The familiar shift and clink of loose, red paving bricks underfoot, or a painted tile on the stair. A gray sky made hazy by the promise of rain and the smog of millions of cars. Rows of magnolia trees lining the cracked sidewalks and littering them with their bright yellow blooms. Little houses enclosed by iron gates twined with roses, hibiscus, and ivy. The Minutos carts stocked with individual lollipops, cigarettes, and Chocoramos, reselling them for pennies. The wandering tinteros cheerfully poking their heads into shops and asking the clerks if they’ve had their sugary black coffee yet. Everything framed by the towering green of the Andes.
The constant juxtaposition of the old and the new here. Nuns in full cream and black habits glide past heavily graffiti’d walls. Hip restaurants, crowding in amongst the ubiquitous fruterias and salones de onces, offer Colombian interpretations of high-low cuisine—waffles, mac n’cheese, and artisanal burgers. At small batch coffee roasters, principled baristas proffer beans ground to order to your olfactory organ before brewing. Once, around noontime, I sat in our favorite neighborhood cafe, waiting for the electricity in our apartment to be restored. In response to the barista’s greeting, a middle-aged man passing by replied from the doorway that his little cat, his gatico, who had accompanied him and his wife for the last 22 years, has passed away that morning. The barista was very sorry to hear it, asked what the cat was like, and shares that he’ll miss his own senior dogs terribly when they go. A group of older men seated at another table, all with cafecito y torta and all wearing variations on the theme of polyester slacks, leather bomber jackets, and fedoras adorned with little speckled feathers, also chimed in about their own fallen pets, and how they’ll never forget them.
Our five month sojourn in Bogotá has officially come to an end. It seems impossible that we lived there almost as long as it took us to arrive. It also seems impossible that our time in the land of the Rolos has been our most conventional living arrangement yet—it was our first time living together on land, in an apartment with hot, running water, and other modern conveniences. It’s been our longest stretch of doing completely normal, non-notable things together, like cooking meals that involve more than one pot, going out for coffee, watching Narcos in the evening, and making friends that we’ll never forget. Enjoying time together and enjoying personal space—in fact, it was our first time having the opportunity to occupy different rooms at home in three years. When we lived on our little fish boat on Richardson Bay, delivery drivers would frequently threaten to return our orders to the restaurants because our address seemed sketchy or because our parking lot was knee-deep in the salt water a king tide. If only we had a Rappi courier from Bogotá back then. They’re definitely made of some strong stuff.
Having arrived by plane from Cartagena, awaiting Horace’s arrival by moving truck, we were bowled over by the change in landscape, climate, and pace of life in Bogotá. Who were these people stomping down Aveninda Septima in Doc Martens, artfully ripped jeans, and oversized flannel shirts, shoulders drawn up against the cold? How were we to decipher the change in accent or navigate the biggest city either of us has ever lived in? And who was this Marika to whom everyone referred?
The traffic is TERRIBLE. Vehicles enter and exit the highway from nearly every direction. So much honking, so many motorcycles and cyclists colliding with each other, and no one stopping before entering the intersection you're trying to cross. Even coming from Central America, it seemed like Bedlam. But very soon, we were struck by how strongly Rolos adhere to a social contract, despite the chaotic bustle. I think it’s safe to say that, given the high standard of hospitality across Latin America, and especially in Colombia, Rolos have been the warmest and most welcoming people we’ve met so far. (And we’d met some really, really warm and welcoming folks.) While it’s true that in Bogotá, one doesn’t bother to greet strangers passing by, it’s also true that given any reason to converse, the salutations and farewells that follow go on forever—How are you? What are you up to? And what else has been going on? Ok, have a great day. I hope you’re well. Take care. God bless you. Goodbye. Ciao. Goodbye.
You’ll notice poverty everywhere, and prostitutes young and old lounging in doorways if you take a wrong turn and cross one of many invisible frontiers. But if you look closely, you’ll also notice young women holding hands or linking arms with their mothers as they run errands. You’ll hear people striding down the sidewalk, smartphones glued to their ears, punctuating their conversations with pet names like Amorcito, Mi Cielo, Mi Vida, and coordinating where to have lunch. Lunch lasts two hours and almost always include a little postre, a dessert. You’ll have rollicking conversations with the technically illegal Uber drivers, and when you inevitably tell them that people from Bogotá are really nice, they’ll respond, without missing a beat, Not everyone. They’ll then warn you of the Paseo Millionario, during which a taxi driver hailed off the street will pick you up and drive you to all the ATMs until you’ve drained your bank account. So, you promise to never hail a cab off the street, and then they’ll want to know what Bogotá slang you’ve piked up. Certainly, warnings from locals are not to be taken lightly, and Bogotá sees lots of crime every day. But perhaps, having grown up in a country in which so many regions were once ravaged by violence and instability, the good people of Bogotá don’t quite see how admirably they look after of each other. But we see it.
There are innumerable districts for the repair of backpacks, automotives, furniture, apparel, electronics, and the like; and countless alleys and streets unofficially designated for the sale of new commodities, like puppies and kittens, home furnishings, books, butchered meats, fresh produce, wood crafts, weaving arts, robotics, compression garments and corsetry, and surgical supplies. When in need of any of these items, you won’t find these districts on google. But if you set out with good walking shoes and a bit of time to spare, and ask a few locals, you will eventually find them.
Once, our friend Eugenio took us gallivanting around the automotive electrical parts district with Horace’s busted stater in tow, in search of a replacement. We had spent the morning at Eugenio’s home, diagnosing the bike’s electrical issues and feeding bananas to his three noisy, rescued beagles. Before the three of us piled into a cab, he let us in on his plan. We were all going to pretend that the stater was not from a BMW, and that it was his.
You’ll get scalped if you go on your own, he said. Everyone’s going to be like, ‘Oh! Mi patron! Mucha plata!’ Understand?
We understood, and certainly appreciated his efforts to save us from being charged the gringo price. Regardless, we didn’t have any luck finding a replacement. We scouted out workshop after workshop with staters of all different sizes heaped up in their display cases. After chatting with the shop guys for a bit, Eugenio would pull the stater out of a plastic bag and hand it over, casually remarking that he was looking for something similar.
The shop guys and technicians would turn our stater over in their hands and admire the compact, orderly winding of it’s copper wires. Whistling softly, they’d then hand it back to Eugenio. Shaking their heads, they’d say, their voices distinctly tinged with remorse,
No, no, nothing like that. Try asking so an so…But it’s a beautiful piece—where’d you get it?
Eugenio would just shrug and say something along the lines of, Oh, it’s from a stove, or Oh, it’s off a Kawasaki.
They repeated the exchange at each shop. Each time Eugenio pulled the stater out, the shop guys would sigh at the the sight of it’s exquisite craftsmanship, as if to say, Are you kidding me?
On Calle 42, a street awash in yellow, located just south of our apartment in La Soledad, 50 neighborhood taxi drivers park their dimpled, dented taxis. They stand around in clusters on the sidewalk, drinking tinto, smoking, and chatting, or toss buckets of soapy water over the hoods of their cars. Just ahead, at an intersection where motorists seem to have personal vendettas against pedestrians, our favorite Chorizos del Mono sausage and arepa cart rests under its rainbow umbrella, smoking and sizzling into the evening.
Nathan and I rode up to the Parque Nacional Natural de Chingaza to see the páramo with our friend Mark and several other riders. We asked how muddy the road would be.
Oh, a little muddy. Go slow and you’ll be fine, Andres, the group leader, answered.
Don’t worry, he has a wife and kids, Mark cut in, jokingly. He’ll make sure we survive.
The road was a 5-hour winding carpet of deep, slippery clay-mush. And we had a blast riding it! In fact, while it was our most challenging ride, it was the first off-roading experience that I actually enjoyed. Sliding around in the mud up the mountains to the high, flat plain was liberating. I had no fear of falling—that we would fall seemed a given, but it only happened once, after I had dismounted and as Nathan was trying to dismount. I am reminded that when our trip first began nearly a year ago, the longest I had ever ridden was 6 hours on a highway. I had never jostled down a country or dirt road in the US, not to mention in Baja, Central America, or Colombia. But here I was, climbing up to Chingaza, sneaking past trucks loaded with livestock, lodged in the mud, and falling in love with the strange landscape around us. With the undulating alpine plain dotted with white-leaved frailejon, and the heavy, liquid air. With the bright rivulets of water reflecting the white sky as they snaked around clumps of moss and scattered stones. What a magnificent country. And there we were, throttling between the clouds, in the birthplace of its water.
Inside Bogotá’s DIAN office, the Colombian National Directorate of Taxes and Customs, by the airport, I watched a blind man shine Nathan’s boots. Having our boots shined is a cheap treat which we can obtain in almost any public space in Latin America—from metro stations to central plazas to shopping malls to border crossings—and we’ve had our stompers shined in almost every country. DIAN staff leaving their offices for lunch called to him as they passed to make sure that he’d be available during their break. He carefully traced over the stitches with his fingers, always keeping a mother hand on the boot to orient himself. He asked for the color of the leather, and counted off the tins of polish stacked neatly in his scuffed wooden box. Small clouds of dust rose from the boots as he rhythmically scumbled over them with a small brush, scrubbed them with saddle soap, and then buffed black polish into the leather with a red rag. With a softer, clean rag he kept tied to the handle of his box, he rubbed them into a soft glow.
He asked us a question which neither of us understood. I apologize, explaining that we’re foreigners.
I noticed, he laughs.