After three weeks in Bogotá and around 15 days in our house, we have internet. The people at the bizarrely named ‘TaiwanNet’ down on Calle 12 are going to wonder what happened to the gringo who came in every second day for a few minutes to check his emails and talk about the Olympics. Today everyone’s been frantically skyping loved ones, letting them know that yes, we are alive, no we aren’t addicted to cocaine and yes we’re back in the virtual world, for better or worse.
The first three weeks here have been characterised by a slow, clumsy process of attempting to transform from ‘tourist’ to ‘local’. Minor victories here include:
- The everyday conversations I have in Spanish, both of the “What is art?” university variety and the far simpler “Why did you come to Colombia?” (the answer “por que no?” seems to win a lot of cool points)
- Moving out of beloved Hostal Sue and into our apartment down on Calle 11.
- Slowly extricating myself from the exchange student crowd and chilling with Bogotanos.
- Avoiding McDonalds and living off Menu del Dia’s
- Moving in with a French girl, a French guy, a Swiss girl and a Canadian guy, instead of Colombians. The saving grace here is that we (try to) speak Spanish in the house.
- The odd exchange student party.
- Not having a solid bowel movement for around a week now, possibly from too many Menu del Dia’s.
Bogotá is schizophrenic. As I type, a midday Andes sun is blistering the skin of any gringo in its path, yet when I head out to Parque Simon Bolivar for the Summer Festival later on (‘Summer’ is a loose term in a country without seasons) there’s no question it’ll start raining as soon as I set foot outside. You can be tired and lost in the most gritty, grimy, grey neighbourhoods, and then look up and see a range of Andes staring down at you, telling you which way is east and giving a much needed dose of green. In twenty minutes you can walk from the crowded, pollution streaked Centro, through obscenely colourful La Candelaria and its street art, to bohemian, slightly up-scale Macarena. Or amble west down Calle 19 and suddenly you’re dodging hookers and getting some serious attention from some serious looking people. Jump on a bus north and you’re in a Latino version of the O.C., head south and it feels more like ‘City of God’. It’s a travel cliché, but Colombians really are the friendliest people on earth – but once they pay their Transmilenio ticket they’re suddenly rude and stubborn. Colombian dance clubs are possibly one of the most sexed-up spectacles I’ve experienced, but out on the street I’ve seen a knife pulled and a guy get bottled. A friend, Santi, is probably the most tranquil guy I’ve ever met, but get him inside El Campín stadium for the Bogotá derby – Millonarios vs Santa Fe – and he goes crazy with the ‘hueyputa’s, ‘maricon’s and middle finger salutes directed at Santa Fe fans. Monday and Thursday mornings I have classes with the friendly, clean cut, middle-to-upper class kids at Universidad del Rosario, which was founded in 1653 and where, apparently, 50% of Colombian presidents have studied. Then in the afternoons I take a Spanish course out at Universidad Nacional, a bureaucratic mess where new socialist graffiti appears nightly, kids with beards and tattoos smoke joints and play frisbee and a family of horses roam freely around the grounds. A piece of graffiti reminds you as you leave the gate: ‘Danger! Reality on the other side!’
I still haven’t quite figured out whether I should be offended by the term ‘gringo’. On the Transmilenio parents will point you out to their wide-eyed kids: “Look, there’s a gringo,” and smile when you turn to say hello. Walking home with some friends after a night out, a guy in the shadows starts shouting (roughly translated) “Hey gringos! Speak Spanish when you’re in Colombia!” – the same sort of ignorant crap Australian rednecks might shout at a group of foreigners speaking their own language back home. You do get stared at, but I feel it’s mostly out of curiosity.
What else? There’s not much to say. My classes are interesting, Spanish is coming along slowly and cheap aguardiente and Aguila is a constant source of distraction, as is the unending stream of holidays and festivals that have been going on lately. I’m getting keen to explore the rest of the country – hiking in the Andes and Parque Nacional Tayrona, Pacific and Caribbean beaches and the Amazon awaits!
Here’s some photos from the last few weeks:
I never was good at editing things out. Three weeks down, forty-nine to go.
Until next time,