Hola from Colombia
So I arrive in Colombia…must admit I always get a little bit nervous and yet excited when I get to a new country. But after all it is Colombia and they’ve had a little bit of bad press over the last few days having planned an attack inside Ecuadorian territory and killed the no.2 leader of FARC (the group they called terrorists here). Luckily for me Chavez has stopped jumping up and down in his clown suit and publicly they’ve all kissed and made up.
So I get to Platypus (the oldest hostel in Colombia), after making sure I’m in an official taxi and check in. Platypus now has three houses here and I’m not in the main one. In my room is a Kiwi called Craig who says he spends all of his time in the main house. So I grab a couple of hours of sleep and head over myself. I get chatting to a few people and then an Irish girl called Norma says she has a free spare ticket to the theatre tonight and would anyone like to go. Bogota is actually hosting two weeks of theatre festivals (the biggest in South America). Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth I say yes immediately. We catch the Transmillenio a bus network and head to the theatre. There appears to be a drunken Mexican on there that won’t leave me alone until he insists on giving me his number. The whole bus is laughing and I turn to two Colombian girls and ask if he is typical of the men in their country. They immediately say no – what a relief !! As it turns out Norma’s tickets were free and given to her by two Americans who she trekked Cuidad Perdida with (that’s the lost city and the main reason I came to Colombia). The play is the Dollshouse. It’s different in the sense that there are three female actresses and the male actors and little girl are all played by dwarfs. The coup de resistance at the end is that the actress goes full frontal nude and you see a dwarf’s bottom (that is a first for me). Given that Norma had trekked with this woman the nakedness was a complete surprise to her – no wonder there was a full house. After the play we are invited backstage by the director to meet Norma’s friends. Norma kindly tells the director that I thought the dwarf had nice buns !! I did but I wasn’t going to tell him that.
After the play we catch a taxi back to the Candelaria area where the hostel is and go to a salsa bar. After a couple of beers we head to the zona rosa area where there are yes more bars. We end up in a bar called “Spin”. It’s busy and all the youngsters are salsaing the night away (traditionally it was the only way a boy could talk to a girl). I do love the fact that all the men dance here. It works out better to order a half bottle of Colombian rum, so we do. We are enjoying ourselves and then I head to the toilet. It’s empty and there’s no lock so I have my hand across the doorway. The next minute someone in a large white trainer tries twice to kick the door in. My hand is there so they fail but then I hear a “psst” noise and look up to see a head darting down from the adjacent cubicle. I’m a little bit shaken and go and tell security but I didn’t see enough of the guy to recognise him again. Needless to say I need to drink some rum but after a few minutes the nerves have gone and I’m back to myself. It’s not the first time that’s happened in my life but i won’t be going into a toilet here on my own again.
We then head to another bar and meet a guy who wants to dance with us. We decide to get rid of him and go to another bar, but tell him we are going home. Unfortunately we’d tried to get in to this bar before and refused to pay the cover charge so they told us we couldn’t go in now. At that moment “our friend” comes out of the other bar. Being extremely mature girls we run and hide behind a tree giggling. Damn, he walks right in to the bar we wanted to go in. So we go back to the door and tell them to get our friend. He then gets us in free and we say that we changed our minds and saw him going in and wanted to come and join him. It’s really late and I’ve barely slept for the last couple of hours so after one drink we do finally go home.
I wake up late and the phone is ringing in the lounge and go and answer it and low and behold it’s for me. I had planned to meet up with a Colombian guy called Juan who is a friend of Roger who was in my hostel in Buenos Aires. He very kindly had offered to show me his city for the day. I go to the other house and bump into a guy called Sean that stayed in the same hostel as me in Bariloche in December – small world. Juan picks me up and says how would I like a traditional Colombian meal. I would, I’m starving if rather hung over. Bogota is high at 2600m and cold and today it is pouring with rain. We head to a restaurant near Juan’s house and have a very local soup. (I really want a cookery book on Colombian soups, they are gorgeous). Juan actually knows a shop in London where I can buy all of the ingredients so I may have to investigate that when I get back. He then drives me around the city pointing out certain areas and then we drive to a place in the hills and have the Colombian equivalent of a mulled wine (without the alcohol – I can’t stomach any more). The owner of the bar is so nice he offers us a free bottle of Aguadiente (a Colombian sambucca type drink) but I really can’t. Juan makes me laugh by telling me stories that if anyone tries to rip him off when he’s abroad his answer is “I’m a Colombian, do you really want to mess with me ?”. I may try and use that one myself, it always seems to work !! In fact he is a real gentleman and we have a laugh. There’s a photo of us with our traditional meal. He also kindly tells me that if I get stuck at all in Colombia to give him a call and he is likely to know someone who lives nearby that can help – it’s really reassuring in a new and strange country !! Bogota seems so modern after Havana and the fact that I can go in to a shop and buy anything I like without thinking now is a real novelty. I go back to the hostel and chat with Robbie my other room mate for a while and then we head to the room. There is Gavin and we end up chatting until 2am. Gavin wants to come back and open a hostel here. There are few people I’ve met who don’t. If all remains calm here then Colombia is going to boom over the next 2-4 years. Maybe a lot of that is because the president Uribe has helped make things a lot safer. However, I have to say I’m enjoying the fact that there are fewer travellers , and most of them are so much more sociable. I’m torn, I want to encourage people to come but I don’t want it to get spoiled by tourists.
Due to altitude I’m having trouble sleeping but I head to the main hostel the next morning to meet Norma. We are off to the main attraction just outside of Bogota in Zipaquira which is the salt cathedral. So it’s back on the Transmillenio and a little mini bus and we’re there. Zipaquira is a cute town with the usual South American main square. The salt cathedral is huge, it has a museum and inside the cathedral are the stations of the cross and various lovely statues. Although bigger, it’s not as impressive a the old salt mines in Krakow. We head back and chat to the people in the hostel. Yet again, I bump into someone who was in my hostel in Buenos Aires – again small world !! The area where are hostel is used to be quite bad but it’s been cleaned up. However, I wasn’t too keen on the street people eating out of rubbish bags, but I suppose that happens in every major city. Unfortunately I was due to meet up with Juan today but we missed each other. Even so I’d like to thank him again for his very kind hospitality.
The next day Norma and I take a walk around the city. Maybe the president’s in town as there seems to be an awful lot of security but it is quite beautiful. We have a great veggie lunch (the set meals are a bargain) and then go and take a peek at the emerald street traders. Yes, in Colombia, emeralds are a girl´s best friend. It rains yet again so we watch a movie then grab a slice of pizza. We are travelling overnight (something you couldn’t do until recently) to Armenia to go to Salento the coffee area. In the bus station we are immediately grabbed to catch a bus. It’s pretty empty so we have double seats to ourselves, I’ve enjoyed Bogota but it is a little cold and wet, roll on the rest of Colombia.
Plane = 23, Bus = 89, Train = 2, Boat =16, Sunglasses = 7, Mosquito Repellant = 9, Books Read = 21 1/2 (couldn’t get on with Faulkner), Bags lost and then recovered = 2.
Take care all