Our hostel is on a steep, part-brick street that runs into the center of the city from the mountain that towers over Bogota. Our first night here we walked to the center to find a grocery store and the Scotish guy from our hostel passed going the other direction. “Yeah – it’s just up the road then down to the left a ways.” Ok. It was dark and we were skittish from the warnings about Colombia and we couldn’t really understand what he was saying. But we had slept through the day and really, really needed something to eat.
When we got to the street where we were supposed to take the left we wondered how he could possibly give us directions without mentioning this – there were thousands of people in the street partying – celebrating one of their many religious holidays with candles, lanterns and flashy rainbow sticks and funny glasses and noisemakers. There were dozens of different kinds of street foods: plantain (bananaish) that had been pressed into a shoestring and then deep fried; empanadas (baked piroshkies, kinda) filled with chicken and mushroom; and aromatica – a tea made from mint, chamomile, citrus and a spoonful of sugar. The aromatica carts steam and the green stalks they use for the tea are displayed up high so you can recognize immediately what the cart is about, if you couldn’t figure it out by the seductive smell.
Some enterprising locals were fun to watch. In addition to your regular entertainers (street statues, musicians, comedians) there were also people who let you use their cell phone for a small fee (with a line of people waiting) and guys who set their telescopes on the illuminated mountain-top church and let you look for a small fee. A favorite is the dude who sets out a half-circle of upside-down bowls with little doors cut into them. Each bowl is numbered and you put your money on top of the bowl that you think his guinea pig will run to. I didn´t win, but I think it was rigged.
We, of course, stand out a bit. Beggars cross the street to ask us for money. Azure pointed out that it´s probably good for us to be a minority for a while, but our experience being a minority is different from other people’s experience of being a minority in the US. Whether we’re in Colombia or the US or Thailand, whiteness is associated with political and financial power. That’s not the association if you’re a racial minority in the the States, so our experience as a racial minority in Bogota isn’t really comparable.
We walked around in the crowd for probably an hour and a half. I went into this lovely church where a mass was in progress and I took a video (it said no photography) and everyone was hugging each other. On the street, many of the buildings had Christmas lights lining the corners, there were lights strung across the street and lights in the trees.
We walked back up the hill to the hostel. Families along the way lit candles and sat on their front porches talking.
Bogota is nice, so far. Cheap and cold. It’s at 8400 feet, much higher than Denver, so the nights are very cold and the days are cloudy and cool. Today (Tuesday) is the first day we get to see the city in a non-holiday state, so we’re excited to see what’s here.