Thursday, November 5, 2009

El Fin

These past four months in Colombia were incredible. At times I grew tired of the high heat and humidity. At times, I really, really, didn't want to get up at 5:30 to go teach English in an animated fashion for a few hours. But hey - heat and sleep deprivation aside, can one really complain when there is fresh mango juice on every corner, there are at least three different beaches within busing distance, and even the citizens still in diapers have killer dance moves?

Colombia gets a lot of flack for a reputation it doesn't deserve. Everywhere I went, Colombians constantly asked me what Americans (or 'North Americans' as they call them in Colombia) think of Colombia. They laughed when I described the land of drugs, sex tourism, kidnappingm and guerrilla warfare that Americans had in mind. To those Americans who remain doubtful - Yes, there are a lot of men and women in uniform in Colombia. Yes, they are there for security reasons. No, I never felt in danger wherever I went. No, no one asked me to traffic drugs back to the United States.

Colombia's government has been on a vigorous "rebranding" spree, painting Colombia as the country of flowers, not the country of guns. Everywhere I went, I saw people with heart pins and bags or t-shirts with the phrase "Colombia es pasion." The phrase works as a response for many situations, such as:
"Why is this guava juice so amazing?" - "Porque Colombia es pasion!"
"Why do we need to keep dancing?" - "Porque Colombia es pasion!"
"Why won't my students just sit still and be quiet?" - "Porque Colombia es pasion!"
But seriously, all joking aside, there is some truth to the statement. The picture in the top left corner is of a traveling dance troop that stopped in Cartagena. To me, the group epitomized the general spirit of Colombia, as well as of other countries I've visited in South America. I've found the people to be open, joyful, and eager to share their country with me. Yes, poverty is rampant throughout Colombia. Yes, prostitutes and drug dealers were certainly not far away from where I lived. My roommate got a lot of money stolen from her. We saw a student protest in Bogota with plenty of armored tanks just in case things got ugly (they didn't). These things are present in Colombia, but the country is no longer fighting the war against the FARC to the degree they once were, and militism is just one of color in the background - the country is no longer monochromatic militia green.

At the end of the day, I made some fantastic friends, saw some beautiful places, improved my Spanish, and developed a slightly unhealthy obsession for Reggaeton. Colombia is a HUGE country, and I was only beginning to experience parts of it. I will miss the people and places I knew, but I know I'll be back. It's good to be back in DC, but I know that within a month or two, I'll get the fever to jump over an international border or ocean or two. Here's to the next great adventure.

Bienvenidos a Bogota

I'd reserved the last week in Colombia for Bogota. My mom had some trepidations about my going there (probably because a friend at graduation had told us her dad thought it was THE most dangerous city to go to...excellent timing...) but everyone I'd talked to in Colombia didn't seem to have any problems there. Bottom line, I'm a smart cookie and I wasn't about to do anything stupid. I wasn't worried.

Bogota is enormous. The picture to the left was taken from the top of Monserrate, the mountain on the edge of the city. Como se dice "urban sprawl"? I went to Bogota to visit friends, but I'd met someone in Cartagena the week before, and Bogota just happened to be the next stop on his tour of South America. Lawrence and I spent a lot of time together that week.

We hit all the highlights. museum...Botero museum...

The best weekend was the last one there, because it was Halloween. Halloween is a HUGE deal in Colombia (little did we know...). It is over a three-day weekend, and everyone dresses up all three days. We went to a Calle 13 concert on Friday. Calle 13 is a really popular hip-hop artist. Manuel had introduced me to his music back in Cartagena, so I was really excited to see him live. The concert was insane. It took us about two hours just to get to the concert at what looked like a giant, abandoned warehouse outside Bogota. Everyone was dressed in costume, and people kept trying to sell us bottles of Colombia's national brew. This life-affirming moment brought to you by Aguardiente? We passed.

The last highlight of the trip was Saturday. We went to a church (of course...what else would the good Christian people of Colombia do?), which was highly unusual, because it was carved out of rock in a giant underground salt mine. Creepy, but cool. Fun fact: apparently the only other church like it in the world is in Poland. You know what they say - if life gives you lemons, make lemonade. If life gives you salt, make...churches?

After the salt mine we caught the bus to the coolest restaurant I have ever been to. It's called Andres Carne de Res, and is a HUGE steakhouse outside Bogota. It apparently started as one small shop, and then kept expanding...and expanding...It would probably take up about two New York city blocks easily. Everyone was dressed in costume (of course), and we witnessed many weird and mythical creatures parading and generally making merry.

Soon it was late Sunday night and time for me to go to the airport. I had a fantastic week in Bogota. After confirming with three different airline employees that I was not, in fact, a drug trafficker, I made my way to the gate and caught my red-eye back to the states with no problem. I didn't sleep much on my way back to states, but with three full days between me and Colombia, it really is remarkable how quickly I'm moving back into the (admittedly much quicker) pace of life back in DC.