Ahhhh, the routine of traveling is becoming second nature. So much that it didn´t bother me to stay in the hostel until mid afternoon on my second full day, catching up with friends and family, writing and organizing my next travel plans. Very boring stuff that any normal person would typically take care of before leaving on a trip of this magnitude. But I do not happen to be one of those organized travlers, I prefer instead to decide along the way, which has it's obvious pros and cons. Perfect example, I decided to stay in Bogota for the following week to study Spanish while waiting for my friend to arrive instead of taking off to the Caribbean with some people I just met and another friend from Seattle who will be there. A choice that I am almost doubting right about now as it is not the least bit warm in this city with an elevation of 12,000 feet and rains quite often. The only good thing about the weather is it doesn't last for long no matter what it's current state is. I've learned how vital layers are and the importance of never leaing home without a rain jacket. I immediately liked Bogota much more than I thought I would but could do without the weather.
Being tested on your Spanish knowledge may not be a typical activity for a vacation but in my case, my spanglish just ain't gonna cut it and I really want to get more out of my time in South America than just discussing travel plans and life plans which, don't get me wrong I'm more than happy to do too but connecting with locals is just not gonna happen with my current level of Spanglish. It was apparent almost immediately of how much I was in need of a refresher course, so Spanish school it is!
And I made a great choice as my social calendar for the weekend just increased exponentially once I met a fellow American, Dayna. We have both embarked upon a similar travel adventure, both leaving our jobs with no set plans after our respective trips and arriving within a day of each other. Although thus far, everyone I've spent a meal, or afternoon or more with have been much younger, while on the road, age doesn't seem to matter as much as the shared interest in adventure. My story is not at all unique, leaving your job to travel with indefinite plans is quite a normal phenomenom. See, I'm not so loco after all!
After exploring more of the unique cobblestone streets of the historic La Candelaria district and a repeat performance of the day before's melted cheese in hot chocolate, Bethan and I headed out to see what the weekend nightlife was like. First, trying to locate the bar we would be meeting Dayna and some locals later for salsa took entirely too long, we finally found a cute bar/restaurant close by. It's a bit challenging to find vegetarian options at typical restaurants so just a caprese salad and bread later, we were ready for a night of salsa cubano style mixed with a bit of reggaeton. A total local spot and so very fun! Decided the reason why Colombia is considered one of the happiest countries in the world, is because they dance every single day! Seriously, the energy is amazing here. It's likely against every Colombian's religion to not ask a girl to dance so there were a number of different people happy to show this gringa how to dance. First up, I danced with an artist type with dreads, then a very serious Salsa guy who I proceeded to make fun of for being so serious about it, a handful of others but what was killer was our group of 7 all dancing together. But I might get flack for saying this in this country but I'm not a total fan of salsa. That felt like a confession! For a few hours I can handle it, anything longer I'm bored. Hours later, we walked home with the whole group as walking home at night, alone or even just two girls, is not recommended. So another example of the friendliness of Colombians, the whole group offered to escort Bethan and I home. They wouldn't even let us take a cab, happy to be bodyguards, at least that's what they said.
I'm quite sure I did something interesting Saturday during the day. Hmmmm, the day was completely overshadowed by the surreal, insane nightlife of what's dubbed the best night club in a country known for it's nightclubs. Oh, yes....rugby!
Bethan is from Wales and is a die hard rugby fan and the World Championship Six Nations was on so she found the only place in all of Bogota showing it, a pseudo-Irish pub. Of course, I'm down for anything involving beers and boys ;-). We took a taxi to the posh Zona Rosa neighborhood expecting to find a crowd cheering for England vs. Wales....to absolutely no avail. We were the only ones in the whole bar! Quite different from a typical rugby experience, I suspect, especially with Jay-Z and Jack Johnson in stereo instead of the game. hmmmm, futbol is clearly king in this country. She was ecstatic as Wales, along with their cute daffodil mascots, spanked England. But the real celebration would be later that night at Andres Carnes de Res.
Don't. Know. Where. To Start. As Andres Carne de Res is 23 km outside of Bogota in Chia, we opted to go with a party hostel tour as it included transportation along with club entrance fee. Having no real idea of what to expect other than this is a don't miss experience. We waited to be picked up in one van then were transported around the city in another van only to end up very close to where we started at a hostel to pick up roughly.....50 people! Nice to see it wasn't all gringos either, a lot of Argentinians and Colombianos. Then on to the party bus where unlimited rum or vodka was served the whole way to Chia, a 45 minute drive. Let's just put it this way, rum became my best friend in virtually no time. Upón arrival at Disneyland'ish village/surreal restaurant/nightclub we were instructed to meet back at 3:00 am or we'd be left to return on our own. In the mayhem, we immediately lost most of our party that we had just made the best of friends with (and I'm not speaking of just the rum). Bethan, Dayna and I found the hostess after walking around in amazement of the inside/outdoor huge space as we were directed through groups of people shaking their bootays off in the middle of the restaurant. Once seated, we pored over the options in the 20 page menu, ordered and of course, I'm not one to just sit around, had to shake my own bootay as we waited for our food to arrive. Wow, heaven for me! Dancing, dancing, dancing to Colombian and American pop music. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!!!! But my body, well, the rum to be more specific, led me to do something a bit odd in a club. Yes, hate to admit it but I kinda took a nap in the club. In my defense, there were others doing just that. And unlimited rum?! Clearly I do not have pirate blood. But what I do have is dancer blood as the girls told me I made the most amazing recovery they have ever seen. It went something like this: as soon as I heard the latest Bruno Mars song, I rose immediately from my slumber and started shaking it in no time flat. Oh dear, I must have been Colombiana in another life.
We somewhow managed to meet others from the bus and moved to another part of the club to shake it until it closed down. Along with everyone else, we left :-( finding our way back to the bus and waited for the others to arrive, but many never did, I'll let you imagine what happened to them. I fell asleep off and on but Dayna updated me a bit as we drove through some bad neighborhoods and one in particular with some very funky outfits. Think in terms of painted sugar skulls and the highest platform boots you've ever seen. Livin la vida loca these peeps sure are!
On to Sunday and the one day that Bogota shuts down, for the most part. Amazingly, each of us only slept about 5 hours but we all wanted to climb Monseratte, the highest point in Bogota, home of the iconic white church to the east and the weekly climb locals do, a pilgrimage to some and we wanted in on this experience. All of the guide books warn of climbing on your own during the week and definitely not to do it on your own and to begin climbing early in the morning. At least we followed a few of those recommendations, the one we didn't follow was starting early, yeah, we finally got our butts in gear starting the climb at the ripe old hour of 3pm, oops. We could have opted to take a cable car or funicular up the mountain as well but wanted the exercise and bragging rights of climbing 2350 meters. And although not a total killer of a hike it was some good exercise and I'm going to blame some of the difficulty on the altitude. The climb was worth it for the awesome views of the city even as it was a bit cloudy and the view partially obstructed due to the city's perpetual smog. We stopped frequently along the way, greeting others as they descended, very few were still going up at the late hour we were and I was chastised for going up so late. The presence of police with their scary big dogs made it all feel very safe though.
At the very tip top, I was disappointed to find really kitchscy souvenir shops. It took away the majesticness of the hike up the Andean peaks but I get it, everyone must earn a living. And do these people ever have to work for it, lugging their wares that don't sell for the day back down to the funicular and repeat again the next day. The only thing I enjoyed at the top, besides the view, was tasting coca tea for the first time and as I'm so interested in natural health remedies,I was thrilled, expecting to have to wait for Peru for that.
Oh and just to add an additional adrenaline rush, we had to run to catch the last funicular as the cable car had just closed and this was our last option as walking down scared the crap out of me with the safety warnings. I was imagining we looked like easy targets for someone to rob us plus I knew my knee couldn't take it, damn old age/arthritis. But uneventful funicular ride later, we were back on safe ground.
Note to self: Bogota shuts down on Sundays. Even on St. Patrick's Day! En serio! However, Matt, a partier from Austria (he totally deserves this title by the way, how many people do you know who visit Vegas for a whole month?!) wanted to celebrate and we all decided green beers were definitely in order and we weren't about to let little sleep, going out 4 nights in a row already and no shower stop us from enjoying the luck of the Irish. But Bogota Beer Company, a local pub chain, didn't serve green beer so we cabbed it out to the pub where we knew had it from yesterday's rugby game and proceeded to consume with much gusto, 3 pitchers of the green stuff. Erin go bragh or in Spanish, Salud!!! Green tongues later and a cab ride that seemed so funny in our state and in a car that was likely on it's very last legs, we arrived back at the hostel and as it was Matt's last night in Colombia, well, we had to keep celebrating. This time with aguardiente, the local liquor which tastes like anise or licorice. Ouch. Tomorrow's Spanish class sure is going to be interesting.