Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Our street in Bogota.

Hard to see, but a deluge enveloped us at the airport delaying our flight.

Apparently, no hotel room is complete without condoms and ciggies.

Back at the hotel, two parrots fight it out for the top spot on the bush.

Here I am, in all my towering glory, bringing civilization to the natives...ahem...being instructed by our guide about a fruit that is used to temporarily dye the skin in a native marraige ritual.

The sun sets on the amazon.

Globalization is fully penetrating the globe. Even "native indian" villages have Mickey Mouse.

Tell me you don't want a monkey butler now.

There be monkeys here. And they be cute.

Small and cute butterfly.

A small example of just how big those trees are.

We had lunch amongst these trees - in the boat obviously.

That there is Peru. Behind me is Colombia.

A small branch of the Amazon river, viewed from the boat.

Monday, March 27, 2006


Events are outpacing my ability to keep up, but I'll try. As I'm "just back from the Amazon" (never thought I'd say that), I'm going to try to be brief so that I can write about the Amazon experience tomorrow.

Anyway, after seeing some of the northern part of Bogota, we proceeded to my novia's grandparent's apartment for an afternoon lunch. It was to be the first of many events in which I really understood little, but tried as much as possible to stay involved in conversation. Fortunately, both of my future brother's in law speak English, otherwise I definitely would have passed out from sheer exhaustion.

Lunch was composed of Ajiaco, a very traditional and lovely Colombian soup that also happens to be my novia's favorite. It's a chicken and potato soup with corn. Delicious if you add a bit of salt.

After lunch, we walked around the neighborhood a little bit and had a coffee. It was a gorgeous day. I had been talking about mountains all day, so several of us (me, novia, her brothers, and her father) drove up into the mountain. As you go up, there are restaurant/bars put right on the side of the mountain that people party at. It was empty (holiday weekend, nobody was in Bogota) and cold and rainy, but we sat around, had a few beers and enjoyed getting to know each other a little bit. Finally, we headed home as I was exhausted.

We had a wedding shower on Monday. It was at a tia's (aunt's) house. We had a good time, although I didn't really understand much of what was going on. One thing I found really odd and kind of uncomfortable was the maid they had there who served us. I'm pretty middle class, so the closest I've ever had to a maid before was a 2 times a month service the year before I moved to London and that expense was more to placate an upwardly mobile roomate than because I wanted a maid service (although I did enjoy it). But everything is cheap down here and a little money goes far. Still, I found it a bit uncomfortable.

Of course, I'd be remiss if I failed to mention that we have a maid that comes to our flat 5 days a week and cooks and cleans for us. (Grin) Of course, we justify it to ourselves by believing that it's for the best since we are subletting from a friend and want to keep the place in top condition while he is in the US. Still, it's nice not to have to do laundry or clean or worry about meals during the week.

The rest of last week is a blur. We investigated and then enrolled me in Spanish course. It's a 20 hour a week course that is entirely in Spanish. It's tough. I've only gone to 2 classes, but it seems to be effective. Hopefully it will be worth the investment.

Tomorrow I'll write about the trip to the Amazon.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Buenos Noches Bogota

Now that internet has been installed in the house, I am able to update the blog - something that will be frequent from here on out. I have many stories to tell, but I'm going to focus on the trip with this post.

I left Baltimore at about 6 pm on Saturday, March 18th. My flight took me to Miami where I had roughly and 8 hour layover. Fortunately, Smooth Like Butta' lives in Miami so I had a chance to get out of the airport and see some of the city. SLB is obviously doing very well for himself since London. He purchased an $800,000 luxury condo with his brother. And when I say "luxury" I mean it. Thumbprint in the elevator that takes him straight to his flat. 24/7 valet parking including a monitor that allows him to "order" up his car before he heads downstairs. Yeah, he's doing well.

Anyway, after seeing his flat, we grabbed a bite to eat before heading to South Beach. He took me to a Colombian club (it was appropriate) that he has connections with - so we were whisked straight through the door into the boistrous club. Salsa music blasted from above and we snaked our way toward the back of the already crowded club. We had a few drinks there. Good times. I didn't want to get drunk since I had a flight in the morning, so everytime SLB ordered more drinks (he was paying for everything), I put my half full glass down and acted like everything was normal.

Finally, around 2 am, we left the club and took a walk down Atlantic Ave (I think) which is the main strip. He showed me where Versace's body was found. There were drunk fools everywhere. Must have been Spring Break. Miami is crazy. That's my conclusion.

Anyway, about 3, we got to the airport. I had about 2 hours to wait before my plane was ready. It was a tough wait. I wanted to sleep but was totally unable. Instead, I read, walked around, and just wiled the time away. Finally, I boarded my flight and it was off to Bogota.

As much as I wanted to sleep on the plane, I was too keyed up and excited. Plus, there were fascinating things developing outside my window. Cuba, for example, looked just like any other country. I was struck with the sense that politics, in all it's gory deliverence, is artificially dividing our world. Cuba looks like a beautiful country. The rest of the cross-Carribean trip involved a peice of Jamaica, some smaller islands, and lots of blue sea. Until, at last, the coast.

The Colombian coast looks much like any other coast, but it quickly drops away to reveal lush green land - forest, plains, rivers. Vivant green and sparkling blue shined up from below, enticing one to imagine if the land is controlled by guerilla or paramilitary (ok, not really, but still). After an indeterminant amount of time, I noticed mountains rising up below us. Soon, we were amidst the Andes. It was gloriously beautiful. Everyone should take the opportunity to visit the Andes and see how the mountains rise up out of the clouds to greet you.

After just under 3 hours, we were approaching Bogota. We came from the North and East, with sharp mountains falling away to green fields outside my window. The landing was smooth and quick. I expected it to take longer, but Bogota's airport is not exactly JFK, now is it. I still had not seen any of the city (cuidad). The view from my window showed mountains and I wasn't about to ignore them by jumping to the other side of the plane.

Customs and immigration was smooth. Not problems. It took a little longer because I'm a gringo and I was entering for the first time, but it was nothing to worry about. Baggage claim took some time as well, but finally I was out. And there, waiting for me patiently, was my novia. It was a glorious moment. One of the top ten of all time.

The drive from the airport was interrupted only by an accident that had left a body on the side of the road. People drive crazy here and those on motorcycles are the worst. I didn't see the body, but my novia did. I suppose that is more common than one would expect.

At any rate, Bogota is a sprawling city, modern and developed as one would expect from a developing country. There are more potholes than one would normally find in a US city, but really this place reminds me of a South American London. There are places that you are safe and there are places that you are not safe. But in general, I feel very comfortable and safe, even being a gringo with very limited Spanish. But more than anything, I stand in constant awe of the mountains. It's just a damn impressive sight.

I'll tell more about the rest of my day later, but for now, I'll leave it at this: the North American cynicism about Bogota seems unwarranted. I know one week in the country is not sufficient to make an accurate judgement and I also know that my view is colored by staying in the northern part of the city, but I feel just as safe here as I did in London. No, cancel that. More safe. There aren't roving bands of drunk teenagers on the city streets at night. The people drive on the right side of the road. The people are nice, even if your spanish es muy malo.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Almost there

I haven't been writing much lately (obviously) essentially because:

a) I'm reaching fullblown exhaustion from my work schedule
b) I get to work at 5:45 in the morning and my brain doesn't even begin to function until 8 which is when other people arrive, making it difficult to write, and;
c) this job makes one feel like a drunken monkey and everyone knows drunken monkeys aren't very good writers
d) see A, B, and C

At any rate, as this is my last week of work and I depart for Colombia on Saturday evening, I should resume me previous era of profligacy shortly. So, within the next week, any lingering readers should expect a return to cultural observations, international politics, and, to a lesser extent, personal narratives about life.

Political Favorites
Guilty Pleasures
My Global Position