Sh*t happens, or: Bogotá Part 1

We left Costeño Beach last Friday morning, sorry to bid farewell to the generous tropical breakfasts and hourly swims, but eager to push on into Colombia’s interior. We rode motorcycles through the sand up to the main road, caught a sweaty bus to the Mamatoco bus stop in Santa Marta, hopped in a taxi with far too many visible wires at the driver’s feet (where was the accelerator? where was the brake? flintstone car!), and boarded a plane at the Santa Marta airport bound for Bogotá!

Our descent through the atmospheric cloudscapes above the Bogotá savanna (yes, savanna) gave us a first glimpse into how huge this city is (like, eight million huge). The city’s density appeared and continued unabated right up until the airport’s edge, where high-rise housing seemed to touch the underbelly of the landing aircraft and bodegas lined the runway fencing.

We took a taxi to our lodging in the historic district – La Candelaria – which was once a seedy neighborhood full of coke-hungry backpackers, but has since improved in charm and reputation (the backpackers remain, just a bit less strung out). Our cab driver, Nico, pointed out some amazing graffiti and explained a bit about how the street grid system works – logical, but with a lot, lot, lot of exceptions – and let us off at Magdalena Guest House, our home for the next few days.

Maria Gonzales for Ambassador!

Over some delicious local beers in a neighborhood restaurant, we both took an almost instant liking to Bogotá. The pulse felt frenetic and the vibe confusing – a beckoning call for exploration and discovery. Also, we had just met Maria Gonzales (see right) who jumped on Drew’s lap and went to sleep within 3 minutes of our arrival. We’ve recommended her for the Mayor’s Office of Tourism Affairs payroll.

After a night’s rest we awoke on Saturday and headed straight for Paloquemao Market (here’s a cheery jingle about this place if you need that in your life) which blew our minds (and blew Cartagena’s market out of the water). The slogan for Paloquemao is “Todo Colombia en un solo lugar” – All of Colombia in one place – and it’s pretty apt. Picture aisles and aisles of stalls crammed together selling produce, cooked food, flowers, kitchenware, grains, herbs/tinctures, meats in various states of deadness, etc.

My favorite were those selling all the varieties of one thing (think: egg vendors with literally thousands of eggs organized by size and priced accordingly; avocado salesmen hawking five different varietals arranged by ripeness; the chicken lady with rows of raw chickens each pre-filled with different aromatics).

The potato guy and his copious potatoes

We snacked and wandered, tried valiantly to stay focused on “grocery shopping” so we could cook in our guest house, and ultimately emerged exhausted and triumphant, with a heavy bag full of produce and big plans for dinner.

Later that afternoon, after watching a soccer game with Juan Camilo, our guest house proprietor, we ventured out to check out the second to last evening of Festival Centro – a multi-day music festival hosted by the Mayor’s Office of Bogotá (more on the incredible urbanist that is Mayor Enrique Peñalosa soon). We caught a great show by El León Pardo. I’ll let these videos Drew took show you what their rad genre – “cumbia ácida” – sounds like (don’t miss the instrument we affectionally named the toilet plunger in video 2).

We danced around happily with some of the hipster Bogotano crowd, blissfully unaware of what was ahead.

Yes folks, this is the part where the sh*t happens. Unfortunately, after our hip night on the town, things went south in digestionland and Drew and I spent the next few days exceptionally grateful for having splurged on a private bathroom and a collection of bootleg episodes of “Community.”

Traveler’s illnesses (and some altitude sickness on my part) put an almost complete halt to our discovery of Bogotá, and at first, I was really frustrated. Nobody likes to get sick on vacation, and I didn’t spend the first ten years of my life finding caterpillars in my salad in Southeast Asia just to get a stomach bug in Colombia!

But, as we lay there, taking turns getting our daily steps in between the bed and the throne, I realized two things:

  1. We aren’t on vacation.
  2. Slowness can be good #silverlinings

Embarking on this adventure has felt, and continues to feel, largely like any other trip I, and we, have taken away from our “normal” lives. You pack, you fly, you explore, you savor, you hope to create so many memories so worthy and so fast you need to write them all down so you can remember when you return home.

But I guess, in reality, this is kind of our ‘normal’ life (for) now. And if that means some days we have sick days where we watch hours and hours of forgettable tv and eat noodles with olive oil on them in bed (Drew made these for us on day two when food began to appeal again, and I could have married him all over again) and could really be anywhere doing it, that’s OK; while the chance to drink all the experiences in is to be cherished, so is the chance to take a rest and move slowly.

So, there’s an optimist’s silver lining for you. It did, for the record, also suck. But thankfully we hadn’t made any commitments to be anywhere after Bogotá, so decided to extend our time here for five extra days, moved to a different hostel in a completely new neighborhood of the city, and started over. In the last 48 hours we’ve recovered, resurfaced, and our hunches about this city have manifested dozens of times over.

Stay tuned for Bogotá Part 2 (full title forthcoming!).

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