As action packed as it was, any lengthy account of my journey to Colombia is sure to be boring, so I will skip over an eventful Amtrak voyage, a last minute retrieval of my passport, and a nostalgic round of beers with my friends in San Francisco in order to get to the meat, my journey in Colombia.
Stepping off the plane, it became clear that absolutely no one in Colombia speaks any English. Not the customs agents, not the taxi drivers, not even the shop vendors in the international terminal of El Dorado Airport. It also became clear that my grasp of even the most common Spanish phrases was tenuous at best. Thankfully, the word for “hotel” is the same in both languages. I was dropped off in an unknown part of an unknown city, in front of a cluster of hotels that ranged from the luxurious to the terrifying. After using my rudimentary communication skills to get a weekly price from each establishment, I settled on a $30/night room for a week. It was clean and had Wi-Fi, therefor fulfilling both of my crucial requirements. Here I would become acclimated to the culture, frantically study the language, and use the internet to establish my path from Bogota to Ecuador. I left my things in my room and started walking towards downtown.
Bogota is a big fucking city. If it were in North America, the only cities that would be larger would be Mexico City and New York. I learned this the hard way, stopping for $1 cervezas every few miles to give my feet a break, and to catch bits of the first half of the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup between Athletico Madrid and Real Madrid on small and fuzzy television sets. Upon arriving in the busy downtown of the gigantic city, I had come to three resolutions: I would not try to speak English to anyone, I would not get wasted in a foreign country, and I would find a place to enjoy the second half of the game with as many people as possible.
I walked into a decent sized bar with a large flat screen TV, ordered a cerveza Augila, and sat down at an empty table. I had come to Colombia seeking adventure and challenge. Everything is slightly adventurous and challenging when you don’t speak the language, so I had hit the jackpot. The only real downside I could see were social difficulties, so I was thrilled when a man at the table next to me asked me if I was American. He looked about my age, but had hard chiseled features that I associated with people much older than myself, although it occurred to me that perhaps his face was not hard, but mine was soft. I confirmed his suspicion in broken Spanish. I told him I was from I was from California, and that I loved soccer, gesturing to the screen above us. He raised his eyebrows and spoke to me in slow, basic Spanish.
“You like futbol?” he asked.
“You like cerveza Augila?”
“You like chicas?”
“You like marijuana?”
“Si, me gusta mucho.”
“You like cocaine?”
He smiled broadly, patted me on the back, and said, “Mi amigo.”
I followed my new friend, Lucas, out of the bar and down a particularly bumpy street. That’s one thing that I immediately noticed about Bogota; The sidewalk of every block had potholes, chipped paving, and big steps up and down near the doorways. It was starting to get dark, which made these obstacles more prominent. My fourth beer was not helping either. We passed through an area that was clearly home to many prostitutes, most of which appeared to be men. I even saw the word ‘transgenero’ written in graffiti on a sign above the dozens of . Lucas stopped abruptly and broke out his first English phrase.
“Wait here,” he said.
As I tried to avoid eye contact with each person who passed me, I began to wonder how much weed 50,000 pesos (about $30 USD) would get me. A lot, it turns out. We sat down in a near by bar to roll and smoke a big joint of slightly brown weed. The second half of the game had started, and the people of Colombia were much more attentive. The constant question of, “Donde James?” had vanished with the Colombian hero’s appearance on the pitch. James (pronounced Ha-Mez) Rodriguez was brought in as a replacement for superstar Christiano Renaldo in order to spark the offense of a lethargic Real Madrid side. The bar erupted in cheers.
“Vamos,” Lucas said after 10 minutes of silent bonding over futbol and weed. Not knowing where we were going, I rushed to keep his pace through the back alleys of the city center. As the music got louder and the colored lights got brighter, we were accosted by countless men in suits waiving us toward various bars, dance halls, and strip clubs — three things that were becoming more indistinguishable by the second.
We entered a large building full of unbelievably beautiful women, even more scantily clad than their ‘transgenero’ counterparts. These ladies were remarkable. I don’t think words can do them justice. Just imagine the most beautiful woman you possibly can, and then trust me when I say that the chicas in this bar/club/brothel would absolutely put them to shame. They took turns dancing fully nude on the stage that ran down the center of the large room, while the rest stood around in neon thongs, waiting to be approached by customers. To my complete surprise, however, at least 90% of the men were looking past the girls to the massive projected image of the soccer game against the far wall, now in its 70th minute.
I bought Lucas and I a few more beers and admired the perfection that is Colombian genetics. I also took a moment to admire what exactly it was that was happening around me. This was essentially a strip club, but it couldn't have been more different than anything I had experienced in America. In California liquor can not be served in a fully nude club. You can’t smoke cigarettes or weed. And you also can’t fuck the strippers. Well, not legally. All these differences swept over me and I fell into a blissful state of peace, partially hypnotized by the Latin flesh gyrating a few feet from me.
Then, a noise similar to a bomb exploding woke me from my trance. James Rodriguez had put the ball in the back of the net for Real Madrid, putting them ahead 1–0.
Bottles broke. Grown men wept. Women held their babies aloft, casting their eyes toward the heavens.
Okay, okay. It wasn't that dramatic, but it was close.
When sanity returned to the nightclub a few minutes later, I realized I was getting close to failing one of the goals I had set for myself. However many beers I had drank already were enough. I told Lucas that I wanted to go and get something to eat. As gorgeous as these women were, I could not see myself approaching them. Now, I want to be very clear — I am not above banging Colombian hookers. I simply do not have the linguistic skills to achieve such a transaction.
On the way out I savored one more glance at the woman who captivated me most, a woman who I considered the most beautiful thing on earth at the time. Then I saw our waitress at the chicken restaurant. She was somehow more attractive, and the fact that she was bringing me large sections of roast chicken and sweet baked bananas filled with melted cheese didn't hurt her cause. Despite her warm brown eyes and impossibly perfect figure however, she would only keep the title until I saw the woman who came to clean my hotel room the next morning. Unbelievable.
Lucas and I consumed about three chickens and a liter of guacamole between us. I paid for dinner and offered him a small tip for his tour guide services before hailing a cab. He wrote down his number and email as I handed the taxi driver a card from my hotel. One death-defying lap around Bogota at break-neck speed later, I was back in my hotel room, trying to come to grips with everything I had experienced that day. Flipping through the channels on my TV, I found some familiar faces. It may have been the beer and the weed talking, or perhaps simply the dramatic change in location and elevation, but I can honestly say that Zach Braff is a lot funnier in Spanish.