Bogota is a beautiful lady clinging onto the legs of the Andes, like the end of a terrific salsa routine. This is no more evident than taking a cable car up the Monserrate where wooden markers declare you are 10,300 feet above sea level. As my friend Juan Carlos warns, coming downhill and on foot are not as glamorous. I try connecting with the locals on my way down, but the air is thin and my kneecaps feel like iron wheels on a railroad track. So not ballroom. Three hours later, we recoup at a street side restaurant to have some food and a bottle of Cerveza Aguila, Colombia’s lager. Bad idea.
Altitude sickness overwhelms me and puts me to bed at 8 PM while the rest of the hostel parties with a band and a DJ downstairs. I put on my headphones and listen to Train asking me to marry him. Bogota lends no party to the weak.
We visit La Candelaria and take photos of the Spanish colonial buildings. Close by are the Botero Museum with Fernando Botero’s paintings and sculptures of expansive models, the grand Plaza Bolivar where the cathedral, congress and the national capitol surround it like imposing soldiers, and the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Center. Llamas for photo-ops abound.
The next day, I stuff my face with Bandeja Paisa–the Colombian version of a square meal. It is a hearty serving of red beans, steak, pork crackling, chorizos, fried eggs, a wedge of avocado and deep fried plantain all on a bed of rice. Juanki and I have a Lulo shake and head off to hoity-toity Zona Rosa to see where the spoiled get plastered. We have lunch at Andres Carne de Res, which is a quintessential traveller favorite. It’s hard to describe this eccentric restaurant but I have a feeling it was hatched in the mind of someone who utilizes an entire bush of coca leaves for tea. It’s urban Colombian psychedelia. I think a Scandinavian tourist likened it to eating a meal in a washing machine. A lady and her brass band come to our table and make some music. On the other end of the room, a costumed angel with his costumed pet chats with the diners. We hurry to Cafe Libro to catch a famous salsa band rehearse for an evening concert.
The next day, I go around the city in the Transmilenio–Bogota’s hesitant response to Mexico City’s Metro. It acts like a metro with stations around the city but is a long bus and travels on the road on its own lane. Like a metro, it has its share of disgruntled passengers, squeaks and screams, and injuries. I make it to Usaquen where a nice flea market sets up along its cobblestone calles. Rather than collectors’ comic books and tin toys, vendors sell artisanal creations from their respective parts of Colombia. I get my mom a box of wooden napkin holders from Salto.
Then I head off to the Museo del Oro where I get a tan from all the light reflecting off of the gold displays, so by the time I meet up with a couch surfing buddy at the Torre Colpatria, I resemble lacquerware. John and I get something to drink at a Juan Valdez coffee shop and share opinions on rain in Colombia and the Philippines, our parallels on tradition and culture, Lechon versus Lechona, machismo, and the funny English accents of our respective presidents. We eat some empanadas and promise to exchange visits more often.
(All photos ©M. Sanchez)
Every year, I run away from Valentine’s Day as though my heart were made of coal. There is a method to this abandon. Ten years ago today, I was on a plane and in tears for a good part of Valentine’s Day and all of my birthday. I did not know if I were going or leaving home. I relive this vulnerability every year to remind myself that I am merely a mote of dust, a twinkle in someone’s eye, an inaccurate memory in a rocking chair. And each time I come home, I appreciate what I already have and that I no longer need anything more. The world is so big and the sky is like a velvet tentacle asking me questions I have no language to answer with.