I wasn´t sure if I was in China or South America.
So many similarities here in Bogota….in neither place could I communicate at all when I first arrived. The weather is similar, with a damp cold constantly gnawing at your bones in the open air hostel. There seems to be no place to go to get warm or dry at the same time! Even the buildings are similar – utilitarian Cold War structures jutting up to the sky with dirty gray concrete, broken windows, and rusted air-con units.
At first appearance, Bogota isn´t much to look at, but I have a feeling that a lot more waits underneath.
When I stumbled off the plane after 2 days and nights of living in airports, I was so numb that very little could phase me. It didn´t take long for me to realize that even simple tasks like checking into the hostel and finding something to eat basically require some proficiency in Spanish.
Even once people realize that my Spanish consists only of ¨Donde es el bano?¨ and I look at them in bewilderment and drool, they still keep talking to me, sometimes even faster than before. As soon as I can get centered and caught up on sleep, this is going to be a very enjoyable challenge indeed.
My two new missions of this trip? Learn Spanish and at least attempt to Salsa dance without breaking any bones.
Strangely, when I got my backpack in Atlanta it was literally dripping wet. I could feel the icy wetness come through my shirt as soon as I strapped it on. Thanks Delta! It mattered very little once I hit the ground in Bogota – this is the wettest month in Colombia and probably part of the reason I got such a cheap flight (US $215)!
The weather is bloody cold at night and raining most of the day. A handful of people lounge around my hostel (all speaking Spanish, of course) and smoke Colombian weed between beers.
The woman in the hostel has warned me not to go wandering at night, which I have already done several times without incident. Candelaria, the old colonial part of the city, is a maze of narrow brick streets with shops and restaurants that open and close randomly. There isn´t a window that isn´t barred or a doorway that doesn´t have security.
At night, men walk with wooden sticks (and sometimes even machetes!) along the graffiti lined walls. They aren´t the bad guys, just local people wanting to protect themselves. Although I feel relatively safe, there are enough observations to betray that there has been some violence or theft here in the past.
There are the usual homeless and groups of young people that look like they could cause trouble if provoked, but I honestly believe that a little common sense here will keep you out of trouble. It isn´t that difficult. Part of my mission in South America (assuming it IS true) is to prove that Colombia is not as dangerous as it used to be, particularly for Americans.
I expected that anything requiring communication would be difficult. What I did not count on was that finding any decent food would be such a challenge! The default food here in Bogota, on both sides of the main streets, seems to be hamburgers, french fries, hotdogs, and fried chicken! Unbelievable. And they say Americans like to eat that crap?
I walked for hours simply trying to find ¨Colombian¨food – which came from a tiny gem of a restaurant offering soup and a huge plate of chicken, rice, beans, and salad for US $3. Otherwise, food prices are nearly the same as the US, or higher, and what you get is dripping with grease and arterial death.
I know there´s good food here, but like anything else, I don´t know how to ask around for it!
I can´t be entirely negative about the fried food however. My life was changed for the better when I got brave enough to try one of the RFOs (random fried objects) from a dirty little place. It turned out to be an Ëmpanada which is basically a fried pasty with chicken and rice inside – hot, delicious, and only about .50 cents!
I´ve been here 3 days and have eaten 3 of the things. Cholesterol be damned, I´m going to be willing to do anything for one of these things once I get back home, I can feel it.
Tomorrow I head south to Cali via overnight bus. Cali is the second largest city in Colombia and supposedly home to hot weather, hot women, and salsa dancing. Wow.
Is it tomorrow yet? 🙂