An Idiot Arrives In Bogota…
Visiting other countries is amazing. The process of getting TO them is not, as any traveler knows.
Warning – dumb choices ahead. Please don’t tell my mother.
Tired, bleary-eyed, vaguely delirious, I make my way to immigration at midnight local time, 3am according to my body. I’m practically being waved through by a bored official. Baggage claim. Please bag, show up quickly. While I wait, I exchange some money for my taxi ride. I start to get nervous, but eventually the luggage drops onto the carousel.
Making my way out, I pass a taxi information booth. I ask for a taxi, but the two young women (so beautiful! a continually reoccurring theme in Colombia) talk so fast that I can’t understand them (another theme that will repeat itself throughout my trip). Eventually, I do. I think. Or maybe not. If I understood correctly, I have two taxi choices. Standard yellow car at one price, fancy white van or truck at 3 times the price, take only licensed taxis.
In any case, onward and outward.
Stepping out of the airport, one of many taxi drivers offers his services. I ask if he has a licensed taxi. Claro, señor! (of course!) We start to walk. AWAY from the line of taxis. We continue to the airport parking lot. I question him again on his taxi. Yes, yes, I am a licensed driver, you can see my taxi has the official sticker.
Warning bells are going off in my head. But somehow, incredibly, stupidly, I step into the vehicle. Three nights of terrible sleep followed by 12 hours of airports and airplanes reduces ones capacity for decision making.
We start driving to the hotel. He knows the general location but not the specific hotel. Not surprising since it’s a small hotel with just 5 rooms. The whole time, I’m nervous. He seems friendly and legit, but will this turn into the “millionaire’s ride” I’ve read about? The one where the unlicensed taxi driver robs the passenger?
We arrive at a dark alley. A classically scary dark alley.
Luis tells me my hotel is in that alley. I hesitate. But after a moment, I can see he is truthful – there is indeed a sign for Casa Galeria next to a door.
He walks me to the door. We ring the bell. And wait. And ring the bell. And wait. Repeat. It begins to get awkward. Where before I was questioning his intentions, now I’m grateful that Luis refuses to leave me until I am safely inside my hotel. Eventually, after close to 10 minutes, the door is answered, I’m ushered in. I pay Luis, grateful that he is in reality a kind and friendly person. I have no doubt his is in fact an unlicensed taxi with a fake decal, but he was in the end completely trustworthy.
Morning. I slept like shit, and didn’t get enough of it. But still, I slept. I step out of my room to a completely different scene from what I experienced last night. My hotel has a beautiful small courtyard, complete with songbirds serenading me from the rooftop. I exit the hotel to find that the scary alley from the night before is actually beautifully painted with incredible street art, the scene completed by happy people walking through low-angled light on the cobblestone street. It’s all very picturesque and photo blog worthy.
Back in the hotel for breakfast. The morning employee is delighted that I choose hot chocolate over tea or coffee. Along with eggs, I experience my first arepa, a Colombian staple.
After a nap and short stroll through the Candelaria district, I go for a two hour run through the city.
Throughout the day, I barely talk to anyone. Mostly because I can’t understand a damn thing anyone says. Four nights of poor sleep combined with the heavy accent and lightning fast pace of Colombian spanish, and I’m screwed. Talking with people is terrifying and bewildering. I find myself missing Ecuador, with its slower speaking pace and more neutral accent. Still, the ladies running my hotel are kind and wonderful. They are very patient with the gringo who doesn’t seem to understand them.
Night. Surprisingly chilly. At almost 8700 feet (2640 meters) elevation, Bogota defies the stereotype of Colombia as a hot country. With no heat in the hotel, I’m grateful for the hot water bottle the staff places in my bed.
(for those of you wondering now if the whole trip was filled with stupidity and bare escapes from bad turnouts, thankfully the answer is ‘no’)