Archive | September, 2013

Bogota: Days 3-5

26 Sep

It’s raining in Bogota like it always does.  Only today it doesn’t stop.  I look down at my feet and curse the flip flops I chose to wear.  Dirt sits between the cobblestone streets and the umbrella that William is holding is barely covering me.

“Estoy estupida,” I say and he tells me that one never knows when the seasons are going to change, or something like that.  Truthfully, I don’t understand William most of the time, and when he speaks English I am bored.

I met him on Couchsurfing.com, and while his messages seemed questionable, he was the only person who offered to take me exactly where I wanted to go – The Museo del Oro.

Per usual, I am running late, which is how I end up wearing the flip-flops, and I feel even more ashamed when I see William’s khakis and button-down shirt.  His formal greeting puts me at ease, but I don’t exhale until his wife calls.

On the way to the museum William tells me that he has, “three cats,” and shows me photos of them.  I feign interest and exclaim, “how adorable!”

The Museo is more than I thought it would be.  Gold (oro) doesn’t really interest me, but everyone kept telling me that it was a, “must-see.”

Each object is incredibly detailed and has a cosmological meaning.  It is impossible not to stand before the exhibits and wonder at not only the meaning, but how each item was made with few tools and such care.  Though I get my true lesson when I exclaim, “oh look at the canoes!”

“Those aren’t canoes, but coffins.  The Indians were much smaller than us, even you.”

Soon after William tells me that we have to go.  There are restrictions on cars because Bogota is so overcrowded.  He can’t drive his past 3pm.  He then tells me he’s picking me up at 9am tomorrow to go to a town outside of Bogota called Zipaqueria.  It’s there we will tour The Salt Cathedral, a Cathedral that sits 180 meters underground in a salt mine

While it bothers me that he doesn’t ask if I want to go, I can’t deny the opportunity.

Hours later,  I find myself at a brand-new hotel in a posh area of Bogota with (Damian’s friends) Roy & Deanna.  For once, I’m dressed right – my shoes are causing conversation. I meet a Medellin Chef, a Bogotan student and an actress who just arrived back from the Toronto film festival.  Everyone switches between English & Spanish, sips Cumber Gin & Tonics and pretends that they’re not having fun.

As promised, William picks me up the next day at 9a.m. The drive to Zipaqueria is about an hour and William has us stop to have sandwiches for breakfast.  He orders mine with three different types of unrecognizable meat, and I take a moment to ask God to make sure I never know what was in that sandwich.

We sign up for The Salt Cathedral tour, which is entirely in Spanish.  Quickly, I realize that William has his own tour in mind as he offers to translate.  He repeatedly has us wait until the entire group has moved on and then begins to ask me questions.

“Are you Catholic?” he asks.

“No.”

“Do you know Jesus?” and I want to say not personally.

“Have you heard of Mary and Joseph?”

“Yes, of course.”

“How can you know Mary and Joseph when you’re not Catholic?”

I try to tell him it’s near impossible not to know the story, but my Spanish is limited.

“Jesus is very popular all over the world and are Mary and Joseph.  They are very popular.  Everyone in the world knows them because they know they are popular.  Hard not to know, impossible.  I can’t live, no one in the world can live, and they can’t know”

He pretends to understand and then he leads me to the tourist area where he encourages me to buy emeralds.  I tell him they’re not really in my budget.

William again needs to drop off his car, though this time I go with him because lunch is next.  This is how I get to see his apartment.

Not only does he have three cats, but his entire apartment is covered in cats: pictures, figures, stuffed animals.  He begins to tell me the origin of each figurine.  It is soon obvious that William has collected Cat memorabilia from all over the world.  It is then I decide that I am really hungry.

We go to a small restaurant where I have the most filling and amazing tamale in my life.  It comes in a banana leaf and within the maize sits large chunks of chicken and chickpeas.

As nice and friendly as William has been, I begin to lose my patience when he insists that I must learn how to take the bus, “I will show you!” and so I enjoy 40 more minutes of William.

Finally we say goodbye, and I begin to prepare for my first Friday night in South America.

It is filled with amazing conversation, Indian food and the best Rum & Cokes I’ve ever had.

Though it’s the dancing that makes me regret booking my departure flight.  Once it starts it never stops, to sit would be to miss out.  Suddenly, I am up, buzzed and dancing salsa in Colombia.  My only problem is Damian’s feet keep getting in my way, though I do apologize for stepping on them.

Then the room stops and 12 couples form a circle and perform a dance like I have never seen before.  It reminds me of a 17th century courtly dance – only salsa style.  Partners continue to salsa, clap hands and spin onto the next one at varying speeds.  I ache to join.

The next day Damian shows me how Colombians make and drink hot chocolate.  I am shocked when he gives me a slice of cheese and tells me to dump it in my mug.  I eat it as it melts.

Too soon it is time for me to board my plane, and so I finish my glass of wine, say goodbye and depart for Medellin.

Futbol En Colombia

19 Sep

Damian told me his brother got killed over a futbol argument, a knife in the heart.  He said, ´¨family in Colombia is everything.  I work with my brothers, talk to them everyday. you think I´d hate the millionarios, but I still love my team.¨  

His brother was with a friend who was wearing a Millionario scarf and that´s what inspired the attack.

Futbol in Latin America is extreme passion with a dash of blood.  There´s almost no way a North American can comprehend the intense emotions these games inspire.  I am surrounded by grown men, mothers, sisters, fathers, daughters, passionately singing a song about, ¨Putas.¨

The referee is a Puta, their favorite play one too.  Every missed shot, every questionable call causes the crowd to go hoarse with anger.

Even blocks away from the stadium I feel the energy radiating off of it, and I can´t help but become a Millinario too.  Suddenly, I am shouting and clapping and cheering my new club which has just invited me in.

I watch the whole game hoping that the Millinarios will win, and for the first time ever I understand how people can get engulfed in their sport.   

It is not logical.  Tomorrow will be just as good if the Millionarios don´t win, it´s not even thought.  It runs deeper, connecting into our own physical expression that we cannot express because most of us aren´t warriors.

Though, each team has it´s own barra and every barra has a kapo.  At first Damian tries to differenciate barras from gangs, but then he turns to me and confesses, ¨¨they´re really the same.¨¨

The barras sit behind each goal, stand, sing, shout and wave posters the entire game.  They are outfitted entirely in their teams gear and they are the blood behind the sport.

The game goes to penalty kicks and the pretty, young girl in front of me cannot even watch.  Her blue gloves has millionarios written on them, and when the team finally wins her and her boyfriend kiss passionately.

In fact, there is passionate kissing everywhere.  Outside the bathroom, in the street, and people kiss in front of thousands like they´re in a room alone.  

I feel shy when strangers in the stand hug me and kiss me on the cheek.  I know, ¨es normal,¨ but my North American self would rather shake hands.

Outside the stadium there is a firepit surrounded by tables and makeshift stands with meats, potatoes and beer.  Damian and his friends surround a small plastic table and soon it is filled with black pudding, new potatoes and Cerveza Poker.  I struggle to make conversation with the woman sitting across from me.

I want to convey the awe and excitement I felt.  How never once in my whole life have I enjoyed watching a game and yet I enjoyed this one.

Instead I say, ¨everything is new here.  I like it a lot.  I love.¨

Bogota – Day One

18 Sep

The walls are full of graffiti and the streets are broken cobblestone.  In corners, prostitutes lean against walls and men carry large guns with dogs.  These are the images that greet me as my cab zips through the streets of Bogota.  We pass two traffic accidents involving Motos and Taxis, and Jorge, my driver turns to me and asks, ¨¿tienes miedo,?

Are you scared?

I say, ¨no,¨ and mean it, but I am shocked.  Not only that, I am shocked at my shock.  In my mind, I didn´t believe I had any expectations, and yet there they are, the expectations I didn´t even know that I had.

Jorge drops me off at Damian´s, the man that I am staying with.  He is un caballero, a gentleman, though I knew that before I arrived.  He pays for my cab, gives me keys and then leaves me.  ¨Ï work 14 hours a day,¨ he says.  ¨That´s why I don´t have internet.¨

I want to yell, ¨how can you not have internet?! It was supposed to be my lifeline.  The thing I could count on to make me feel less alone,¨but I smile and pretend like it doesn´t bother me.

Yet, I can´t help but be suspicious by his kindness.  I am a friend of a friend, and I´m not even that close to our mutual frined.  Though, this is Colombia, or South American hospitality.  It´s a heart that is unfathomable by the North American.

Even the language allows more heat.  Damian, and the lady I met on the plane express themselves with phrases like, ¨me duele en mi alma, me ama con me alma,¨I hurt and love in my soul.  Translated into English it sounds like it´s too much, but in Spanish it seems just right.

When the woman I was sitting next to struck up conversation, she immediately started to discuss the shootings that happened in D.C.  She told me it made her hurt in the depths of her soul, and I realized my own psychic numbness, cut off from my own feelings because these things seem so common.

Yet, when Damian casually mentioned the building across the street from his had a bomb planted underneath it a few years back I was horrified.  It made Colombia´s former violence come alive, and I thought, ¨how could I feel for the forgein and not the familiar?

Already traveling is stripping away my own preceptions and preconceptions, peeling away me from myself and leaving me standing there with new self-knowledge.

I don´t like everything I´m seeing and what I´m really seeing is my own privledge.  I´m not used to broken streets and dilapidated buildings.  I´m not used to tiny apartments that don´t have internet.  I´m not used to stray dogs or the feel of floating filth.

My life has been terribly convenient.  I didn´t have to move to a forgein country to learn English so i could get a decent higher education like Damian, nor have I even ever had to unravel a map.  Google has always been there for me.

I have never once looked across the street, at the building that houses the most important radio station in my country and known that a bomb is ticking beneath it.

And I wonder if this is what makes the people Ï have encountered so welcoming.  They know bombs that have sat beneath buildings, or have friends who have been killed.  They know the cracks in their streets, overcrowded buses, and graffiti shouting support for strike slogans.

Maybe deep in Bogota´s subconcious is the knowledge that we need to welcome one another, to feel deeply, to greet each other with our hearts because you can turn down a street, get lost and not find your way back.

A Haphazard Beginning

17 Sep

I’m sitting here hours before my journey and a few  things just don’t seem right. The space bar on my new, yet crappy, computer doesn’t really seem to work.  I know this will affect my writing ability as it’s a pretty important key.  Also challenging is that the computer I bought is the wrong size.

Upon reflection it occurs to me that the box should have been the tell, and questions such as, “If it is supposed to be a mini why is the box so big?”  Or, “Why didn’t I do my research and buy a non-crappy computer weeks ago?” can’t help but cross my mind.

I don’t have answers to these questions, and I’m trying to ignore them as a sign of my ill-planned journey, but the truth is the whole thing feels somewhat haphazard.

I can’t really envision myself trudging up the Peruvian mountains with a pack that is half the size of me.  Especially because I’ve spent the past few weeks consuming more alcohol than I have the entire year.  Nor do I know how I’m going to get to Cartegena and Medellin, yet these are my chosen beginning destinations.

The only thing I have thus far is a ride from the airport and a place to stay in Bogota- so there’s my beginning.

As for the rest of it, we shall see.