Much fun has been had since my last blog back in October, both in and out of Bogotá.
I’ve been getting to know the city a lot better, and, after living here for four months, I FINALLY got round to climbing Monserrate, a huuuge mountain in the east of the city and one of its main tourist attractions. It was a lot more of a struggle than I had been expecting, but I’m just going to blame the altitude… There is a church right at the top of the mountain overlooking the city, to which many people make pilgrimages, some even climbing to the top on their hands and knees. Once we finished the climb I had the excitement of trying my first ever oblea (essentially two thin but huge wafers stuck together with arequipe, or something like condensed milk, often with jam and cheese too) which after four months living here is also quite impressive.
I’ve also got to know a lot more of the city by bike. Every Sunday and bank holiday here in Bogotá lots of the main roads are partially closed and turned into a cycle route for half of the day, which is very popular. It shows just how much Colombian society caters to the consumer, as every couple of blocks there are special tents by the side of the road providing all kinds of refreshments, bike repairs and free water. It is literally impossible to be unable to find something to eat in this city. For example, arepas can be bought EVERYWHERE. On one such Sunday I went to the city centre and had a wander around the Mercado de Pulgas, the closest thing to a car boot sale I’ve come across so far.
Something I’ve become very aware of in my four months is just how much Colombians like to celebrate. For me, Halloween is a fairly unremarkable event, in which you reluctantly put on something black, paint your face and pretend to be a witch, so it was strange to see how much of a big thing it is here. I guess that’s globalisation for you. Trick or treating is taken seriously, people decorate their houses and their “conjuntos cerados” in the weeks running up to Halloweeen, and they celebrate it allllll weekend long. Or at least that was my experience. That and my first outing to Andrés Carnes de Res, a huuuge five storey, crazily decorated, super expensive, super popular restaurant/club. My night was somewhat spoiled by my losing (and rediscovering) all my possessions. It was a fun weekend nonetheless, and the most effort I’ve ever put into a Halloween costume. Except, perhaps, when I was 7.
City-wise I also discovered the Botero Museum. Botero is one of Colombia’s most important contemporary artists, famous for the fact that he paints everything fat. Whilst some of his pieces were somewhat disturbing, my personal favourite was this one:
As far as work is concerned, four months later and my conversation club has FINALLY started. I think it’s going pretty well and I’ve even got regulars, so I guess I must be doing something right! Unfortunalely all the English courses have finished now for Christmas, so who knows what I’ll be doing for the next two weeks… I’m enjoying work more and it has been interesting to observe how teaching styles vary between the different teachers I’ve worked alongside. In the last course the teacher introduced a rather too successful “candies rule” in which those who spoke Spanish had to bring sweets for the whole class next lesson. Considering that the class is level A2, this meant A LOT of sweets.
Speaking of food, I’m still not completely sold on Colombian cuisine. However, this month I’ve tried a few more typical Colombian things and am not giving up hope yet. A couple of weeks ago I went to La Calera, a little town just outside of Bogotá, where I tried agua panela for the first time. It’s essentially hot water sweetened with cane sugar. It came with cheese (which for some reason you put IN the agua panela) and an arepa (my fav thing…). I also tried natilla, which a somewhat more pleasant experience. Natilla is a dessert typically eaten at Christmas time and it’s delicious! It is made of milk, sugar cane, cinnamon and flour and has the consistency of set custard. Finally, the other day I had my first mazorcada. It’s basically a lot of random things (i.e. sweetcorn, ham, pineapple, cheese, egg and really tiny “matchstick” crisps) all in one meal – yum!
As well as getting to know the city, I have also been on a few more excursions out of it! A couple of weekends ago I went on a trip to Cali, a city an hours flight away from Bogotá and Colombia’s salsa capital. It was rather stressful to begin with – you know you have serious timing issues when you almost miss a flight. Thankfully, Colombia being Colombia (i.e. not renowned for its punctuality) you can pretty much guarantee that every time you think you are late, the event you are “late” for usually starts half an hour after you arrive… This might sound like a huge generalisation, but it has happened so many times now that I genuinely believe it to be true. We went for a friend’s birthday so didn’t end up seeing an awful lot of the city, but had a fun weekend nonetheless!
Last weekend I went on a trip with some friends to the “Embalse de Neusa,” a huuuuge reservoir surrounded by tree covered hills. We had a seemingly unending barbecue, played football and frisbee and went around the reservoir in a little boat that definitely wasn’t supposed to carry 12 people… It was a lovely, relaxing day, and SO good to get away from the craziness that is Bogotá.
On Friday I went on an end of year trip to the town of Gachancipá, an hour or so north of Bogotá, with the teachers and secretaries from the university. We played a traditional Colombian game called “rana” (frog), the aim of which is to score points by throwing small metal rings into holes in a wooden box, or ideally, the “rana” itself. I was not very good at it. We had a huuuge lunch, which involved no fewer than 5 kinds of meat…chicken, pork, beef, chorizo and a black pudding sausage.
In the interest of not making this sounding like one long list of everything I’ve done, I’m going to leave it here for today and say hasta la próxima!