Vero and I arrived on different flights to Bogota, the capital of Colombia. I’d been looking forward to Bogota. I’d always fancied living there, until I actually got there. Dreary, drizzly, damp Bogota seemed the very antithesis of everything you imagine South America to be. Where was the colour, the vibrance, the flair, the lust for life? Where were the happy, smiling people? Perhaps Bogota never had a chance from the start. Anywhere would look miserable and gray and soulless after visiting Cartagena. Bogota, then, was reluctant to reveal its charms, but they were there. It just took a couple of days to find them.
Vero and I got a cab from the airport to the north part of Bogota, an area of high-class suburbs and close to some quality entertainment spots like the Zona Rosa. We drove for what seemed like hours, trying to find the Alexandria hotel, and the taxi driver got lost a few times navigating the seemingly identical streets full of red-brick buildings like a scrubbed up council estate. We found it eventually, right next to main road, and were greeted icily by the doorman and the concierge, a moody Bogotano with greased back hair and a forced smile. This was clearly a business hotel for business people, and, I soon realised, miles away from any sightseeing to be had. We checked in, got changed into something warmer (the drizzly gray afternoon was pretty chilly) and headed out to catch the Transmilenio bus into Central Bogota. Bogota has an impressive bus system that ferries people around, and the buses have their own lanes at all times, and bus stations with electronic noticeboards and maps like a subway system might have.
The drive to central took almost 40 minutes, and the bus whizzed past derelict neighbourhood after derelict neighbourhood, graffiti splattered on the walls and doors of the run down shops and houses. The whole place seemed miserable, gray and dangerous. The people on the bus were dressed in colours to match the personality of the city – browns, grays and shades of black. At every stop a new rogue would get on the bus with a new sob story. “I don’t want to hurt anyone, I’ll leave you alone, but I need money because my son needs heart surgery and they’ve kicked me out of my house”, said one, as people fished around for change to keep him from doing something he might regret. The atmosphere was tense on the busride. Nobody talked. Was this really South America?
We got off in the rain in Central and headed for Cerro de Monserrate, a peak on top of which sits a white church. We trekked to the funicular station and got the tram up the near vertical hill to the top, which afforded no views of the city whatsoever due to the mist that had descended. Not a good start to the day at all. Weather changes moods. Thousands of people were here, wandering around, and there were lots of tourist markets selling all kinds of interesting things. There was more life here, for sure, than in the north (during the day, at least). It was cold, and we stopped at a little cafe for a drink of hot sugarcane juice and aguardiente, admiring views over some of the surrounding hills. We were trying to make the best of it, Vero and I, and hadn’t yet dared describe our disappointment to the other. We queued over an hour to get back down, and went for a beer in a local bar, before heading to the impressive La Candelaria area, Bogotas colonial barrio. We hit the main square, Plaza de Bolivar, and saw the magnificent Catedral Primeda, though couldn’t get in due to a queue 1000 strong, and growing, who were there to have a look at a rag with the blood of Jesus on it or something. Instead, we admired the view from a distance away with the pigeons. It would have been lovely on a sunny day. How much weather can influence one’s mood, I thought, again. I hadn’t found the cobbled historic which is home to a thriving student bar scene. Perhaps that was the key to happiness in this place.
We went around the corner and found a lovely little cafe/bar that was small, dark and atmospheric, where we ordered some hot chocolate with cheese, a Bogota speciality. Dipping cheese into chocolate isn’t something I’d normally do, but we were here, so why not? It tasted really good. Then it was time to get back, to brave the bus again all the way back to the north.
Vero and I had a little nap in the hotel, then reluctantly changed to head out into a night that for some reason seemed more foreboding than it really was. I felt nervous, but only because I had Vero in tow and had the added pressure of making her feel safe and have a good time. The hotel ordered a cab for us and we went to the Zona Rosa. Here, we found a great area full or bars and restaurants, some really nice places. Cheered, we had a cocktail in a bar with a live musician, a cool chick with a guitar. There were big fire heaters over every table, as it was cold out. We got into it, and I relaxed a little. It was buzzing here, with the well-heeled milling about everywhere in this strangely sanitised and somewhat clinical area of town. From here, we went to an Irish bar, usually dependable sources of interesting life, then tried to find a club as the bars were shutting. As we were walking away from the bar area, we walked towards a group of younger local bar-hoppers, all blokes. One of them stuck his middle finger in my face. “Fuck you fucking gringo”, he said in heavily-accented English, as his mates laughed. I didn’t back down, just looked at him, so he tried to lunge at me but some of his friends stopped him. I almost reacted. That would have been suicide with such a big group. A pointless, baseless attack. Never mind, it happens everywhere, that kind of thing. I suppose there are always a few bad eggs in a city of 8 million. Vero and I got a cab back to the hotel. I hated Bogota.