Bogotá’s Septima

The street numbering system in Bogotá means that all but the oldest and
most important streets have numbers and not names. The ones running
from North to South are referred to as the third, the seventh, the
eleventh and so on. La Séptima (7th) is one of the main arteries
traversing the length of Bogotá, running parallel to the Avenida Caracas (13th). It runs from the municipality of Chía, outside the city limits to the North, through main neighbourhoods like Usaquén, Chapinero, Santa Fé and La Candelaria before ending at the Calle 27 Sur.

The Séptima was the site of the catalysts for one of the most traumatic events in 20th century Bogota’s history; that of the assassination of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán on the 9th of April 1948. This event took place on the corner of the Séptima and Calle 14, and the spot is today marked by a host of plaques and tributes to Gaitán. The violence that erupted in the city following news of the assassination (”El Bogotazo”) caused the destruction of many buildings in the city, and in the years to follow led to extreme levels of conflict and civil unrest known as “La Violencia”.  

However, these days the street is a bustling hub of commerce and culture which hums with traffic and pedestrians as it sweeps through the neon skyscrapers of the financial district on its passage through the city. Towards the North the Séptima passes the neighbourhood of Usaquén, formerly a small village which became absorbed into the city as a result of urban growth. The area retains a colonial feel with narrow streets and houses with tiled roofs, and is home to a famous flea market on Sundays and Mondays.

On Friday nights the section of the Séptima between the Plaza Bolívar and the Museo Nacional is closed to traffic and filled with pedestrians. This event is known as the Septimazo and it allows Bogotanos to stroll at leisure across the street without running the usual risk of being killed by an overenthusiastic taxi driver.

By the Museo de Oro Transmilenio stop there is usually a stage with bands belting out traditional music from around Colombia, sometimes accompanied by incredible dance displays.

The atmosphere of these street parties is very relaxed, with children and old men mingling with young hip-hop dudes and dreadlocked teenagers selling handmade jewelery, all partaking of the vast range of delicacies available to buy from street vendors.

 How to make your own Canelazo:

3 cups of water mixed with cane sugar until dissolved

1 ½ cups of aguardiente
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
6 sticks of cinnamon

Mix all the ingredients together in a pan and heat over a low flame,
not allowing it to boil.

Meaawhile moisten the rims of some nice
glasses with lemon juice and press them down onto a plate of cane sugar
so that it all sticks to the glass.

Pour the canelazo into the glasses
and add a stick of cinnamon to each one. Lovely!

The food selection ranges from huge, charred corn on the cobs through thick bubbling strips of pork crackling to meaty kebabs and glistening sausages, all washed down with sweet black coffee or canelazo. The latter is the perfect outdoor night-time drink, a mixture of hot water, cane sugar, aguardiente, and cinnamon. Sometimes it also has passion fruit juice and seeds in it, which is even more delicious.

Perhaps the greatest of all activities on offer during the Septimazo is guinea pig racing. This glorious sport is administered by a charming gentleman who sets up a mat with a row of those eager, competitive little animals about two metres away from a horseshoe-shaped line of upturned buckets, each one with a number painted on top and a dinky door cut into the front. The participants choose a lucky looking bucket and place their bet (minimum stake 200 pesos) on top of it, and then the chap in charge unleashes a sporting guinea pig in the direction of the buckets.

While these are no doubt highly trained animals in the peak of their physical condition, at times standards slip and they stop in the middle of the street and begin to wash their whiskers, or sniff at the shoes of the animated spectators. However, given the correct encouragement the animal will eventually choose a bucket, goaded on by the cries of the crowd that bucket number 22 is the bucket of its dreams; get in there you glorified rat, and other sporting exhortations.

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