“As soon as you get to Bogota, get the hell out of there”..
.. were the cheery words I had received just before starting my 6 month trip to South America. Now, if I was anyone, those words would scare me a tad, but I’m not anyone, I’m me, and I practically jump at seeing my own shadow, so let’s just say I wasn’t the calmest of the llamas when I arrived at Bogota airport, 4.30pm on Wednesday 21st November, 2018.
I’d actually arrived in complete luxury. Due to the fact I’m a super whizz with my Air Miles (and earnt them mainly – as I’ve stated before – through my Cafe Nero addiction), I had spent the early hours relaxing in a business class lounge with my non business class attire – hoodie, Nike’s and exercise leggings – trying to keep it casual, and not show that I was insanely excited at the fact there were FOUR FREE BUFFET STATIONS AND THREE COFFEE MACHINES. It didn’t even matter that basically none of it was gluten or dairy free, because this is clearly what life is about, trying to casually take ten photos, two videos and a numerous amount of selfies in the business class lounge whilst obviously keeping it really cool, calm and collected like this is what I do every time I fly.
Anyway, so there I am with my three plates of free food, which are all totally not gluten or dairy free, but figuring when I get ill with the worst stomach cramps, at least I’ll get ill in style. I’m sitting there with my coffee and all my books, writing, reading and trying to look important amongst all these suit wearing individuals. I get talking to a particularly nice, older, well dressed gentleman who’s just in London for a day for an awards ceremony before he flies back to the States. I think he could sniff out I wasn’t a true business class traveller as somehow the topic of how I don’t get to be in a biz class lounge very often topic of convo came up – it may or may not be down to the fact the long table was littered by my coffee cups and empty plates whilst he’d just had an espresso but that to me suggests he is not making the most of life but obviously I wasn’t going to tell him this.
I arrive at my gate, walk through the priority service and find my seat. It’s leather, I’m by the window and I start to relax. I look around and notice that business class looks pretty busy! Perhaps all of these lovely people regularly buy their cappuccinos from Cafe Nero. I’m just about to ask my fellow neighbour if she’s seen the new Christmas coffee menu when the air hostess comes up to me with a passenger and lets me know I’m in the wrong seat. I politely respond I’m not, look at my ticket and see I’m sitting in my gate number – NOT my seat. I apologise and start to get up feeling slightly embarrassed that I’m the idiot in Business Class that mistakes her gate number for her seat but then the air hostess takes my ticket and announces loudly I’m in the wrong class, and to move to Business. The passenger looks at me leaving, with my Mountain Warehouse water bottles swinging in people’s faces and my brother’s Nike hand luggage bag on my back and tells me she should have said nothing and kept my seat in Business Class for herself. I laugh and wait for a billion people to walk past me until I FINALLY sit in business class which has a little table in between the two chairs – now aware that if I can’t even find my seat number or see the difference between the two classes, I do not belong here and I am a phoney.
I get to Madrid and then I have to run through the airport for my connecting flight, getting held up at security and spend the next god know how many hours relaxing on my reclining seat/ bed, eating to my heart’s content (forgot to order the gluten free meal of course because I’m not savvy) and watching loads of movies.
When I arrive in Bogotá, it starts to hit me what I’m doing and I start thinking about all the times I’d considered paying a lot more for an organised tour because I was too scared to venture by myself – not that being on a tour was what I actually wanted to do. I go to the toilet to start deep breathing and thank myself for choosing to book an airport transfer for slightly more through the hostel rather than risk an Uber. I stand in the toilet for ten minutes thinking about all the potential things that could go wrong so I could prepare myself for everything eg. What is the driver isn’t there when the hostel said he’d be waiting at the exit? Is that the exit after the door? Before the door? At arrivals? Outside arrivals? Next to the door outside of arrivals? What if he accidentally picked up someone else called Emily? What if I get into the wrong taxi and he drives me down a dark alley and robs me even before I’ve even stepped a foot in this country. I decided that even if the worst thing happens, I wouldn’t know unless I walked out of the toilet and worst comes to worst I’m sure I’d figure out what else to do so I took a deep breath, leaving the comfort and safety of my smelly cubicle and went through to the exit – to greet the taxi driver holding up my name (unexpected success!)
We arrive at Cranky Croc hostel and I meet my room mate – a kind, older man from Barcelona, interested in what I was doing and seeing in Colombia, whilst telling me about his own adventures. He was a teacher and loved politics, leaving the room to have hearty discussions downstairs with everyone. To have such a friendly conversation with someone at first scared me – the last time I was in a dorm room with an older man I was with other people but I had the scariest experience ever, so naturally my guard is always up. I decided that once again, I couldn’t just think of all the scenarios before the poor bloke had even come back, and surely if he was so intelligent he wouldn’t be a lay in wait psycho, so I decided to accept his friendliness just as that – friendliness – and over my three day stay we became extremely good friends, talking about everything possible in Spanish – to the point where when I left at 6am to catch a bus to Salento, I left a note in his shoe thanking him for our conversations and he woke up just to say goodbye and “mucho gusto”.
Over the next few days I took a number of tours exploring Bogota city. The city is not the absolute safest, and I can see why there are certain areas to avoid HOWEVER it is alive with colour and hope. The graffiti which covers most walls is beautiful, and usually comes with a story. We learnt how in quite a lot of places crime has lessened due to the graffiti art, because people have started to respect their areas more. We also learnt that the government are planning on getting rid of the graffiti – but that won’t stop the artists. I suggest you give this place a visit before it’s too late.
I met some incredible people when I stayed at the Cranky Croc –
The staff were fantastic, friendly and tried to help me find my Japanese E jab which is now proving more impossible than finding my Hep B jab in Sevilla – word of advice, be organised with jabs!
The driver who took me to Bogotá bus terminal bought me an empanada and walked with me directly to the place I needed to wait – which I figure I wouldn’t have found by myself very easily..
The first night I felt like I knew nobody and felt uncomfortable – a feeling I’m slowly going to have to get used to as part of this adventure – but the following day I made great friends whilst taking free walking tours, food tours and graffiti tours. It’s always great to meet people from other countries and feel like you’ve known them a lot longer than an hour. I met two Jewish girls I introduced to each other, had great conversations with a guy I met on my lunch table and introduced to everyone, and found my fellow terrible decision maker in crime Hiske, my new best friend. I saw Hiske arrive at the Cranky Croc by herself, and knew that I’d always appreciate someone noticing me arriving alone and including me in a group – so that’s what I did. Turns out we’re suuuuch mejor amigas that we’ve adjusted our plans here in Medellin to stick together for a little bit – involving moving hostels a couple of times but who cares! Whilst I’ve experienced not feeling so comfortable with everyone, feeling left out or ignored sometimes, Hiske and a bunch of other people are the reminder that whilst you can’t get on with everyone and force everyone to like you just to feel accepted, you don’t need to when the connection is right (insecurity’s a bitch right?!) – more on this in my next blog post.
I left Bogotá on a 10 hour bus to Salento, having met great people, befriended the hostel workers – perhaps meeting them for new year – had incredible views from cable cars, stuffed myself on a ton of carne (sorry Dad) empenadas and have left with a bunch of new friends all over the world and a new view on Colombia.
One thing to add. If you DO end up visiting Bogota, please find a small house called Los Simbolos Skate and Food. The family here came to Bogota from Venezuela a year ago. They are a mother, father, two children and grandma that make and teach you how to make the best damn empanadas here on a food tour. I was speaking to the father about how he ended up leaving his home and bringing his family to Bogota and he told me he was a former skateboarding teacher. He got shot 11 times across his body so stopped and relocated his family to Colombia for safety. His son Joseph is a skateboarding champ at 12 years old and the kindest, friendliest kid who loves his little two year old sister to bits. Puts a little into perspective.