Arrival in Bogota
Two flights and 4 “This American Life‘s” later (I really need to donate to them) I have arrived in Bogotá safely. The flight was pretty uneventful as I kept mostly to myself and tried to sleep here and there. When we were descending into Bogotá, the lady next to me, who had slept most of the way, started getting excited once turbulence hit and once we could see Colombia from the window as we broke through the clouds. In her 60s and with short hair and a red cardigan, she began chirping questions to me like if I’d been to Colombia before, etc. and when I told her I hadn’t she began raving about her country and how beautiful everything was. One thing I’ve noticed about Colombians, at least the ones I know from Carlos Rosario school (where I work) and this lady is how much they love their country. Each one that I’ve told I’m coming here has basically given me the same schbeal, “Ooooh! You’re going to Colombia? I’m so excited that you will get to know my people…My country is beautiful, you will love it….” and the like. I’ve never heard Americans or really even Brazilians talk that way. Anyway, the lady told me that my Spanish was “perfecta.” I think she was just excited about a gringa visiting her country, but it did make me feel nice. 🙂
The El Dorado International Airport was pretty small it seemed, crafted out of the typical South American cinder blocks. Cinder block companies on this continent must be making a killing. Like in Brazil, most of the shops and building are very open to the elements; windows with just a latch to close them, no insolation, generally no heating or cooling systems. It was in the high 60s when I arrived and has since dropped to the low 50s. It’s winter here, but the temperature never changes. The sun went down at like 6:00 pm though which was a major bummer.
By the way, Bogotá, you forgot to mention you have 3 new cases of swine flu here. When I got off the plane and headed to customs there was a first aid table with two nurses and a doctor all decked out in lab coats and face masks. The doctor had a megaphone that he was rambling on and I couldn’t understand a single word he was saying, but it was probably something like, “You all were just in an airtight capsule for 4 hours with lord knows how many swine flu cases! Good luck, y’all!”
Bogotá is a city at a high altitude, 8,661 miles up. It is the third highest capital city in South America behind La Paz and Quito. My travel guide (which is only a stapled together chapter at this point, more on this exciting topic later) said to take it slow and dizziness is common for the first few days. I remembered the story my mom told me about when she was in Cusco, Peru a few years ago which is at a very high altitude. She said that her tour guide told this group she was in to take it really slow once their plane arrived in Cusco because altitude sickness can be common. So here go all these riled up tourists scooting around at a normal and even faster pace as they were anxious to check in the hotel. What happened to them? Dizzy, nauseous, had to stay in the hotel room that night. My mom, takes it one step at a time, sits down for some tea in the lobby, goes about her business deliberately slowly, and was just fine. Was hanging in her hotel that night wondering where everyone else was. So, I tried to take it slow myself, but the sangrias with my friends and late night martini with Kyle had me dizzy anyway. Once that dizziness went away I think the altitude had gotten to me a little.
My best friend Carolyn had asked me the day before I left what I was going to do once I arrived, and I replied, “well, try not to freak out” and what I meant by that is when you arrive in a new country or city and there is no one there to help you get your bearings or show you to your hostel, it can be nerve-racking. I succeeded in accomplishing the goal of finding my hostel on my own without freaking out. Nice. The excited lady next to me had told me not to take the colectivo like I had mentioned I planned on doing but instead to take a taxi. Anyone who has been to South America before, and this is probably true for lots of places is that taxis will overcharge you, take your for the ride of your life by swerving and honking and barely avoiding 30 fender benders during a 30 minute ride. Plus, anyone that knows me knows that taxis aren’t my style, so the no-nonsensecolectivo was my mode of transportation of choice for the ride into the city. After like 2 dozen buses passed and getting worn out from lugging my overweight bag (geez, Linds, are you moving to Bogotá or just staying for the summer?) I asked a guy who looked knowledgeable about the buses since he was loitering around this bus stop area waving at all the bus drivers which one I would need for la Candelaria (which is the old colonial part of town). He was so nice and waved down the right bus for me, I would have neeever known that was the bus I needed. The next part of the bus adventure is always to figure out how people get on and pay. I started trying to get in the normal way, in the front end of the bus, but I could lift my blasted bag over the turnstile. Two men told me at in unison to go to the back of the bus where there’s no turnstile and the knowledgeable bus guy even lifted my bag in for me. Just like in Brazil, the bus driver was driving, taking the fare, and making change all at the same time. For a 45 minute ride into Bogotá, the fare was $1.200 Colombian pesos or about $0.60 USD. Not bad. Very bumpy.
The new Lonely Planet: Colombia had not hit stores yet by the time I left, but were selling chapters on their website, so I bought the chapter for the capital city. Turns out that was a great move because I can just take out these stapled-together pages and not look like a dumb tourist with a gigantic guidebook. (At least I hope I didn’t look dumb). I followed the map as we drove through the city and as we are getting closer to the area where I’m staying the guy flips over his bus sign in the front window as if that’s the end of the line and I realize I’m the only one on the bus. The guy gives me vague directions towards where I need to go and I descend the bus, my heavy bag almost killing me on the way down the bus stairs. My keen map skills (and with the help of some nice guys in a cement truck) I find my hostel pretty painlessly. After chatting over some Aguilas (“La cerveza de Colombia. Desde 1913”) with four Iowans, which the proprietor offered on the house, I check into my room across the street from the main part of the hostel. It is basically an annex with the same layout as the main hostel. I think I’m the only one staying over here. It’s really quiet except for a clock somewhere. Oh wait, I just heard someone cough.
Tomorrow and beyond
Tomorrow I will be meeting with the country coordinator for Survivor Corps. I will be calling him from the hostel landline and confirming a meeting place in Bogotá somewhere. Very 90s! Landline and meeting places?
Beyond that, I will have to update you after my meeting tomorrow. I will also provide less ramblings and hopefully some more exciting stories.
Posted By Lindsey Crifasi
Posted Jun 18th, 2009