WHO: Warren Hagenbuch , 55, of Westborough ; and his two sons, Christopher, 24, of Philadelphia; and Ryan, 21, of Hamden, Conn.
WHEN: Four days in October
WHY: "Christopher had a lot of frequent flier miles and wanted to go on a trip," Ryan said. "He goes to places most people don't usually go. Colombia was very convenient, as we only had a limited time."
A WORRIED MAN: Neither Warren nor Ryan had considering visiting Colombia. "Not in my wildest dreams," Ryan said. He had considered it unsafe because of the country's history with drug trafficking and guerrilla insurgents . "But Christopher reassured us that where we were going was fine."
HEART OF OLD: They stayed in La Candelaria, a district in the colonial heart of the capital, Bogotá. "It was a Friday night and the area was filled with college students sitting at cafe upon cafe," Ryan said. They toured Plaza de Bolívar, the city's main square, and visited the cathedral and the gold museum. A highlight was a funicular ride 2,000 feet up a mountain to Monserrate for an overview of the city. The newer parts of the city were "gray and stark," Warren said, with architecture from the mid- '50s. But it felt safe, he said, especially because of the police presence. "There were armed tourist police at every corner," Warren said. "They were very friendly and one even let us into a locked cathedral and took us around."
TIME FOR HOMEWORK: Ryan, a junior at Quinnipiac University, had a school assignment to visit an art museum that weekend and compare two works. So he did his research at the Botero Museum, which houses the private collection of Fernando Botero (1932-), the country's best-known artist. Ryan later wrote a paper comparing a Botero work with a Claude Monet on display there.
OBSTACLE COURSE: "It took us an hour and a half to rent a car because you have to give them so much paperwork," said Warren, the designated driver. "You also have to give them a credit card for the cost of the car in case you vanish. The thing that was a little disconcerting was the guy who showed us to the car had a pearl-handled pistol sticking out of his back pocket." Driving was stressful, he said. "They were speeding beyond belief and always passing on yellow lines." Their destination was Villa de Leyva, about 100 miles north of Bogota at an elevation of 7,000 feet. "The curving roads were hairy, and every 15 or 20 kilometers you came to a police checkpoint, with all kinds of guards with machine guns. They just looked at you and waved you through."
HORSE SENSE: In Villa de Leyva, a popular weekend getaway for Bogotans, there was shop after shop, though the countryside was very poor, Ryan said. The men, who usually go horseback riding on vacations, arranged for an outing through local farmers. Their guide turned out to be the 7-year-old son of the owner. "He came alone, with our horses," Warren said. "You'd never see that at home."