jueves, 1 de febrero de 2007

Welcome to Bogota

The day before I flew to Bogota I drove with two precious friends to a funeral. And that's where the journey began. I had gone to support one of the most beautiful and strongest women I know, whose step father died after suffering the cruelest of killers - a brain tumor. I wanted also to pay my respects to a man who I liked very much and found both generous and reassuringly eccentric. But I hadn't banked on there being so many people there who had also learnt the value of life because of death or illness. You see John was a doctor and he cured a lot of children from cancer, sparing families from heartbreak. And so I found myself talking to people who who had endured pain and loss that I can't even imagine. One man with a wonderfully kind and accepting manner told me about how he and his two daughters had nursed his wife who died some eighteen months ago. He told me to go off an have an adventure - live life. Oh and also learn to use your digital camera properly. I'm not sure I've managed the latter but I'm working on the rest.

Then we drove through Wales to get to Heathrow airport. Where I was deposited like a lost geek at about one o'clock in the morning. Hotels were too pricey and I'm famous for sleeping pretty much anywhere so I slept in the arrivals lounge and woke up to find two old biddies figuring out the arrivals board, a man dressed in khaki figuring out my front bottom (from a distance) and the knowledge that in about three hours I'd be on my way to Bogota.

It's true; reality always tastes better than fantasy because it doesn't come from a magazine or an episode of sex in the city. But I forgot that when a gorgeous Alpha male passed by my seat to get to his further up the plane and instead an agitated academic sat down next to me. I didn't know he was an academic but I could have guessed by the way he sniffed and shuffled at babies crying and loud tanoy announcements. Actually he was one of Boigota's first treasures.

After an hour or so with my face lodged against the window, probably dribbling, the food arrived and obviously I woke up. Anyone who knows me will understand my shock at being asked if I was vegetarian. Yes I had chicken on my plate but like the Spanish Colombians don't class that as meat. It was because the book I had taken out to read, which had the word zen in the title, that he asked me if I was vegetarian. It seems if you're into zen or yoga and such like Colombians think you're vegetarian. I'm not into any of the above and although some of my best friends are vegetarians I see it as an illness or condition that can make people rather obnoxious and anal. But I'm rambling.

This tormented Professor from Bogota told me about his country, about his preferred writers and politics. He told me about a Venezuelan girl he visits in prison, who is serving a ten year jail sentence for smuggling cocaine and about the hypocrisy of the least culpable being punished while drugs barons and governments get fat playing war. He urged me to be careful but not to be scared. And that's typical Bogota.

I've only been here a couple of days so I can hardly claim to be an expert on Bogota. But I have been totally seduced by it. Unable to shake off my cynicism I've spent as little time as possible with the backpackers in my hostel... I know, I know I will have to stop being a fascist soon if I'm travelling for four months. Instead my guide's been this adorable DJ with beautiful eyes and a clapped out motor.

Yesterday we walked through Bogota, though it felt more like a trek. Everything seems full of colour and life. The retro buses that rattle through the streets; the shops, the houses, the people. There are permanent reminders of Colombia's troubles. You get checked when you enter certain streets or museums for arms. There are policemen who look more like soldiers and security guards outside important buildings. But I did not feel in any way threatened. When we went into an area that my guide thought less safe he told me to put my camera in my rucksack but that was it. We walked through wide open squares full of pigeons, through markets where trinkets and furniture hung from the ceiling, and through parks where Colombians lazed in the sunshine and gardeners carried machetes. And everywhere there's the smell of fruit or corn arepas or steak.

We drank fruit juices, which contained fruits I'd never heard of and sat at a low bar with lots of chatting workers to eat salty potatoes and carne asado - meat slapped out on a grill and served in large portions. And all the way my guide told me about Colombia and Colombians. The city is surrounded by mountains and the streets are wide and noisy. We went for a drink and to admire the view at night and I couldn't believe how abandoned the streets were. Apparently they get busy later in the week but I wondered if it was safe to wander about them. As tourists we are told not to go out at night in Bogota, to be very careful and not to carry anything valuable. And I think there are some people in the hostel where I am staying who are too scared to go out past nine o'clock. I'm lucky to have someone who knows this city to take me around.

Watching people in a bar last night it occurred to me that the big difference with people here and at home is that here they seem fearless. It's as though they accept violence and drugs as part of the system. And they exist within that system. My guide has seen people shot in front of him. A bomb went off in his apartment block whilst he was away and at ten years old he watched from his window as guerrillas held people hostage in the church below. Most Colombians have experienced or witnessed some sort of violence. But they are fearless and realistic about the fragility of life. There are no ASBOs or CRASBOs or health warnings here. At least not that I've noticed. Instead people seem incredibly free and liberated maybe because they live without fear.

4 comentarios:

Chorizo Wagon dijo...

Pffffft and you said it wouldn't be for literary people (which I am not so I may be wrong) but what a spiffing first entry!! I'm sat here eating noodles on my bed, and suddenly wishing I was riding in a clapped out motor in a far off place... you took me there for a moment, I look forward to more! Glad to hear you got there safely :)

Much love Harriet x

Siany dijo...

And I can't believe it, leaving a message on a blog site - no Ipod yet but blimey this blog thing is pretty nifty. Anyway, glad you have arrived safely mrs and are touring the city local stylee. It is truly lovely to know how life affirming you found the day before you left and to think that you have now landed amongst a whole lot of life and colour.... I have only one thing to say and you so know what it is - STAY AWAY FROM BOUSFIELD!! (Oh and keep blogging geek)LOVE XXXXX

HB dijo...

So when does it become a porno site?

clairey c dijo...