Dear friends and fam, framily and fam-damnly,
I write you surrounded by druglords in the war torn and conflict-ridden country of Colombia. JK guys, I’m sitting at a french cafe near one of Bogotá’s many parks with fresh Colombian flowers on my table, fancypants Colombian coffee in my cup, and a studly Colombian bro-ista playing Luke Danes mere feet away from my Lorelai Gilmore. I’m considering having an illegitimate, precocious child to get his attention, and somewhere on the other side of the world, my Mom just perked up at the mention of hypothetical grandbabies. #overcaffeinated
Mexico City wrapped up with a trip to Tulum with 15 of my new closest friends, swimming in a cenoté, exploring the iguana-covered Mayan ruins in Tulum barefoot (#summerfeet), a few long wanderings around the city, symbol-hunting through the museum of anthropology, exploring the pyramids of Teotihuacan in my Carmen San Diego costume, volunteering on ancient floating gardens, and drunkenly singing “My Heart Will Go On” with friends on the bow of a semi-sinking boat through the canals of Xochimilco. Thanks to the exchange rate, we all lived like kings on cheap beer and delicious street tacos. I learned over time that my original assessment of the city was pretty heavily skewed by my location in Cuauhtémoc, so I’ll be a bit more careful with my judgement of Bogotá as a whole from our swanky Chico neighborhood.
Just like last time, Bogotá by the numbers: On January 28th all 80 of us Remote Year kids moved from Mexico City, the 5th most populous city in the world, to Bogotá, Colombia. Bogotá has no common nicknames like CDMX or DF, but is a beautiful city high in the eastern range of the Andes mountains a smashing 8,860 feet above sea level. For reference, my home in San Francisco was 16 feet above sea level so I’m blaming every ailment and afternoon nap on altitude sickness. Bogotá is the 29th most populous city in the world, but I saw it from above on the jagged mountain peak of Monserrate (which literally means “jagged mountain,”which explains why there is one in every country) and it seems really friggen big to me. The exchange rate is 3,000 Colombian pesos to 1 USD, which sounds amazing, but in the end most things in Bogotá cost about the same as the would in the States.
Just as I was getting the hang of common conversations and exchanges, Bogotá flipped the Spanish script. “Cafe” (coffee) is now “tinto,” which last I checked meant “red wine” but has yet to lead to the hilarious misunderstanding I’ve been hoping for each morning. “Propina” (tip) is now “servicio,” which shouldn’t be very complicated but when it’s tucked into a long sentence from your waiter about whether or not you’d like to include tip on your card or in cash, and all you’re listening for is “propina” through your red wine buzz, you tend to look like a dumb gringa. Colombia also is in the habit of asking “cuantas coutes?” at the point of each transaction, just incase you’d like to divide the cost of your credit card purchase across as many as 12 months. Being asked for a number during checkout, I tried everything from my zip code, birthday, security code, and the last 4 digits on my card. Needless to say the woman at KFC wasn’t about to split my payment for popcorn chicken across 3,191,989 months.
Nevertheless, I persisted.
Sidenote: Colombian KFC has swapped the mashed potatoes for rice, the biscuits for arepas, and the coleslaw for shredded lettuce with tomato bits which should explain why I wept bitterly into my popcorn chicken in the middle of the Andino mall food court.
Speaking of persistent women (shout out to my girl, Lizzy Warren), one of the first things I noticed upon moving to Bogotá was that Colombians somehow have managed to sneak women onto their currency. A new batch of freshly designed banknotes was introduced last year with two women, painter Debora Arango on the 2,000 and anthropologist Virginia Gutierrez de Pineda on the 10,000, but believe it or not revolutionary spy Pola Salavarrieta has been riding the red 10,000 peso bill since 19 fricken 95. Also, if you’re a bit startled by the value of the bills then that makes two of us. Thousand in Spanish is “mil,” so a coffee here is about 3 mil(lion dollars // pinky to mouth). Withdrawing 300,000, or a little over $100 USD, from an ATM and being dispensed portraits of rad women is an experience I will always strangely treasure.
Currency has started to become a quirk of my trip. Taking a harder look at what’s in your pocket is a fast way to brush up on the people, places, and things a country holds dear, and in effort to make bills and coins harder to counterfeit, they are now a smorgasbord of overlaid and highly intentional symbolism. Growing up, I had a small pouch of coins from around the world somehow passed to me from my Great Great Uncle Art (two greats, no lie). For an imaginative girl who spent the majority of her time down at the creek pretending to be an Indian with dirty bird feathers stuck in her hair, a bag of coins from far flung places is just about as good as it gets. It was one of the very few creature comforts that followed me from Ohio to San Francisco. This is my anecdotal way of informing you all that a second post is coming about Colombian currency, and likely will become a monthly installment as I travel the world. While los Estados Unidos has somehow managed to keep our money mostly monochromatic, inaccessible to those with disabilities, water-soluble, and comically dude-centric, the rest of the world has been off designing colorful bills and two-tone coins of varying size, material, and subject that should make us all jealous. Prepare yourselves.
Ridesharing and specifically calling an Uber in Bogotá is a bit interesting. While Uber is not technically legal, the government hasn’t done much to shut them down either. This means each ride someone needs to sit in the front seat so you can more convincingly sell police the story that your driver really is your friend or has been hired by a hotel to pick you up, should you get pulled over. Mexico and Colombia both seem to exhibit a casual corruption where police can be bought off as easily as you can bribe a bouncer into a bar, and I can only assume that attitude trends to the top.
I won’t pretend to know more about conflict in Colombia than I do. It’s my understanding that there are four rebel groups, one of which recently negotiated a tentative peace agreement with the government and is disarming in exchange for protection and assistance re-integrating into society. The vote was incredibly close. It sounds like the majority of city folk voted for continuing the fight in pursuit of some kind of justice, while the country folk living with the day to day consequences of ongoing violence just want peace, even if that means letting rebel groups off the hook for their crimes. It’s obvious there are more drugs here and that they are more easily acquired, but the conflicts with rebel groups running the drug trade haven’t been made visible to me. Bogota feels fairly safe, though I’m still taking those illegal Ubers home each night with some extra pesos in my pocket incase we get pulled over.
Bogota is a beautiful city, with plenty of greenery and parks and things to do. It plays its culture close to the chest, or maybe is diverse to the point of feeling less culturally concentrated than Mexico City. Everyone here seems to work out, though that may be a symptom of the affluent neighborhoods we are living in, and clubs seem more prevalent than quirky dive bars and old watering holes. One of my favorite things about the city is “Ciclovía.” Each Sunday and holiday, the main streets of the city are blocked off to cars and fill with 1.7 million bicyclists, skaters, runners, and families taking strolls. After some research, it seems many cities in the United States have tried 1-off ciclovía style-events in the movement for “open streets,” but none have been as successful, wide-spread, or repeated weekly. I miss the mariachis, smells from streets crowded with food carts and vendors, bright colored buildings, and hot pink cabs of CDMX, but I’ve still got a week or so of Bogota to see what the city has to offer before I head to Barranquilla and Cartagena for a week, and then the group moves to Medellin. I’ll reserve judgement until my next post.
Love and miss you all,