Visible from most of Bogotá, the high Andean peak of the Cerro de Monserrate towers over the city. The steep rise of this mountain wall curtails expansion to the East and brings the city to an abrupt stop.
Adrenalin pushed me through my intensifying headache and struggle for breath – symptoms of my illness worsened by Bogotá’s high altitude – to get to the funicular station at the bottom of the Cerro de Monserrate.
The summit has attracted religious pilgrims since 1620 when the Brotherhood of Vera Cruz began using it as a place of worship. A chapel dedicated to the Virgen Morena de Monserrat, and a monastery that would later house the statue of El Señor Caído (The Fallen Christ) were completed by 1657.
Pilgrims traditionally walk up the hill – penitence indeed – but we ascended in the funicular that was officially opened in 1929. Even on an 80% incline, views of the lower Andean woodland flooded through the glass roof panels and panoramas of Bogotá opened up as we climbed towards the clouds.
At 3152 metres, breathing and walking were difficult but I steadied my balance with my stick (aka ‘adventurer’s trekking pole’). A very slow pace and plenty of rest stops were key to getting as much as possible from the experience. Using my camera as an external memory drive, I was able to save what I saw for later, when I was well enough to appreciate it more fully.
The walk from the top of the funicular to the church passes through high Andean woodland. Hummingbirds dart amongst red-hot poker flowers and red and yellow flower-trumpets drip from burgmansia trees. In only seven-and-a-half minutes, we’d been transported from deep metropolis to rural oasis. The disparity between these natural surroundings and the city made me realise that, having been a city person all my life, I now craved the quiet, slow ambivalence of nature.
A viacrucis – statues of Christ’s journey to his crucifixion – punctuate the woodland walk.
Vistas across the neighbouring peak of Guadalupe and the city below reward the visitor’s efforts.
The current church at the top of the Cerro de Monserrate was built in 1917 after an earthquake destroyed the original chapel.
Restaurants, food stalls and a craft market provide sustenance and souvenirs for tourists and pilgrims. Unable to browse the craft market, I contented myself with photographing it from where I sat.
By the time we reached the teleférico (cable-car) I was ready to descend to the city for some partial relief from the altitude.
Although the excursion was mediated by illness, it was possible to enjoy it, even if not in the same way as a healthy person. Accepting the restrictions of the illness meant I could, to some extent, separate it from the experience.
As long as little was demanded of me, I managed to shuffle round slowly and take in some of what I saw. The gaps would be filled by photographs later.
Click here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/105153060@N03/sets/72157636476467474/ to see more of my photos of the Cerro de Monserrate and here: http://youtu.be/fiYiCc2oZRM to see my video.