namesake cocktail

Sufficiently humbled, I descend on the teleférico and get a car back to Chapinero. By the time we've fought through the traffic, I'm due for dinner at Villanos en Bermudas. Here, chefs Sergio Meza and Nicolás López work an open kitchen in a room that has the vibe of an expensively catered party at Banksy's house. I recognize Meza, a Mexican with a red afro who looks a bit like a buff, tattooed Sideshow Bob; it turns out he was lunching at El Chato at the same time I was yesterday. “The man can cook," he says of Alvaro Clavijo. “We just f*** around."

The stylish interior at Mesa Franca

Their, um, messing around earned Villanos en Bermudas a No. 40 ranking on the most recent Latin America's 50 Best list. My “salad" is a breakfasty goat's milk yogurt with black beans, strawberries, and savory granola. The house-baked sourdough comes with butter that's been whipped with black garlic. Kimchi and Iberian ham accompany a butternut squash soup. Even my funky pinot noir, from New Zealand's Valli Vineyards, sticks to the elegant-yet-offbeat theme. “That guy's weird," Meza says of the winemaker. “Sometimes he'll just trade the wine for stuff, not even sell it."

I thank the chef and head for a nightcap at another quirkily snazzy spot nearby. The decor at the Red Room adheres to the bar's name aggressively: The carpets and walls and stairs and seat cushions are all the same titular color. I order the eponymous house cocktail, a Scotch and bourbon concoction brought to the table in a red box full of smoke. The whole experience makes me feel like I'm in a jazz bar in a David Lynch movie (Red Velvet?). More than that, though, I feel as if I've stumbled onto a mysterious treasure. It's a sentiment that has suffused my entire journey. I've found gold in these hills—cultural gold—and I'll soon be back for more.

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Jessica Kimbrough named Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer

By The Hub team, July 10, 2020

Jessica Kimbrough, currently Labor Relations and Legal Strategy Managing Director, will take on the new role of Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Managing Director.

Jessica assumes this new and expanded position to focus on global inclusion and equity as part of our enhanced commitment to ensure best practices across the business to strengthen our culture.

In this role, Jessica will be responsible for helping United redefine our efforts on diversity, equity and inclusion – ensuring that our programs and approach are strategic, integrated and outcome-oriented, while we continue to build a culture that reflects our core values. She will report to Human Resources and Labor Relations EVP Kate Gebo.

"Jessica's appointment to this role is another critical step our executive team is taking to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion remains a top priority at United," said CEO Scott Kirby. "Given her drive, experience and commitment to champion collaboration and allyship among our employee business resource groups, she is uniquely qualified to take on this position and I look forward to working closely with her."

As Labor Relations and Legal Strategy Managing Director, Jessica worked closely with senior management to create and maintain positive labor relations among our unionized workforce, providing counsel on labor litigation, negotiations, contract administration, organizing issues and managing attorneys who represent United in labor relations. Previously, she served as Labor and Employment Counsel in our legal department.

Jessica has a passion for creating a pipeline of diverse lawyers and leaders, and was honored as one of Chicago Defender's "Women of Excellence" for excellence in her career and civic engagement in 2017. She currently serves as President of uIMPACT, our women's employee business resource group.

Jessica's new role is effective immediately.

United Cargo and logistics partners keep critical medical shipments moving

By The Hub team, July 02, 2020

By working together and strengthening partnerships during these unprecedented times, our global community has overcome challenges and created solutions to keep the global supply chain moving. As COVID-19 continues to disrupt the shipping landscape, United and our industry partners have increasingly demonstrated our commitment to the mission of delivering critical medical supplies across the world.

United Cargo has partnered with DSV Air and Sea, a leading global logistics company, to transport important pharmaceutical materials to places all over the world. One of the items most critical during the current crisis is blood plasma.

Plasma is a fragile product that requires very careful handling. Frozen blood plasma must be kept at a very low, stable temperature of negative 20 degrees Celsius or less – no easy task considering it must be transported between trucks, warehouses and airplanes, all while moving through the climates of different countries. Fortunately, along with our well-developed operational procedures and oversight, temperature-controlled shipping containers from partners like va-Q-tec can help protect these sensitive blood plasma shipments from temperature changes.

A single TWINx shipping container from va-Q-tec can accommodate over 1,750 pounds of temperature-sensitive cargo. Every week, DSV delivers 20 TWINx containers, each one filled to capacity with human blood plasma, for loading onto a Boeing 787-9 for transport. The joint effort to move thousands of pounds of blood plasma demonstrates that despite the distance, challenges in moving temperature-sensitive cargo and COVID-19 obstacles, we continue to find creative solutions with the help of our strong partnerships.

United Cargo is proud to keep the commercial air bridges open between the U.S. and the rest of the world. Since March 19, we have operated over 3,200 cargo-only flights between six U.S. hubs and over 20 cities in Asia, Australia, Europe, South America, India, the Caribbean and the Middle East.

Celebrating Juneteenth

By United Airlines, June 18, 2020

A message from UNITE, United Airlines Multicultural Business Resource Group

Fellow United team members –

Hello from the UNITE leadership team. While we communicate frequently with our 3,500 UNITE members, our platform doesn't typically extend to the entire United family, and we are grateful for the opportunity to share some of our thoughts with all of you.

Tomorrow is June 19. On this day in 1865, shortened long ago to "Juneteenth," Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce that the Civil War had ended and all enslaved individuals were free. For many in the African-American community, particularly in the South, it is recognized as the official date slavery ended in the United States.

Still, despite the end of slavery, the Constitutional promise that "All men are created equal" would overlook the nation's Black citizens for decades to come. It wasn't until nearly a century later that the Civil Rights Act (1964) ended legal segregation and the Voting Rights Act (1965) protected voting rights for Black Americans. But while the nation has made progress, the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd have made it undeniably clear that we still have a lot of work to do to achieve racial parity and inclusion.

Two weeks ago, Scott and Brett hosted a virtual town hall and set an important example by taking a minute, as Brett said, "to lower my guard, take off my armor, and just talk to you. And talk to you straight from the heart."

Difficult conversations about race and equity are easy to avoid. But everyone needs to have these conversations – speaking honestly, listening patiently and understanding that others' experiences may be different from your own while still a valid reflection of some part of the American experience.

To support you as you consider these conversations, we wanted to share some resources from one of United's partners, The National Museum of African American History and Culture. The museum will host an all-day Virtual Juneteenth Celebration to recognize Juneteenth through presentations, stories, photographs and recipes. The museum also has a portal that United employees can access called Talking About Race, which provides tools and guidance for everyone to navigate conversations about race.

Our mission at UNITE is to foster an inclusive working environment for all of our employees. While we are hopeful and even encouraged by the widespread and diverse show of support for African Americans around the country – and at United - we encourage everyone to spend some time on Juneteenth reflecting on racial disparities that remain in our society and dedicating ourselves to the work that still must be done to fight systemic racism. By honoring how far we've come and honestly acknowledging how far we still must go, we believe United – and the incredible people who are the heart and soul of this airline - can play an important role in building a more fair and just world.

Thank you,

UNITE (United Airlines Multicultural Business Resource Group)

Leadership Team

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