Saturday, June 15, 2013

First Impressions

As we flew over the Colombian countryside, the clouds were so low over the mountains that it seemed like the country was a vast, green cauldron with white smoke spilling out of it.  After too many hours spent in customs and the queue to exchange money, I caught a cab to my hostel and then immediately fell asleep for sixteen hours.  Lisa and her friend LJ arrived late on a bus from Medellín, and by the time we finally ran into each other, there was only enough time for us to lament, eat a hot dog, and see Lisa off on her bus to the airport, there to catch a flight back to Dublin.  It was a sad occasion.

But at least we did get a small bit of wandering in, as well as ogling of Bogotá's stunning street art.

Traffic in Bogotá is sheer chaos, with horns blaring and trucks accelerating into traffic jams and buses weaving in and out of lanes and absolutely no thought of turn signals.  Plus, whichever way you turn, there's always at least a dozen motorbikes waiting to mow you down at the crossroads.  Taking the bus to the airport with LJ the next day was something like riding a roller-coaster, only without seat belts.  They also don't seem to take much notice of the pedestrian, and even buses seem to never come to a complete stop.  I tried to flag one down to head back to La Candelaria but it just kept driving, so I had to run after it and make a flying leap in through the open doors.  The driver was completely unfazed, so I'm assuming that's the way things are done here.

Furthermore, all the Colombians I've talked with have been just about the friendliest people ever.  My cab driver from the airport on my first day gave me a tour of every landmark we passed, and she was a very good sport with my attempts to speak Spanish with her.  A police officer walked me halfway across the airport, past a parking lot, and through a construction site to help me find the place where I could get a yellow fever vaccination.  When I went to buy a phone, the sales clerks at the shop wouldn't let me go without writing down a list of sites for me to visit.

The city center is dirty and beat up, which reminds me a lot of living in Moscow, but it seems no more dangerous than any other big city I've visited, and much safer than Baltimore.  Everything is colorful and loud, and everyone seems thrilled to be here, especially after dark when all of downtown seems to explode into a melee of music and dancing.  The only aspect I dislike is the weather; I'd packed solely for tropics and didn't bring a single sweater or pair of mittens, and I come to find that the weather in Bogotá is cool and breezy all year round.  Unfair, I say!  Simon Bolivar said that he loved no climate better than Bogotá's, because it reminds him of southeastern Scandinavia, and the air is crisp and clean due to the altitude.  I wouldn't exactly say the air is clean anymore, but the altitude makes it very dry, and very close to the sun.  I discovered, after exploring the city all day and being cold for most of it, that I had gotten pretty sunburned without realizing how.

Otherwise, my plan is to stay here from anywhere between two weeks and a month, depending on how things go.  Medellín wasn't originally on my itinerary, but I've heard good things so I may have to go check it out for a week or so.

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