Home Free Bogota

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

We arrived at the Bogota Bus Terminal at about 9 at night, later than we would have liked but with travel times this large between places in Colombia, there wasn’t much to be done about it. Our first stop was to find a hostel, and most of them are in an area in the centre of town called Candelaria. They have a taxi stand from which to purchase fares at fixed rates which is helpful to say the least and we bought a couple and went to get in a cab. The only problem is that none of them would touch us – and specifically Phil’s surfboard – with a 6’2” pole, although none were saying that in so many words it was obvious. Why should they, after waiting in line to get a fare, have to do the extra work of securing that thing when they could turn us down and be assured the next fare anyway. So I hid him in the shadows of the terminal and found a cab to take us – after about 15 minutes of frustration. Of course when the cabbie saw the board he said there was no way to take it but I told him we’d squeezed it in many cars his size before. He incredulously opened the hatch and we showed him and all the other idiots who had refused us how it was done. We did end up paying more because there are two Candelarias in the city and we’d been given tickets for the wrong one (and had heard this from a few others before our eventual driver as well) but soon we were there in front of the Platypus hostel and happy to have an end in sight.

Of course, being that it is quite popular and also listed highly in the Lonely Planet means that it was full when we arrived but we found nearby Hostal Sue to be very friendly and he got on the phone for us and spent 15 minutes tracking down beds for us for the night. It was a nice family’s homestay though the room itself was pretty Spartan and small. They didn’t have enough beds so they put a mattress on the floor and Phil and I flipped a coin to see who’d sleep where. Enough is said about how bad the bed was that when I won the coin toss, I chose to sleep on the floor. We immediately got a hold of Maria but she was pretty wiped out from work so we were on our own for Friday night and, to be honest, we were pretty wiped out from the trip too. So we didn’t even leave the hostel to grab a bite for dinner, Phil showered and I slept. The next morning I was pretty hungry because all I’d had the day prior was a sausage on a stick and my chicken dinner lunch but first things first, we had to check out and find a hostel. We went back to Hostel Sue as they had not only been really helpful but it looked like a cool place, too, and hey, it’s my grandma’s name... done and done.

The weather was surprisingly chilly which is accounted for by the fact that, apparently, Bogota is the third highest capital city in the world clocking in at about 2700m above sea level. Add to this it was cloudy and drizzling and you have a recipe for a pretty cool reception; It was probably about 15 C. We were to meet Maria in Parque Periodistas at 12:30 so starving or not there was no time to eat and we went there and waited. And waited. 1:00 came and then 1:30 and we were shivering and hungry in the rain before Phil went to see if she had left us a message about what happened and/or to call her. 15 minutes later he was back saying there was no message but he’d called and her soccer game had been delayed and by the time she finished she figured we’d have given up waiting. I was pretty annoyed that she hadn’t even left a message but when I finally got some food in my belly and warmed up a bit I felt better. Our next step was to head north to the Bulletproof Tailor of Bogota, a man named Miguel Caballero that specializes in discreet bulletproof and knife proof clothing from jackets to suits to tailored vests that can be worn discreetly under a dress shirt. We found our way up eventually only to find it closed up for the weekend and from there we made a second attempt at calling Maria.

She lived about 10 blocks south of us and we wandered over to her building although the bizarre way in which addresses are done meant it was more search than stroll but soon we arrived. Her doorman called up for us but there was no answer. We pondered what to do and then asked him to try her cellphone but he instead called the other number again and she answered this time so we were on our way up. She looked pretty different out of backpacker context and had a really nice place. We also met her younger sister who like the others has great taste in music and also an artistic bent. However, we learned that the other sister we’d hoped to also see (Anabella) was off in San Andres Island visiting her boyfriend and thus our self-imposed deadline to catch Anabella before she flew to France had been mostly for nothing. On the other hand, we had covered (albeit very poorly) a lot of ground and made it to Bogota before Phil had to leave and with time to visit Cali after, so it was not all for nought. Maria took us out and on a little tour of the northern section of Bogota all the way through the banking district to the “T zone”, two intersecting streets filled with clubs, restaurants, bars, and pubs.

Our first stop was actually a brownie-coffee frozen drink of some name or another from the Juan Valdez coffee shop and a good long visit with Maria. I think she felt like we expected a tour guide and her to take us places but we were happy just to catch up and visit with her. I should mention before I go too far from the topic that I have drank more coffee in Colombia than I have in all the rest of my life put together. Anyway, in spite of the initial snag meeting up with her we had a great visit and soon it was time to eat so we went to a ceviche restaurant for what would be one of the most memorable meals of this trip. You may remember earlier encounters with ceviche up in Central America but if not it is basically seafood, usually raw, marinated in lime juice to wipe out any bacteria and usually served with some spices and diced veggies. For the three of us, in addition to a bottle of white wine (yeah, it was going to be a splurge night anyway), we ordered three ceviches: fish, shrimp, and a mix of grilled octopus and kalamari. For each you also had a choice from a list of about ten sauces to pair it with. So the number of combinations alone ought to keep the relatively small menu fresh for plenty of return visits.

It’s a test in memory if I can recall what we finally paired with what, but I believe we did a grilled onion, tomato, and garlic sauce for the octopus/squid, a mango salsa for the shrimp, and a Picoso picante and pepper sauce for the Corvina fish. To say all were delicious is an understatement. We took turns passing the three bowls around and I was unable to choose a favourite. The fish was tender and melt-in-your-mouth with just the right amount of spice, the shrimp and mango was a great combination if not wholly original, and well, octopus. Enough said. We sat there drinking our wine and visiting and eventually one of Maria’s friends, named Beatrice, came by that looked strikingly like Rosario Dawson. She could have been and I wouldn't have known any better but Phil was on the ball and we compared photos. Wow, what a resemblance. Eventually, her friend left and was replaced with a guy friend named David who did not, to my knowledge, resemble any stars. Yet. But he was a lot of fun and the four of us went to a cool club playing some great music although I think it was more to my liking than anybody else’s. Psycho Killer, Qu’est-ce que c’est?

It was Sunday when we went to sleep and still Sunday when we got up. The day lived up to its name: instead of the drizzle and low-flying clouds that had hovered above the city the day prior, we had a beaming sun and crystal clear skies. A quick lunch in the park and a bunch of freshly cut mango and papaya for 50 cents and we made our way up a street to a cable car and funicular rail we didn’t even know was there the day before to take advantage. They led up the mountain to a church called Montserrat that overlooked the whole of the city and this definitely improved our perception of Bogota not to mention underscored how big a place it is: somewhere between 8-10 million people call Bogota home which is easy to see when you can get out of the streets and up to a vantage point like this. Maria was supposed to let us know around 3:00 what was happening that day as there was a ‘BBQ’ for a friend’s birthday and their family had a club that they were closing for the night for this purpose. So back to the hostel where she told us she had a lot of work and would probably go a bit later and then that she would message us when and where to come.

We headed north again as that was where the party was going to be and also the area Maria lived in and wandered around for a while. Eventually it was getting to be 9:00 and we couldn’t find internet or for that matter a phone anywhere that was open so we had to ask a local to borrow his cellphone to check our email. No messages anywhere from Maria and the last bus back was fast approaching, so we cut our losses and headed back to Candelaria where we were thinking we’d meet up with Hanna, Amy, Jared, and Renee for drinks but the place they were going to be was closed so we wound up hanging out at the hostel with a couple other Canadians and some Argentinian and Chilean guys. The less said about this, the better. We found out the next day that Maria hadn’t thought she was going to stay too long and there were a lot of things going on at that party that we wouldn’t be into and she did apologize for not messaging us and asked if she could meet with us Monday evening after her work. Sure, we’d be up for that. I also called Luis and Nicolas, the former a friend of Maria & Anabella that I’d met with them in Nicaragua and the latter someone I met New Year’s Eve in Sydney however many years ago.

We headed north because we had a meeting with the Bulletproof Tailor before anything else. Today it was open but as we walked towards the building we were surprised to be confronted by security there. We were asked our business and then ushered in to the store. Now this is no ordinary store. When you enter there is nothing to see but a reception desk, so we bravely marched up to the desk and asked if it were possible to look at some of their work in the next room amidst stares of incredulity and disbelief. The man has made clothes for Obama, so two backpackers (however well dressed we were that day) are not a common occurrence. And so it was that I was looking for protective clothing for our ‘club’ back in Saskatoon and Phil was my friend along for the ride but also curious about getting a bulletproof leather jacket for his brother. The sales agents treated us very nicely and went through their clothing and the levels of protection offered. I had been wondering how they managed to make thin dress shirts bulletproof or even knife proof but it turns out that they haven’t: they’ve just made some very thin vests to wear beneath dress shirts. You can, however, get bulletproof panels sewn right into jackets, blazers, and heavier garments which was pretty cool and only ran about $300 or so. Still, discreet or not, it was too heavy to wear unless you were actually in danger of wandering into a gunfight which I hope is not the case for either of us.

From there, we went and saw Precious, an Oscar nominated movie produced by Oprah Winfrey. It’s a tragic story and the main character is unbelievably strong in the face of all sorts of wrongs, but I didn’t feel like it was anything remarkable at least in terms of cinema and I’m not sure what the Oscar nomination is for but I don’t think I’d be awarding it. I also didn’t like the fact that Oprah came up several times in the movie – it seems pretty self-serving to me to produce a movie and have them talk about you on it. Insert the following dialogue into ET and see what I mean: “ET watch Steven Spielberg movie? ET and all galactic civilizations think his movies are the best. ET loves Spielberg.” Lame? We met up with Maria after the movie and with her cousin and went for Mexican food and then ice cream at the Colombian Crepes & Waffles chain both of which were affordable and delicious. Luis had gone to a movie so we weren’t able to get a hold of him, but as we said goodbye to Maria, Nicolas showed up. It was great catching up with him, and the three of us sat and chatted about Colombia, Australia, and other things over a few beer. We didn’t get to crazy with it being a weeknight, but it was fun times and Phil and I taxi’d home around 1:30. I had to be up early to catch a bus to Armenia, about 8.5 hours away and Phil would be spending the next day or two in Bogota before meeting up with me in Cali.

Bogota Photos

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