My first instinct when arriving in a city for the first time, is to compare it to other cities I’ve been to before. (This is probably the same for lots of other travellers.)
Bogota: the traffic reminds me of Bangkok, but slightly better. Maybe it’s because they have the license plate restriction, where if your license plate ends in an odd number, you can drive anytime on odd-numbered days, and but on even-numbered days only during off peak hours. They way they drive is also like Bangkok, people can cut you off, but you also cut people of, it’s all a wash in driving karma, so there’s actually little road rage.
Then there’s the traffic light vendors, which I had completely forgotten about. In Bay Area, you see panhandlers sitting in the median with a sign, passively waiting for spare change. The vendors here in Bogota are more proactive, they will walk around and slip DVDs or CDs into your window, and if you want one of them, you pay them, otherwise they ome back and retrieve them before the light turns green. Then there’s the windshield cleaners, who have a plastic soda pop bottle with a hole poked into it, so they can squirt water onto the window, and then they squeegee it, and you pay them some coins. I kind of wish they had that service in the US, since I always forget to squeegee y windshield when I fill up at gas stations.
Bogota reminds me of Hong Kong, with the city set in the mountains, except it’s landlocked, there’s no sea.
Bogotoa reminds me of Shanghai: there’s a economic boom going on, and the city scape is in transition. The 2-3 storey townhouse/rowhomes from 20 years ago are being torn down in some areas, and being replaced by 10+ storey apartments/condominiums. The view from our friends’ Carolina and Mike’s apartment encompasses all that, the city built up to the edge of the mountains, the older townhomes, and the newer construction with crane dotted about. It’s all in brick, so there’s a pleasing uniformity in color. (When I was staying in T’s apartment in Shanghai a couple of years ago, the view was a similar mix of shorter older town houses, and newer taller apartments being built.
Like Cambodia 10 years ago, here there’s vendors all over the streets who function as payphones, you can use their cell phones to make calls, and get charged by the minute. The rates are about 150 to 200 pesos per minute (1,800 pesos to $1 US currently.)
It’s been a pretty active, not hectic 36 first hours in Bogota. Thanks to Carolina and her immediate and extended family (which amounts to the same thing!): we’ve been introduced to the joys of (a) Columbian hot chocolate; (b) Columbian breakfast food called chuango; (c) and a Columbian soccer-watching party at home. And beer of course!
(a) Hot chocolate: Comes in a ‘pastille’, sort of like bar chocolate, not powder. You whack it on the edge of a counter to break off chunk, and then melt/grind the chocolat in a pot of hot milk or water usings a wooden whisk (imagine rubbing a stick between both hands as if you were a caveman making a fire.) It’s served with bread (OK), and a white cheese (really?!) You break pieces of bread and/or cheese into the hot chocolate. It sounded bizarre, but tasted good. In the cool, cloudy climate of Bogota, it’s very comforting.
(b) Chuango: Heat up a mixture of half water, half milk, add some salt. Crack some eggs into it, and let it cook for a bit (so that they’re like poached eggs), then take some cheese (queso crema) and break it into the mixture, so that it melts. You can also add onion to it. Serve. I would have never conceived of such a mixture of ingredients, but again, on a chilly morning, its very warm and comforting.
(c) It turned out that today was the final in the championship game (national professional futbol) between Santa Fe (Bogota) and Naccional (Medellin), played in Bogota. Carolina called up her cousin Edwin to go over and watch the game at his house. Throughout the day we saw vendors throughout the city seling paraphenalia for both teams (more for Santa Fe): team T-shirts, banners, hats, horns, etc. We all piled into Edwin’s home, where he was cooking up massive amounts of sausage, pork chops, beef, and potatoes, and plain rice. It was very simply seasoned, but tasty. The potatoes are very Columbian, they are yellow and golf balled size, but have a very potatoey flavor. We washed it down with Coca Cola and Poker beer. Beer sales in Bogota stopped at noon today (because of the big game tonight), and we had forgotten to stock up earlier, but Carolina and Mike were savvy enough to somehow persuade the local corner store to seel them some. (phew!) I told Caro’s mom that in Thailand, they don’t sell alcohol on election days, and she said it was the same here in Columbia. (Local football matches, are not as big of a deal in Thailand though!) There were 11 of us at this get-together: the food was wonderful, the company was even better (Carolina’s family were very hospitable and welcoming, and patient with Joe and I trying out our Spanish on them!) Alas, Santa Fe lost! Edwin’s wife taught us a funny pun/joke: “Pollo, repollo is chicken, re-chicken in English” Repollo isactually what they call cabbage, so Joe and I got that joke. Then someone taught us “Mondongo, Moon don’t go”. Mondongo is some sort of beef (cut of beef). So they say “luna no vayes” which is literally “Moon, don’t go” in Spanish. This one wasn’t as funny.
The interesting thing during the TV broadcast of the game was that there commercials during the game that would run as banners at the bottom of the screen, so you could still se the game (which we are kind of used to), but the sound would be that for the commercials, instead of the commentators (which we weren’t used to.) It was a little jarring, even though we don’t understand any of the futbol commentary in Spanish anyway.
(d) Beer. Carolina and I used to work together, and I would join her, her husband Mike, and Hubert (another co-worker) for beers across the street at Mythos after work. We upheld the tradition upon our first night in Bogota: we went to a pub across the street, and ordered a ‘jirafa’ of beer. It’s 3 liters, obviously much more than a carafe of beer. It’s a long glass tube that’ maybe 2 feet tall. (I think the jirafa means giraffe?!) There’s a spigot at the bottom from which you drain the beer into each person’s glass. I think it also comes with a suction cup on the bottom, so you don’t accidentally tip it over from your table. At 8000 feet atitude, the beer hit me with a greater impact than it did at the sea-level Mythos.
We walked through a supermarket last night as well to stock up on breakfast items. While most Columbian meals are vey basic salt-of-the earth items like chicken, beef, rice, potatoes, etc, the fruits are very exotic. A quick glance at the fruit section has gotten us excited about the mysterious fruits we’ll have to try while we’re here. Some of them are recognizable from Thai or Mexican equivalents, like cherimoya and zapote. Others are completely alien.
I’m looking forward to checking out Cicolovia (Bogota is its birthplace) and riding the TransMilenio (bus rapid transit) by the end of the week. (Ever the transportation planner geek!)