I was having a conversation on the plane at 4:45am with a civil engineering professor who was coming home to visit Bogotá, which is where we were about to land. He and his girlfriend were asking me my plans for Bogotá. Namely, where I was going to stay. They both seemed mildly shocked when I told them I didn’t know, that I was planning to land first and figure it out later. Then I arrived to Bogotá but my suitcase didn’t. My senses were so dulled from the previous 24 hours of travel that I found myself just standing next to the empty luggage conveyor, blank-faced. The peppy airline employee didn’t seem surprised at my situation, and I guess I shouldn’t be either. There were three flights between two airlines, likely my suitcase just decided to go out for some drinks in Houston and didn’t make it back to the airport in time. Understandable. I recieved a couple sheets of paper, a complimentary bag of girly toiletries and a phone number to call in the next few days to see if the suitcase makes it down.
The first thing I learned about Bogotá: it’s cold in July. Just a fistful of hours ago I was in Tucson with the temperature hovering around 108F (42C), and then it’s dawn and I’m standing in a grey sunrise, 45F (7C). Pull on the jacket, catch a taxi to La Candelaria to look for coffee and a grip on things at 8200’ (2500m) above sea level.
La ciudad amanece gris. Grises las calles, grises los cielos, gris la recorrida en taxi. Y puede ser por eso que me llena de tanta emoción cuando la veo por primera vez: quieta sin viento, una filosa espada de color, violenta y alegre. No la estaba buscando, pero cuando veo la bandera colombiana por primera vez empiezan a valer la pena las 24 horas de viaje me ha costado encontrarla.
The street art here is amazing. Must be the reaction of such a vivid people against their gray capital. That’s what I’m thinking as I wander the half-abandoned streets of La Candelaria, a colonial neighborhood near the centro. I had been sitting on a park bench for a few minutes with my blackbook, watching the shoe shiners set up for the day, and the street people wander through, complaining to anyone who would listen. And now, walking, I realize I had unconsciously been worried about getting lost when another thought occured to me. If I have little idea of where I am and no idea of where I’m going, how could I be lost? Impossible.
My favorite two pieces of street graffiti poetry thus far:
"De$sarrollo es suicidio" (Proge$$ is suicide)
"Somos un . . ." (We are a . . .) Probably the artist was surprised in the act and couldn't finish the phrase, but I'd like to think it was intentional. What are we, anyway? Fill in the blank, if you can. Mad-lib graffiti.
I had contacted a potential host through CouchSurfing, an independent travel website that I’ve been involved with for a few years. Everything ended up working out, and soon I was at her place having a conversation about Hispanic American literature. She’s a professor at the university here, and a very generous person who frequently hosts travelers from all over the world. I sleep for a few hours, eat, wander a bit.
We go out with other Surfers to a show at a infamous local bar, El Quiebra-Canto. Two local bands are playing: La Makina del Caribe and Tumbacatre. The DJ is spinning salsa with some Orishas, Sargento García and Bob Marley thrown in. There is definitely something happening in Bogotá, it feels new but could be very old at the same time. Young underground culture seems to be everywhere. And I’m dancing, dancing, dancing to La Makina del Caribe, who plays chapeta, a very happy music with tropical guitar and a solid rhythm section.
I liked Tubacatre even more (see video below). They hail from Colombia’s Pacific coast and are a true force, mixing Caribbean rhythms with heavy Baltic influence. What could be better? Their name supposedly comes from a cheap aguardiente alcohol, but it literally means something like “bed breaker,” and is used to describe a woman who is energetic in the sack. As in, “Ay, manica, ¿esa es Sara la tumbacatre?” The group’s lead vocalist is an afro-colombian guy with a grin and pipes that could blow down the room. He’s six inches off the mic almost all night.
Around then I have my second revelation of the day. More of a comparison, actually. Out of nowhere I saw myself standing next to the luggage belt at dawn, despondent. And then immediately I saw myself dancing shoulder-to-shoulder with a load of new friends, drunk on the energy of this place as much as anything.
This is going to be good. 39 more days in Colombia.
Another Colombian group, Bomba Estéreo: