As some of you may know, I’ve had two very good friends touch ground in Colombia recently. Josh and Ryan spent four days with me in Bogota, after which I went back to work for a week and then re-met them in Cartagena on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. This is what became of this epic visit:
I met up with the boys on a Thursday night at a hostel in Candelaria called The Cranky Croc. I had opted to pay to stay in the hostel with them, rather than traversing back and forth between their temporary home and mi casa. In fact, it was cheaper than the inevitable cab rides that would have occurred sometime around 3am every night. For which, I’m not sure I would have had a conscious enough mind to give a driver directions home, in any case. So we settled into our 10-bed hostel room and made small talk with a couple of the Brits who were sharing it with us, immediately breaking into a bottle of Buchanan’s and rejoicing in our reunion. I couldn’t stop hugging them. It’d been a long time since I’d had somebody around that I wanted to hug so much. And I couldn’t stop talking – I’m pretty sure I recounted every second of the last three months of my life in about twenty minutes, inbetween shots and hugs and a couple breaths. I was so happy I felt high. Or, you know, maybe it was the quick succession of three shots of whiskey that hit my famished stomach. In any case, I was elated. We headed out into the Colombian night.
The first night was a drunken disaster. It was quickly obvious that I didn’t have the sort of tolerance for alcohol that I used to have in the States and it seemed like these boys had been training in the liver olympics. Nonetheless, we carried spirited and tireless conversation into the night at the Bogota Beer Company (the only place I’ve found in this city with a decent IPA). We didn’t wander far this night, more concentrated on our meeting and reminiscing than exploration for the time being. We stumbled our way back to the hostel late and commanded control over a small, dark patio area where we got scolded for smoking cigarettes. The hostel staff led us to a different sort of odd, open-roofed room that I can’t quite remember and told us we could smoke there. This room became a joke because none of us could even vaguely describe how to find it during the day, but at night, with the direction of a few drinks and the desire for tobacco, we always ended up there.
Over the next couple days, with a consistent bottle of aguardiente (local booze) or rum in hand, we explored the near entirety of Bogota north of Calle 11 and east of La Autopista. We walked from Candelaria to Chapinero and from Chapinero to Zona Rosa. We took the tram up Monserrate to the church on the mountain and gazed over the expanse of Bogota. You could choke on the intense beauty of the city from up there, as it stretches down the mountain range. Up there, we drank coca tea and aguapanela. We made friends with some burros. I couldn’t stop thinking about how strange it was that I was having such a familiar experience in such a foreign place. I told the boys I loved them.
That second night we walked from downtown to Chapinero – a forty block adventure – in search of the part of town that I’d heard from several people was the hipster neighborhood; sure that there would be something interesting to do here, or rather, somewhere interesting to drink. Beers in hand, we wandered down the main streets, ears open for the sort of bar scenery we were looking for. We passed a pair of gold-embellished doors that opened into a low-purple-lit space that we couldn’t quite see from across the street, but we were pretty sure it was a very classy strip club. Tempting, but we moved on. After passing the area of town that I was pretty sure was supposed to be hopping, we stopped and asked an adorable stranger on the street. He said there was a bar nearby, but it was a gay bar. I smiled at Josh and Ryan. It would be a fun experience to make them uncomfortable, but the boy continued that we had passed the row of bars Chapinero was known for about four blocks back. If we turned around and turned left back there, we would find what we were looking for. So we backtracked the four blocks and glanced down to the left. How we could have missed the mess of lights and noise was beyond me.
The street was draped in white lights and lined with bars on either side that appeared to be competing for who could play the loudest music. Multi-colored lights flashed from foggy dancefloors inside. There were people in snappy vests and pants that were far too tight. Yeah, we’d found the spot. We posted up at a table on the patio of the Colombian Pub; on the outside, an unassuming pub-like front with classic tables and chairs and a simple decor. On the inside, however, a mess of grinding bodies and strobe lights, attempting not to run into the clutter of tables that still littered what looked like an impromptu but intentional dancefloor. Not quite fueled enough for the insanity inside, we made ourselves comfortable at our outdoor table and I had the pleasure of being the first person to introduce my friends to Aguardiente.
I’ve never tried Aguardiente and not woken up with at least a headache if not a smidgen of regret. It’s not as high content as a regular liquor, but the stuff goes down like candy and probably has the sugar content to back it up. Ever heard the term gut rot? With the aftertaste of star anise, the term water seems appropriate for how smooth it is. By the end of this night, we’d downed three 750’s of the stuff, visited three different bars, and were grinding along with everybody else on the dancefloor. We’d become a trio of idiots, laughing and falling over each other. It was a glorious haze of pure joy and absolute freedom. We made friends with all of our cocktail waiters, or at least they were nice enough to make us think we had. At some point during the night, the exhaustion caught up with us and we decided that our poor stomachs needed sustenance. We beelined for the door and the second our three front feet hit the sidewalk, the entire block went black. The music died. A couple people from inside the bars screamed. Everything was dark. Power outage, I guess. The three of us exchanged glances and laughed. Good timing, eh? We scarfed down some street meat – hotdogs, I think? Then we caught a cab and rode back to Candelaria where we attempted to quietly enter our hostel and make quickly for our elusive smoking room. We later recounted the power outage in Chapinero with a local friend who told us that this was a pretty regular occurrence on that block. The party just gets to be too much for the lines.
The next day we awoke with vague memories of the night before and an ache to our bodies. We drug ourselves out of bed anyway, and determined that we would do awesome things that day. We would not let our nightly beasts destroy our days. We began with breakfast and a conviction that I would find this really cool coffee shop that I knew I liked. I have a very vague recollection of most of the businesses that I’ve been to in Bogota. I know kind of where everything is but always find myself lost walking in circles, closing in on the intersection I’m sure is near where I want to be. This day’s target was a place called Cafe Pop where I knew they served pour overs, chemexes and vacpots. I got to introduce the boys to Transmilenio, the local transportation system, aka. Hell. We rode the bus up to Chapinero and wandered for a bit before stumbling upon my cafe. The coffee was fantastic but I was suddenly consumed with the thought that my old coffeeshop manager had given me the info to find the Colombian barista champion and I had not even attempted take up this adventure yet. The three of us then made it our goal to find the cafe that this man worked at – Amor Perfecto.
It should have only been a quick 12 block walk, if the address on the internet had been correct. It wasn’t. It led us up into the low numbered carreras where the apartment buildings got nicer and developed terraces. The google map dropped us off at a place that apparently didn’t exist, Calle 64 #3-29. The buildings went from #3-27 to #3-31. No #3-29. Oh, Bogota. We decided to ask a couple strangers making out on the grass (Colombians are huge on PDA) who looked hip enough to know where a sweet cafe like Amor Perfecto was. They did. They gave us directions, the only part of which any of us understood were the hand motions, really. We set off. After 15 minutes of wandering, we were pretty sure we were lost again. We asked some more strangers who pointed us in exactly the opposite direction that we had previously been told. We wandered that direction for 15 minutes. Rinse lather repeat and and hour later we were getting pretty frustrated. Luckily, we ran into the make out couple again on the street. They asked us how the coffee was and we told them we hadn’t found the place still. I think they stifled a laugh – stupid gringos. They gave us slower, more clear directions again, with very concrete hand motions and we decided to try one more time. One block. It was one block past the last time we’d tried that direction. ON the road we were walking on. Well.
We walked in and it may have been the swankiest business I’d walked into in this city thus far. They had a coffee lab and what appeared to be one of the new gradual pressure La Marzoccos. Oh, what heaven. The man behind the counter was even the barista champion himself. He welcomed us to his cafe and, I’m pretty sure because of our obvious excitement, proceeded to hand brew his favorite two coffees in pour over and topped it off with a round of the best espresso I’d had in months on the house. Josh and I winked at our ability to get free shit in any town we rock. A live jazz duo struck up and we marveled at the world we found ourselves in. What perfection. What wonder. Until our stomachs reminded us that we had just drank a lot of coffee and eaten practically no food. It was time to move on. After excessive thanks to the master of coffee, we took to the now dark streets.
We passed the open doorway of what appeared to be a bar straight out of the jazz era, with an inviting wall of top shelf liquors and Miles Davis drifting through the air. We stopped and had the most amazing meal of succulent flavors that fused the feel of american food with Colombian ingredients. The owner of the restaurant not only greeted us as friends and let us hold the air pistol behind the counter, but directed us towards the most savory items on the menu and lent inspired conversation on top of it all. He spoke amazing English and was excited that we’d found his restaurant, was excited that we loved it. I vowed to go back, but I’m not sure I’d ever be able to find it again.
The trio’s night devolved from there. We tried out the Zona Rosa area – a very americanized section of town where the drinks cost eight bucks a piece and where we didn’t quite match the dress code. We drank, instead, in the plaza and watched some kids fail at bike tricks. We talked about the 90’s. It felt fitting for our surroundings. Apparently Josh is still a fan of Nickelback. Oops. Did I just post that in a public space? Eventually, we tired of the space and cabbed back to the hostel where we bought our own supplies for cuba libres and started a ruckus in the common room. We made for the smoking room and ran into a sign that told us we weren’t allowed to smoke in that room. Confused, we headed to the street for our cigarettes and somehow made friends with the shadiest looking homeless person in Bogota. Some of us are a naive bunch – that includes I. Ten minutes later, I realized my phone was missing. Thank god for insurance. If anybody from the insurance company asks, I was robbed at knifepoint, not due to the negligence of wearing my purse at my back. But hell, getting robbed is getting robbed. The night gets a bit foggy after that.
We woke up in the morning with the knowledge that this was our last day in Bogota together. I would see the boys in five days on the Caribbean coast. We ambled around Candelaria and sipped some beers. We visited the Museo Botero and the modern art museum attached to it. We attempted to find a second hand store but ended up in a quadrant of street merchants selling phones from the 80’s on blankets on the sidewalk along with other entirely useless crap. I bought a secondhand book about how rock music influences kids to become Satanists. It’s all in Spanish, though, so I’ll get back to you on how this works. When I had to let the boys go at the end of the day, I didn’t want to. I wanted to join them on their journey north through Salento and Medellin, but I had my responsibilities. Damn, I never thought I’d be the type to drop adventure for responsibility. But I let them go. The cab ride to my house at the end of the night was very introspective. A contemplation I won’t go into now, but know that my heart was warm but restless. I went to bed dreaming of Cartagena and all the adventures that had yet to unfold. That’s a post for another day, though. I’ve used up too many of my warm fuzzies and stressed my memory skills as far as they can go for now. It is time to consider my responsibilities once again. Off to plan for the little monsters now. Pretend that I’m a real adult.