First Weeks in Bogotá

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

Failures include:

  • 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:

First look at South America
La Candelaria – the new ‘hood
A regular scene in Apartamento 103.
Jenny from the hostel – “Cómo están mis niños? Estás bien mi corazon?”

Scenes on Monserrate
Scenes on Monserrate
Scenes on Monserrate
Seguridad Privada – possibly the biggest employer in Bogotá. “Cuidate con tú cámara aqui, es peligroso!”
Juliana, Camila y Daniela

Amateur kite-flyer
“Para comer?”

Some Latin pop star. He has a big hit at the moment, but I have no idea who he is.
At the concert.
Our Mexican neighbour
Chris points at a kite!
Housemate #1: Charles from Paris
Robbie from Brisbane, flying the QUT flag
La Candelaria
“Helados helados helados helados…”
The X-Games come to Bogotá

Housemate #2 – Chris from Ottawa, during a night in at Apartamento 103
Housemate #3 – Sophi from Paris, during a night in at Apartamento 103
Johan from Amsterdam (and next door), during a night in at Apartamento 103
Housemate #4 – Estelle from Switzerland, during a night in at Apartamento 103

I never was good at editing things out. Three weeks down, forty-nine to go.

Until next time,


6 thoughts on “First Weeks in Bogotá”

  1. Wow Quint! Your photograpghy is almost as good as your writing! It sounds scary, exciting & verrry different!! Keep us in touch…Love Pete & Karen

  2. Hi Quint. Wow what an experience. Glad to hear you’re not addicted to cocaine…….. Yet!!!! LOL.

    Sounds like you are all settled and now with Internet we will hear a bit more about your adventures. It sounds like a very colorful and happening place and lots of pretty girls I see!
    I am envying your nice warm weather, could swap you a few frosty mornings but am sure you are yearning for the climes of good ol sunny Armidale!!
    Take care and stay safe!
    Bin xxxxxxx

  3. Hard to believe you hve been gone for 5 weeks already, I have broadened my view & knowledge of the world with all travellors in the family. Fantastic all round !! Keep on keepeing on luv A Lel xx

  4. Quint you rock, enjoy, absorb, dream, and post lots of messages and hey even a picture of you! as i am able to detect cocaine addiction from photos!! xxxxxxxxxx Nell

  5. Hey Quint, Reading your report makes me wish I was 21 again. Maybe I should have gone to Colombia instead of Saudi. It sounds like fun. I looked up the climate of Bogota and it is perfect for growing tomatoes in glasshouses. See if you can find a flat piece of land for me!! I send a request on Skype. Let me know if you got it or not.

    love P

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