Coming Soon to the Archers. Adam's Cocoa Farm in Colombia; Radio Star Andrew Wincott Is Bewitched and Bedazzled by a Historic and Colourful Corner of South America

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrew Wincott

OH DEAR! Really? Are you quite sure?' Such were the reactions of various acquaintances to my announcement that I was planning a trip to Colombia.

The fact that I have friends in Bogota didn't assuage their anxieties. And now even I started to imagine scenarios in which, having been kidnapped by some paramilitary renegades, I could possibly negotiate some sort of communication line down which I could record scenes for The Archers from my cell in Bogota. Perhaps Adam could have been on a trip researching cocoa farming, I reflected, and found himself deludedly diverted towards coca instead.

Such is the curious blurring between fiction and reality in The Archers that stranger things have happened.

Bogota is a dynamic city with a chaotic character all its own. At 8,500ft above sea level you would think the head-rush would be mandatory. The rush is all in the traffic: buses veer, bikes swerve, taxis vie for fares across choked lanes.

But in the tranquil historic neighbourhood of La Candelaria you escape to the city's Spanish colonial past. Amid the teeming hordes of students, travellers and local Bogotanos, the gold exhibits of the Museo D'Oro, such as the pre-Colombian gold raft sculpture from the Muisca era, are dazzling. Alternatively one can enjoy the whimsical wit of Colombia's most famous artist, Botero. His porcine figures are found in a museum named after him and built around a charming 18th Century courtyard. Also housed here is part of Botero's personal art collection, including works by Monet, Renoir, Chagall, Miro, and Dali.

In the nearby Plaza de Bolivar I saw a llama sauntering by - they are used to give rides to giggling tourists. On one corner stands the Museo de la Independencia, housing artefacts and exhibits that fascinatingly illustrate the story of the 1810 Revolution: how the fight for independence began and how, some might contend, it is still being fought today.

Looking up from the plaza - high in the mountains to the east - you see the Iglesia de Monserrate, which is accessible within minutes by cable car. Here you find a sanctuary of tranquillity and spirituality, as though one has risen above the city while its secular urban unreality sprawls magnificently but chaotically across the plateau below. If the tumult of Bogota becomes too much, a mere hour away lies Zipaquira and its cathedral, one of the most startling buildings in the world. With ingenuity, vision and audacity, a cavernous expanse 600ft below ground has been carved from a salt mine to form a space for worship.

Such is the combination of iconography, natural forms, colours, and carvings that you feel you're in a sodium-chloride art installation.

It's extraordinary to imagine that on Sundays and holy days 3,000 people come here to worship.

At Guatavita, the legend of El Dorado resonates from the pre-Colombian past. Cradled by crater walls is the lake on to which the Muisca tribe rowed their new cacique (king) on a raft before ritually immersing him, naked and covered in gold dust. In further homage, thousands of gold offerings were thrown into the lake by members of the tribe surrounding the shores.

Across the mountains, through the valleys, past polytunnels (Adam would have been pleased to note) the poncho - or ruana - wearing farmers tend the fields, ride horseback or stroll as though time has stopped. Being on the road is an experience in itself. Away from Bogota, down from the plateau and the temperate high ground, the temperature rises. …