Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The good, the bad, the Bogota.

Just another friendly reminder that we are in Colombia.

On our way south we’d met lots of people who insisted we got to Colombia. We’d met just as many people who had a horror story about robbery and mugging. Of course none of the stories had happened to the people we’d met but to someone else they’d met (a friend of a friend, this girl I met, my bother’s best-friend’s cousin-in-law, etc.). Nonetheless, the negativity had made us weary of the city. Naomi and Emily both loved Bogota but also had heard of bad things happening to tourists. They did their best to allay our fears as we packed up and headed out that morning.

But first we had to get there. At the bus station we bought our tickets and saw some familiar faces waiting for the bus. Nur and Dan were there.
“I knew we were destined to travel together,” Nur greeted us.
They were heading to Bogota as well. Unfortunately their seats were near at the back of the bus so we didn’t get to chat during the four hour ride. Unlike us already had reservations at a hostel in the city. I had sent out a phalanx of email inquiries but the only reply had offered a dorm. I don’t like arriving in a strange city without a reservation but since we’d get in before dark, we were going to take our chances and head to a place Naomi and Emily recommended and hope they had a room.

At the Bogota bus station, we lost Nur and Dan in the crowd before we could say goodbye. We found the taxi stand (well, it was kinda hard to miss since about two hundred of them were lined up outside). But before we could hop in, we had to give our name and destination to a dispatcher who printed out a ticket for us with the fare stamped on it. Then we were admitted into the line and hustled into the first cab in line. I gave him our ticket and the address of the hostel and we took off into rush hour traffic. Traffic was thick and slow going at times but our driver managed to find all the side streets. I was about to congratulate him as we were getting out when he pointed to the metre we hadn’t seen and the price which was double the ticket price. In return I pointed to the ticket and told him no. He pushed the ticket away and I showed it to him again. I would have insisted on the ticket price but our with our backpacks still locked up in the trunk, the driver had the upperhand.

Rather than have another yelling match I decided to find out if someone in the hostel could help me resolve this. The local girl at the front desk spoke English and came outside to help. She let me know that the ticket price was the correct price. But the driver replied that it was rush hour and we needed to pay more. The girl shakes her head no but it was a stand off. I offered the guy an extra dollar rather than the four more he was asking for and he agrees so quickly that I know I could have stood my ground. Grrr, the crusty traveler was about to make an appearance so I quickly shook it off and we followed the girl into the hostel. It’s been almost 5 months on the road and I still can’t deal with taxi drivers.

The bad news continues inside – the hostel only has dorms rooms left. But the girl begins to call around for us, sparing us the effort of lugging our bags through the hilly streets. After five calls, she found a room at another place, I recognized the name as a good one. It was more expensive and only had a shared bath but includes breakfast and was only 5 blocks away. So we took it. After crappy taxi driver, the kind hostel girl was awesome. And it only got better. As we grabbed our bags, her father said he’d walk us over to the hostel and then proceeded to take my huge pack on his shoulders. He carried it through the streets as we followed him up the steep walk towards the hostel. Apparently, just like the hostels in San Gil and in Villa de Leyva, this one was also at the top of a hill. I was struggling without the pack so I don’t know how the little man did it. I guess the altitude did make a difference. Adrian offers the man a tip for carrying my bag but he refuses. We thank him profusely and he smiles that it was his pleasure. Okay so Bogota has a bad reputation but so far the people (I don’t count taxi drivers as people anymore) have been amazing.

It continues at the new hostel. It was brand new and a bit chichi but we were welcomed like old friends. The bathrooms were sparkling clean and modern and the bed had a real feather duvet and fluffy pillows. Despite the taxi driver’s attempts to make us hate Bogota, so far he was failing. We settled in and then decided to head out for dinner.

The hostel was located in La Candeleria, the old town now home to a couple of universities and lots of students. We walked to a place that someone had recommended to us but it was a crepe place that didn’t have much to offer for dinner. We made our way through the students and back towards the main street near the hostel just in time to step in the middle of a huge fight about 10 males and females were having a huge scrap. And not just a little bit of bitch slapping and shoving but punching and kicking and stomping. As we walked away from it, shop owners began closing up their shops and locking the doors. Suddenly all the fear of Bogota returned. We were back in a strange town with a bad reputation after dark.

We could hear the police breaking up the fight but we still walked away from it. The streets seemed darker and there wasn’t much enticing us for dinner. A woman stopped us on the street and began speaking to Adrian. I told her that he didn’t understand but she wouldn’t believe me and kept talking to him in super fast Colombian Spanish. Finally seeing his blank stare she reluctantly turned to me. She explained that she worked at the café across the road and invited us to eat there. Unfortunately her café was a greasy, greasy spoon and not very enticing. Instead we ended up at a clinical Colombian fast food place for chicken burgers and fries. It was expensive and soulless but at least the bright lights and super clean surfaces helped to fight the boogiemen I feared in Bogota’s dark streets. As soon as we were done, we scurried back up the hill to the hostel to take cover. I’m sure Bogota was a nice place but we were going to wait until it was light out to find out.

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