“Like someone had picked up Berlin and dropped it in Florida.” That was my first impression of Bogotá. But as we kept driving, that description melted away – every turn, every corner, the city seemed completely different and always new. A giant city bustling with people and traffic. Oh the traffic!
Bits and pieces of familiarity sprung out at me like neon signs; others were lost in the huge array of newness. A speed limit sign reminiscent of the game, Mille Bornes, Alfred and I attempted to play as kids, made me think of France. A random cow along the side of the road and a packed minibus conjured up thoughts of Zambia. The palm trees brought to mind a conflated mess of places I’ve lived and visited. The large square between the Supreme Court and the Congressional building, filled with pigeons who didn’t even flinch when you stepped next to them, transported me to San Marcos Square in Venice. Small pieces of familiarity floating in a sea of new.
Some things that ought to have been familiar mixed in with the overwhelming activity of the city in a way that prevented my mind from grasping the known-ness of them. Bars on windows, garage-door shuttered shops, coach buses, plantains.
A place so different from anywhere I’d been it could turn even the familiar into something new and strange. At breakfast, I filled my plate with fresh fruit, eager to try all the strange things before me and ate my piece of watermelon whole, seeds and all. It wasn’t until I was finished that I realized watermelon is something I know, that I never would have done that at home and probably ought to have removed the seeds.
Meals were a delight of adventures. Fresh fruit of all kinds, blackberry juice, fresh strawberry juice in milk, varieties of cheeses I couldn’t pronounce tucked inside a crepe slathered in mushroom sauce, a drink made of mint and ice and apparently nothing else (a mint smoothie?). There was some jam at breakfast that was sort of a yellowish-green. It looked strange; I had no idea what it was. So, of course, I had to try it. It tasted like something I’d eat in art class. (I didn’t have it again, though my juice at breakfast the next day was the same color. It did not taste like art supplies.) Scrambled eggs in sort of a day-glow orange hue, honey dripping off the honey comb into the serving dish, black olive jam (yum!), cornmeal cheese buns (almojábana, I think), flat pastries of all kinds, and the most gorgeous giant desserts that I never saved room for.
The menus were the only thing I could mostly handle on my own. Thank you Mr. Trizzle and years of authentic Mexican restaurants and taco trucks in the Yay. The rest of the time, I kept looking for the English signs that accompany the Spanish, or the small English print that is always somewhere on the signs on the bus adverts in the US. I wasn’t looking because I expected it to be there. I was looking out of habit. I would find myself doing it and shake my head at myself.
I did manage to carry out one thing in Español without help from anyone: Fed-Exing Alfred and Nathy-Boo a postcard. Either Colombia’s postal service is lacking or Colombia is lacking a postal service. I’m not sure which, but Fed Ex seemed to be the only option. The difficult part was spelling their address. “Seite dos” – that part was easy. “Te aye rrr rrr ah say aye.” I couldn’t remember the vowel sounds at first. Why didn’t I write it you say? I was spelling it verbally because the clerk couldn’t read my handwriting. Luckily she showed me the price on a calculator. I can count to 10 and know 20, but once we’re in the thousands, I’m lost!
I felt awful about not being able to do more than greet - *sings* Buenos días, como esta? Muy bien gracias y como le va? *done singing* and asking “habla Inglés?” (Thank you again, Oakland.) But the people were very friendly and helpful. I guess I was expecting Paris, but Paris is, well, Paris.
Bogotá is in the mountains and surrounded by mountains. There is one called Monserrate (which first I thought was Mount Serrate, and then when I saw how it written I kept picturing Moulin Rouge for some reason) that has a gondola up to the top – no believed me that this was the correct “English” word for the basket in the sky that takes you up the mountain. Monserrate can also be climbed. I must come back someday to climb Monserrate in my hiking boots like Table Mountain in Cape Town. Or, if I am too old by the time I return, I’ll take the gondola up like at Banff in Canada. And next time, I should come with someone who likes coffee!