I am writing this on my phone because my laptop is in the hospital getting a heart transplant. “It’s the invasion of i.Robot” joked James.
This happened just after James returned his new MacBook Pro to the Apple Store (thank you again Tammy for taking care of that) because it turned out to be a lemon the next day. Fortunately, James was able to purchase an AirMac at the Falabella store in Bogota for less than a MacBook Pro. I purchased my ehem, Acer laptop last summer so it’s a mystery that it went down so quickly. The people at the Punto de Servicios repair shop treated me very well, even though I didn’t have a receipt, they made it work out so there will be no cost from my end, however it has been over a week and I am itching to go to Cali and start those salsa lessons!
Back track to two weeks. James and I have been in Cleveland, Ohio for over three months. When we got the news that his father got diagnosed with cancer, we put our travel plans (in Latin America) on hold to help his family out. Since the nature of our work allows us to work wherever, it was fine. We were grateful for our jobs because the typical 9-5 would not have allotted us the time nor freedom.
Since Jerry’s (James’s father) wife, Bonnie, had to be by his side 24/7, we felt good about helping her out. We accompanied her to Jerry’s oncologist appointments and watched after him while she did her shopping – a stress reliever for a person with a despicable hoarding habit.
The last three months were some of the toughest times for me. I got cabin fever and witnessed a human being go through a drastic transformation.
“It all happened so fast” is what everyone said when Jerry passed away.
A couple of weeks later, we learned that Bonnie had been spreading lies about James and I. I remember telling my mom how sweet Bonnie was and how she took great care of Jerry. Now it makes me cringe to know that most of it was false and insincere. It’s a nightmare I don’t want to relive which is why I haven’t told most of my friends.
I’m just happy to be back on the road and in Colombia!
“I love Colombian people” said James. Already, I can see that he was feeling elevated. Even though the capital, Bogota, is gritty(!) everywhere you go, it’s the people that make it our favorite country so far. This is for you Susan!
Last year, we spent over two months traveling Colombia: Santa Marta, Barranquilla, Cartagena and our favorite – Medellin. So flying back to Colombia felt like going home. If that sounds too soft to you, then allow me to explain.
But first, what is home? It’s not a house and it has nothing to do with a roof. In a romantic sense, it’s where James and I are: in our own bubble heading in the same direction and doing what excites us most.
When we left Colombia, we left longing for it – the colorful Colombian flag, people watching (aka checking out the beautiful women) and interacting with los colombianos e.i., taxi drivers, restaurant servers, food vendors, vendors and Airbnb hosts.
For example, our first Airbnb host in Medellin was a mother and her quirky lackadaisical twenty-something year old daughter. It was probably their first time hosting anyone and they treated us very well. The mother whose voice I now imitate whenever I describe a Colombian woman in her late 50s, fed us a meal about every day in the week and a half that we were there.
¡Es que los quieeeeero! she’d say. ¡Y cierra la puerta con doble llave!
“It’s because I loooove you” and “Turn the key twice to lock the door on your way out”.
The great hospitality with Colombians, particularly with inviting us to join them on the table, is an ongoing thing. Our last Airbnb host in Bogota, Alberto, shared his hot cocoa and offered us bread and biscuits for breakfast and a generous shot of whisky one night. As much as we loved the view at his home (the hot water and fast wifi), after six nights, we decided to migrate to a different part of the capital to change the scene.
While the Candelaria is a popular and cutesy historical town, we didn’t find a hostel that would suit our comfort zone and we don’t ask for much:
– private room with shared or private bath (depends on how big or little the difference in cost is)
– strong internet connection
– quiet environment at night (for James)
– preferably within 15-20 minutes walking proximity to tourists destinations
Now all the hostels in la Candelaria have private rooms with shared bath, comparable Internet connection and coffee and bread type breakfast for 80,000 (about $25 or $22 if you negotiate by staying 4+ nights). But then we check out Airbnb options. There are several places near la Candelaria and the photos show fantastic views. So I get on my phone, negotiated a bit with an Airbnb host and boom! We agree on $23/ night for 4 nights. The bathroom is shared with two other guys (better than 10 guys!) and the Internet connection is fast.
So that’s where we are now: downtown sharing a room in a three bedroom apartment with three dapper young men who we suspect are in a three-way relationship. Haven’t heard anything boisterous at night it’s just my gaydar.
Continuing with the Colombian hospitality… This morning, (gonna call him G-smiles) our host, G-smiles was making breakfast and asked us if we like eggs.
“Would you like some?” Yes, he speaks English. And after having spent some time in Colombia, we learned that to say no, is impolite.
“Sure. Thank you.”
We enjoyed a nice petite dejuner, eggs with fruit. It was delightful.
It is unconditional sincerity. We don’t expect it but we love it. Heck, I know I’d be the same way with my guests (and if I didn’t then I do now). Nowadays, I find myself wondering: What can I offer them when I just poured myself the last ounce of rum? Maybe some coffee—oh you don’t drink coffee? How about a glass of Sauvignon Blanc? No, we can’t. But why not? We have to keep our weight down. Oh, so you are gay.
Kidding, I’m not that blatant anymore.
At least I tried. In the meantime, I will do my best to be a clean and easygoing guest.
So that’s our Airbnb experience… Here’s what happens when we go out to eat.
When someone detects my Spanish accent (or James’s), they want to know where we’re from. They’re genuinely curious and, might I say, flattered that some “gringos” decided to explore their country and eat at their restaurant for lunch (a full meal is $2 at local eateries, how could you not?).
Our favorite lunch place is in La Macarena, called “Matimba”. We must’ve gone there over four times but one time, we arrived a little late so when James popped his head into the crowded little hole-in-the-wall to inquire, the animated male waiter widened his eyes and flung his arms in the air and said: NO HAY NADA!
THERE IS NOTHING!
Guess that’s good news for their business. We returned the next day with a ravenous appetite. We wanted the grilled chicken with tarter sauce but they were out. The guy with the wailing arms said, ESPERA!
He came back and said that they do have chicken. A minute later we saw him run across the street to buy chicken. And all for $2 a meal!
It’s not all cookies and cream here. It’s easier to talk about the good times; we’ve had some semi-terrible experiences, too. Last night for dinner, James ordered steak and received a brown chew toy served on a sizzling ceramic black pan with a side of scrumptious veggies, straight from the can. When we asked for the check, our waiter cleared our table and paused to watch Dancing with the Stars – Spanish version – then, as he walked to the stairway, he paused a second time to watch Dancing with the Stars, all the while James wanted to get the hell out of there.
Me? My dinner was good: simple sub with a scant portion of turkey and a papaya juice.
Tip for tipping in Colombia: I haven’t Googled the rules on this but in my experience, 10% or more is really appreciated – especially when you become a regular at a hole-in-the-wall. If you eat at local places with lunch specials, you’ll see that when you do the math, leaving a generous tip comes out to less than a dollar, total.
I love arepas so much that I wrote an entire blog about it. But the arepas in Bogota are not the kind that are stuffed with cheese and savory toppings, they’re more like thick corn tortillas. It’s uneventful, really. Every time I see a sign that reads arepas, I reminisce about the first time I bought an arepa in Medellin.
James and I were on our first day of getting the hang of the Colombian currency. One dollar was worth 2,700 Colombian pesos so we took out some money and broke it into smaller denominations of 1,000 and 2,000. It was dinner time so we walked around our block and settled on trying out these stuffed arepas from the food vendor across the street. One arepa cost about 9,000 pesos so James showed the cook a 1,000 note he had on hand and she joked, “With that money, nobody will even show you an arepa.”
Whimsical interactions with Colombians have been a consistent part of our lives here. We’ve met some cool taxi drivers and the police aren’t scary. In fact, we met a tall German with a busted knee and when he told his story, we had to laugh.
Basically, he got very drunk one night and lost sight of his crowd. On his mission home, he saw a cop and ran for no reason other than paranoia. The German ran through the streets, almost causing a car accident and the cops chased after him. The German fell hard, busted his knee and surrendered. The cops helped him up, saw that everything was okay and offered him a ride to his hostel.
So why am I painting a beautiful picture of Colombia? And as I become more active on Instagram, I find myself snapping pictures to indeed illustrate that Colombia is a safe enough country to travel. Of all the places I’ve been to last year, Colombia was the only country that I was nervous about and that was due to its history of violence. Cocaine? It hasn’t been offered to us yet.
That’s not to say that I’ve let my guard down, nooo. Whenever we migrate with our stuff, we always take a “secure” cab, the kind where their license plates are written down. I also hide my smart phone whenever I’m out and about and try to leave it at home after 7 (when most of my clients are done for the day). As for my laptop, I’m in the process of making it look crappy and undesirable on the outside. Jewelry? I don’t wear it. My gringo partner? I prefer him unshaven – makes me feel less conspicuous.
For more photos, follow me on Instagram at @wanna.juana https://www.instagram.com/wanna.juana/