First week in Bogota
Trip Start Apr 21, 2003
34Trip End May 07, 2004
I know, this update comes quick on the heels of my last one, but I am so fired up about being here, I thought I might share some of my excitement - you know, before I get robbed or kidnapped or something goes terribly wrong. No, I'm only kidding - Colombia is fantastic. And Bogotá is about 10 million times safer than Nairobi, Jo'burg or Rio (okay, I know there are places to avoid, but then, you just avoid them).
Plus everyone is so fantastically nice. You can be on a bus and people help you find where to transfer, or even wait with you to make sure your friends come to pick you up at the station. And they get so excited when you tell them you love it here, or like it better than other places in South America.
I'm still trying to sort out a few things, some of them may never happen (like an apartment or staying with a family for a month, although I'm not giving up yet), but I am so glad to be here. Coming to Bogotá is just another example of one of my favourite quotes from this trip - 'definitely the right decision'.
So, I arrived here completely sleep deprived and with $70 Argentinian pesos in my pocket - equivalent to about $25 USD. I was so exhausted (Buenos Aires took a lot out of me), it was all I could do to change my pesos, phone the hostel I was hoping to stay at, and get a cab there.
As I was so tired, my first few days were mostly spent sleeping and relaxing. I broke down and read a book in English - the rule that I had put on myself to only read Spanish books meant that I wasn't reading anything - Viajes de Gulliver (Gulliver's Travels) is difficult, especially as I haven't even read it in English, and although I could struggle through it if I tried, or switch back to the other Sweet Valley High book I have in reserve, I just couldn't take it anymore!
I also spent a lot of time wandering around and doing a bit of shopping. Things aren't necessarily as cheap as Argentina, but I had sent all my warm clothes home with Emma, and Bogotá is relatively chilly (stop rolling your eyes Canadians - I know it's way worse there, but they don't heat buildings here, and most nights get down to close to zero), so I needed at least another pair of pants and a sweater.
I also spent some time trying to organize some more Spanish lessons, and was getting pretty frustrated with the $12-15 they wanted to charge per hour, but then I found a professor at the university who is willing to teach me privately for closer to $5/hour for a couple of hours each day, which is great. Plus I'm kind of taking part in a language exchange, where we practice English with a Colombian named Harry for an hour, and then the next hour is spent practicing Spanish. It's all just so perfect.
But last night was the best - I met a Colombian in Buenos Aires before Christmas, and although he's still travelling around South America, he put me in touch with his friend Jaime, who invited me to his house for an asado (BBQ).
At first it was a little difficult as I was self-conscious and exhausted from the night before - my Spanish is even worse when I'm tired, not to mention that the hostel I stay in is all English speakers, most of whom muddle through South America with Spanish worse than mine, so I haven't been practicing nearly as much as I'd like. Anyways, people started arriving at the party (I was the only gringo there, although there were two Brazilians), and although there were some things I couldn't get across properly, pretty much the whole night was spent conversing in Spanish.
In fact, I was talking to Jaime's cousin Miguel in Spanish for about 30 minutes before he told me he'd lived in England for 3 years - '¿entonces, puedes hablar ingles?' (then, you can speak English?), si, he responded, but we carried on in Spanish. Even if my Spanish is nowhere near perfect, everyone understood that I really wanted to practice. It was awesome, and exactly the kind of thing I'm hoping to do most of my time here.
And then the dancing started. Now, Colombians are renowned for being the best dancers in Latin America (or the world, I guess!), so I knew I was going to be way out of my league (watching Dirty Dancing when you're 13 does not qualify you as a Meringue expert). I watched and admired nervously as people swirled each other around the patio. There was all kinds of stuff going on - Salsa, Meringue, a bit of Tango, as well as some dances that I'd never even heard of before (and still can't remember the names of). Their feet move so quick, and they've been doing it their whole lives - how can you just pick that up? And then I watched as one of the guys try to teach the Brazilian girl how to Salsa - and I mean, she's from Latin America and still having trouble!
So not long after the dancing kicked off, as I was sitting watching it all, another Miguel decided that I was going to be his pet project for the night. It was pretty obvious that I had no clue, so we went through the steps very slowly. More than once I just had to stop, clutch my stomach, and laugh at myself because of how bad I was.
But I am always happy to make a fool of myself, so I kept trying, despite the 20 or so people watching how awkward I was. The boys were very patient, and it actually didn't take long before I could sort of move my feet the way I was supposed to. After few songs, I could actually feel the rhythm in the music, and, more or less, how I was supposed to be moving my body to it. By the end of the night I felt like I had the basics to both Salsa and Meringue, and that I could actually dance - they even managed to twirl me around a few times!
Obviously I won't be giving lessons anytime soon. And although I know that all the comments about me doing it perfectly were just to encourage me, I was totally encouraged. Now I have the confidence that the next time I'm out, I will actually be able to follow someone's lead and kind of know what I'm doing. What's more, I really want to do it again - it is so much fun once you sort of get the hang of it.
So, I'm learning how to dance, making friends, (one girl even said she was going to ask her mom if I could move into their house for a few weeks - don't know how likely it is, but it would be so perfect!), and feeling okay about my Spanish. Keep this up and I'm never going to want to leave this country!
Now all I have to do is convince some big multi-national to let me volunteer in their marketing department (hopefully my fluency in English will act as a commodity, and in exchange they will let me take part in some meetings or projects so I can learn some career related Spanish). I've decided that for the next month I will do this career Spanish thing, and hopefully after that I will go to Medellin and do some volunteer work with children.
So, that's the plan for now. Hope things are still good with everyone.
Lots and lots of love,