end of day 3. brain dump.
so this will not be a thoughtful post, but more of a brain dump to make sure im not losing all these experiences im having here in Bogota during my first couple of days.
1. let’s start at the beginning. on wednesday early AM when i was at FLL checking in to JetBlue’s flight to Bogota, I encountered a bit of a problem: i needed a proof of “continued travel”. I’ve never had this problem, since most of the time i’ve travelled i had a return flight (even if it meant departing from another country). but the agent at the checkin counter was adamant that while i don’t need an advance visa to enter Colombia (nor do I need to pay any fees upon entering Columbia – thanks to my pretty rad [it’s also red] Lithuanian passport), I do need to show a proof that i plan to leave the country upon the expiration of the 90 day visa that Colombia will grant me upon entering the country. part of this nomadic experience for me is not planning too far out and not buying further transport tickets until i have to. so after squeezing the most information out of the agent and chatting quickly with a helpful manager who was there early at 6:30am, i figured out that it’s best to buy a super freakin’ expensive one-way (BUT most importantly refundable) flight from bogota to miami. pick a random date, pay, problem-solved, checked in to my bogota flight and boom. off i go to south america.
2. tried to sleep during the flight as much as i could, since the last 3 nights i did not sleep more than 5 hours each night. landed in Bogota on a overcast wednesday at about 11am. Sergio told me on Tuesday that his friend Carolina will come meet me at the airport at noon. So i had about an hour to go through security and all, but the process was super smooth – colombian immigration officer girl greeted me with a big smile, asked where i would stay but then noticed that i already filled out a very specific address so she caught herself and smiled. stamped the passport and…. Bienvienidos a Bogota! Grabbed a map from the tourist kiosk and changed my remaining dollars into Colombian pesos ($1 is about 1,700 pesos) and walked outside the terminal into the area where you have people greeting you or you catch a cab. i had about half hour so i grabbed a cafe con leche and my first of many yummy pastries ( i love baked stuff in most countries around the world – except the US?! what’s the matter. we need a better culture of baked deliciousness. i remember quipping about this a while back here). The people and cabbies in the waiting area were pretty chill and not at all aggressive like in some other cities i’ve visited. one guy asked if i needed a cab but once i told him im waiting for a friend, he politely offered that if i need a cab later “there” (he pointed) is a line and i can catch a cab if i need to. Carolina came at almost exactly 12pm and she had a company. She was with Sergio’s mom and they kindly greeted me and we walked over to their car. This is my first couchsurfing experience so even though Sergio couldn’t come to meet me personally (he had some classes during that time), i was thoroughly impressed with the accommodation he arranged for me to be picked up. Carolina speaks really great english – she studied in Cambridge between high school and college, but you couldn’t tell that she had a british accent. She did say that it comes out when she speaks with other Brits. Her “american” accent was thanks to all the american TV that she watches and likes. We drove to Sergio’s family apartment, which is located very centrally near National University of Colombia. There I was greeted by the sweetest lady (Sergio’s grandmother) who continues to impress me by being incredibly welcoming and warm (she only speaks spanish so our communication is… let’s say ….somewhat broken). she always makes breakfast and lunch and squeezes fresh orange juice and makes delicious cafe. Above all she radiates warmth and despite our language barrier – takes the extra step to ensure im comfortable and happy. It’s been 3 days here and i cannot express how caring, friendly and supportive the whole household has been. Both Sergio’s mother and aunt (works at Nat Uni of Colombia) have reached out to their contacts at different Universities here to setup information meeting for me to discuss their language courses. just awesome. ok, im getting too wordy here.
3. we had delicious lunch cooked by grandma and then Sergio returned from school. We then went to the center where he had to go back for more classes but in the meantime Carolina showed me around the Candelaria area (the origin of this city- amazingly beautiful historic part of town with thousands of coffee houses, restaurants, small theatres and craftsmen working in their tiny rooms that have doors open to the streets (you can see a man making guitars in the photos i posted earlier). We walked to the Extranado University Bogota where Sergio’s mom had suggested a contact. Immediately the administrator there (Manuel) chatted with me and Carolina in spanish. he was pretty impressed with my “spanish” but i think he was just being nice. He offered to take a placement test and the following night he emailed me the result that i could join Basic, Level 2. Surprisingly, given how I skipped the whole written section. we walked around more in the Candelaria area and had some beautiful views of the city from Extranado main campus. Carolina then was insistent on showing me her favorite cafe – Art e Pasion where it’s a dual business of providing coffee classes to train gourmet baristas and a tiny but beautiful coffee shop located in a historic colonial building. it was one of the best coffees i’ve ever had. i posted a picture yesterday of the cup our barista made, but can’t skip a chance to share one more. He also spent about 3 minutes telling us their philosophy of making coffee and what the different types of coffee are.
Later that night Sergio has suggested that we attend this cultural show at Museo (museum) De La Salle in the Candelaria area. It was a dance performance followed by a “night in the museum” excursion where for about an hour we were guided through the dark museum floors with just flashlights in our hands. very unique experience, but towards the end my exhaustion was kicking in. now i also think it was probably coupled with elevation – this city is at about 8,000 ft above sea level. at first i didn’t think much of that, but yesterday during the first sunny day here i noticed how much faster my face took in the sun. i might have to start putting on sunscreen.
Dancing before the night in the museo
A night shot of the city from the deck at Museo de La Salle
4. day 2 started quite early, Sergio and I got up at 7am and after yummy grandma’s breakfast we headed to Nueva Lengua. I decided to stay there while Sergio had to bounce to his classes in the city center – Universidad de los Andes. I stayed at the language school – very impressive space, clean and organized. Staff was friendly and welcoming. I took the placement test, then signed up for classes starting on Monday and then just used their space to log on online and do a little research. At 1pm i walked out of the school and headed back to Transmilenio (an extremely interesting system of bus routes that, for all intents and purposes, operates like a train system, with raised platforms and all – will discuss more of this later). Obviously you don’t get a full experience if you don’t get lost in a new city, so i somehow managed to get on a wrong bus (it was actually quite easy to do given how complex the routes and schedules are – it’s a bit like logic games section of the LSAT). after figuring it out and getting back on track, i made it back to Sergio’s house where Carolina was to meet me at 2pm but she had some other commitments so I hung out with Sergio’s familia and his mother showed me a bunch of their photos from many trips they took to different parts of Colombia. She doesn’t speak English so we kind of hacked my spanish while i also sat at the computer and used Goog Translate to ask more detailed questions about these places I was seeing in their photos. Again, I cannot express the gratitude because everybody at the house makes an extra effort to hang out with me and try to teach me spanish and ensure im feeling well. I am also starting to understand that it’s part of Colombian culture in general. Today Sergio and I discussed how they will take every opportunity to entertain and spend time with a person visiting in order to make sure they are at no point alone.
Later in the evening Carolina arrived with her boyfriend to Sergio’s house (he was still at school). We jumped in the cab after grabbing some food at the nearby gas station (yup that’s right – they have a little restaurant in the gas station). We were to meet Sergio at the salsa classes in the bar/club La Villa in Zona Rosa. Sergio came with a posse of his friends from uni, some columbian, most foreign, but all spoke fluent spanish, especially one guy from Australia who was even able to make a perfect “paisa” accent. We did the class and then had a grand dance off. Salsa is really a part of culture here and i can’t wait to dance more!
5. day 3. okay more concise, karolis. Sergio and I went to Candelaria again and had lunch at a very neat restaurant located on a top floor of a cosy hotel, with a glass rooftop. Felt like a greenhouse rooftop restaurant. Discussed my travel goals, his upcoming 40 day trip in December with Carlos (aka Eduardo – he prefers that) 🙂 We talked about his goals of getting a master degree at a uni in either USA, France or Japan. I told him there’s a couple people i’ll connect him with who would have relevant experience and advice. Then Sergio had to run to the class at 2pm and I would then spend time with Eduardo until about 6pm. Had a blast adventuring through the city with Eduardo. He’s a travel and hotel management major at the uni so he gave me a neat tour of the old town, pushed me to speak more in spanish and also was a great partner buddy to run into some really cool people, like the mechanical engineer who studied in the US, worked in that field, then started travel company in Bogota and just recently decided to pursue his philanthropic inclinations to help indigenous craftspeople from all over Colombia sell their products and bring his expertise in branding to make that more sustainable and help them. I don’t quite agree with his strategy, but i don’t know enough to judge (regardless, topic in itself for another discussion). Eduardo showed me around the museum of currency, art and modern art. We had a really interesting conversion about why the museum is free and shared our opinion on whether it’s a wise and effective use of gov’t resources.
Then we walked to the Bolivar Square and met Sergio. Went to a restaurant nearby to try what Eduardo was passionately advocating for – a sugarcane tea that you put some cheese in with a side of bread (what’s the name of this?). Then we went for some pizza dinner. Funny story of how Sergio and Eduardo kept explaining to me what are “pixas” while my confusion about “a triangular, very popular italian dish that comes baked” lasted. After a pizza and a first bottle of Club Colombia (a local beer) we headed out towards home, but my usual and insatiable hunger for baked goods and pastry shops led us into this french pastry shop where I picked a desert with some fresh fruit on top and grabbed 3 cafe tinto (just a black coffee). While Sergio, Eduardo and I were messing around trying to jump start teaching me spanish, two men next to us gave a few weird looks. I didn’t think much of it but then one of them dropped a russian word (on purpose of course). Funny enough these two Colombian men spoke very solid russian and we chatted for a while. They’re professors teaching music at Universitarias Juan N Corpas and have each spent more than 5 years living in Moscow in the early 90s. One knew Lithuania very well and has in fact visited both Vilnius and Kaunas (my town) and had very fond memories of the old town in Vilnius (i can’t disagree). We then talked about the next usual suspect, two-time Bogota’s mayor Antanas Mockus, who has a very interesting story which I will delve into more because it’s a really cool case study of change of cultural attitudes and city-building. In fact earlier this night – once we got back home – Sergio showed me an hour-long documentary about Mockus’ rise to the mayor and what it meant for people of Bogota.
In just 3 short days i’ve gotten to know so much about this city, its pains, its culture and the environment in which it operates. I’m realizing that couchsurfing is really an amazing service that connected me to Sergio so the way im seeing Bogota is not through the eyes of a tourist and lonely planet guidebook, but through the eyes of multiple local people with their beliefs, opinions and hopes for this beautiful city.
Self note to write about:
- bogota’s history, 1948 war, Mockus, Penalosa
- transport system – transmilenio