What The Heck Am I (Still) Doing in Colombia  

 

Sitting on top of Bogota at Monserrate... yup I'm still here!
Sitting on top of Bogota at Monserrate… yup I’m still here!

It’s been over three months now that I’ve been in Colombia. I’ve visited family, done a bit of travelling in the country (and outside, to Peru), and I’ve worked on my writing, starting this blog.

Talking with friends back home, I’ve realized that quite a few thought I was on more of a vacation, and they’re wondering when I’m coming home. But in reality, I don’t know, I don’t even have a return flight! (Yet, anyways – don’t worry Mum 🙂 )

In fact, I am now a proud owner of a Colombian visa, allowing me to stay here until the end of November this year.

Why? you may ask:

Well, I’m moving on to the next phase of my stay here, the one that initiated my arrival in Colombia in the first place.

Starting soon, I’ll be working with a Colombian volunteer organization called Heart for Change, teaching English in public school classrooms for the year. It’s a program sponsored by the Colombian Ministry of Education, as part of its plan to make Colombia bilingual by 2025.

I applied without knowing much about the program besides that basic description, but have slowly learned more and more about it and am getting increasingly excited at the opportunity I’ve landed myself in!

I found out about the program through an external organization called Greenheart Travel, one of many agencies that recruits English-speaking university graduates from around the world to come teach for the program. You can find more about them here if this sounds like your type of program. They have opportunities all around the globe! 

Yesterday was the first day of orientation here. It’s a 10-day affair that goes over living in Colombia and teaching, as well as logistical stuff like visas, identification cards, bank accounts, and phones.

For these ten days, we’re staying in a really nice hotel in Bogota called Estelar La Fontana. It’s been a while since I’ve stayed somewhere so fancy! I’m definitely enjoying the luxury before the relative homelessness I’ll have before finding a place to live in my placement city. (Perhaps I’m being a touch dramatic?)

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Photo taken from the hotel website. I’m not accustomed to this level of fanciness…

The first day of orientation was a long one. It started at 5:45 for me when my alarm rang, because I had to get in a taxi with a few other fellows to go to the visa and cedula (national identification card) office. We were special cases, as we had applied before the program started and needed to get the process done within a 15 days limit. It was a long morning spent mostly in lines, but in the end, everything is complete and I now feel officially legal!

Today was an even earlier wake-up, as breakfast started at 5:00. By 6:00, we were boarding buses to go across the city for an event with the Ministry of Education. We were all sporting our new “Colombia Bilingüe” (“Bilingual Colombia”)  t-shirts and bright green Ministry vests looking super fashionable, of course.

We watched some videos about Colombia, and about the program, as well as some music videos by Colombian artists. Even though it was super early, it got most of us pretty pumped up for the program. Some people even started dancing! It was still a bit too early for that for me though. 🙂

Near the end, we had a presentation from the Minister of Education. She also chatted with some of the fellows, and it was all really inspiring. I couldn’t help but get teary-eyed with happiness and excitement for the country!

In this important time of newfound peace, Colombia is now able to focus on how to further improve itself. Education is of course a big part of that, and English education especially. Better English opens doors for students to better education and employment opportunities, in effect contributing to an improvement in Colombia’s international relations in the future.

I’m really passionate about the program and its goals and can’t wait to start teaching!

For the rest of orientation, I’m not totally sure what to expect, although I know we’ll be getting 40 hours of teaching instruction meant to prepare us for our classes (for me, and many others, it will be the first time teaching in a classroom). Then we’ll all be getting on our planes and heading off to our destinations. Many will head off to big cities like Medellin or Cali, and others will fly to smaller cities or even more rural towns.

I’ll be flying to a small city called Manizales. It’s nestled in the coffee region, and is ideally located right in between three main cities: Bogota, Medellin, and Cali. It’s a city built into the mountains, and apparently the streets are super steep! It’s surrounded by other small cities and towns that I can’t wait to explore, and is even close to a big active volcano called the Nevado del Ruiz.

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A photo of Manizales I found on the internet – looks amazing doesn’t it!?

I’ve never been to Manizales before but have heard amazing things about it so can’t wait to get there and see it for myself! I’ll be sure to write lots about it.

Once I get there, I’ll have about a one-week orientation in the city, and then straight into the classroom I go!

The teaching program is really cool because it’s not only about benefitting the students, but about the teachers as well. We’ll be working as co-teachers in English classes, offering both students and the teacher exposure to a more immersive English experience.

The hope is that after a few years of the program (this is the third year it’s being run on such a large scale), the English teachers will feel more confident with the language, and therefore the overall quality of English education will improve.

It’s all part of the Bilingual Colombia initiative in the country, which aims to have more and more students graduate with at least an average B1 level of English (in listening, speaking, reading, and writing). Currently, English education in private schools is generally quite good, but it’s lacking in the public school system. This program is therefore helping to combat that discrepancy.

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It’s also meant to inspire these students, many of whom will be at schools in unprivileged communities, to dream big and think outside of their neighbourhood and rather, on a more global scale.

I’m still full of questions about where I’m going to live, what my school is going to be like, and how many classes I’m going to have, but I’m excited and optimistic. I can’t wait to share more about my experience with you!

For now, dinner time.

Thanks for reading!

L

Bogota on a Budget

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Well it’s getting down to the final countdown for me. After almost three months living in Bogota, I’m getting ready to move on soon to my next position: teaching English in Manizales.

I’ve loved living in Bogota as a local. The city is full of interesting cultural things to do, great food, and amazing parks. However – for the budget-conscious, it’s a city that can get pretty pricy if you’re not careful!

In fact, it’s one of the most expensive cities in Colombia, along with Cartagena. That means that going out to eat, shopping, going to the cinema, or going out at night may cost you roughly the same as it would in North America or Europe.

Of course, I am the type of person who likes to pinch her pennies while travelling. I avoid unnecessary expenses like clothes, fancy meals, or tours that I could take on my own. However, I feel that I have still managed to get a good sense of Bogota and how to enjoy the city without spending too much, and really, it’s not that hard!

Here is a guideline on how to stick to your budget in Bogota while still having a great time.

Activities

The Gold Museum
– Sundays are free. Other days and holidays, it will cost you only $4000. ($1.40 USD).
– It is always closed on Mondays.
– More info on the address and open hours can be found here.

The Botero Museum

– Entrance is free!
– It is closed on Tuesdays.
– More info can be found here.

Go up Monserrate Mountain
city

– Visit on Sundays for the best price: $10000 to go up and down ($3.40 USD).
– On other days, it will cost you $18000 for both trips ($6.12 USD).
– These prices are the same whether you use the funicular or the cable car.
– Walking up the mountain is also sometimes a free option, however at the time of writing the trail is closed indefinitely. You can check the website to see if it has reopened!
– Find more information here. 

Take part in the Ciclovia

On Sundays and holidays, many streets in the city are closed to vehicles from 7AM-2PM for the “Ciclovia.” Bicycles take over the streets instead! Along the route you can find food and drink stands, as well as occasional live music. But don’t fret if you don’t have a bike or don’t want to rent one – just walking or jogging along parts of the route is very enjoyable as well!

– Cost: Free!
– You can find more information and maps of the routes here.

Graffiti Walking Tour

This is an awesome spin on the usual free city tours (which you can also find in Bogota), focusing on the amazing street art in Bogota. I took this tour and absolutely loved it – you can see the post I made about it here.

– Cost: Tip (suggested 20000-30000)
– 10AM & 2PM everyday.
– You can find more information on their website.

Explore the Candelaria by walking

The Candelaria is the historic centre of Bogota. There you will find colourful streets lined
with old houses and cool street art.

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Highlights to hit are the following:

Plaza Simon Bolivar: the main square of Bogota

Carrera 7: starting at the Plaza above, you can walk along this street as it is pedestrian-only for quite a while. A lot of vendors and entertainers can be found along the way for some quick eats, buys, or entertainment.

Chorro de Quevedo: this plaza is believed to be where Bogota was founded in 1538.

Calle de Embudo: connected to Chorro de Quevedo. It’s a very narrow cobblestone street packed with cool restaurants and shops.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez Cultural Centre: this is a cultural centre where you can enjoy some free art displays, sip a coffee, explore books in the bookstore, see a movie screening, or just enjoy the cool architecture.

– Santuario Nacional de Nuestra Señora del Carmen: this is a unique-looking church that stands out from far away for its striped exterior.

Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango: visit this library to see some more neat architecture, and to enjoy some free literary displays.

– Teatro Colon: this is a beautiful old theatre near Bolivar plaza. You can admire it from the outside, or ask about tours to visit the inside.

– Casa de Nariño: also near Bolivar plaza, this is the presidential palace. It’s very pretty, but be careful not to get too close to the fence and do not try to take photos – you’ll promptly be shouted at by the guarding police officers.

Gold Museum & Botero Musem: as mentioned above, these are definitely worth the visit, and can be found in Bogota’s centre.

 

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You can see a huge variety of pre-Columbian gold pieces like these at the Gold Museum.

 

Visit a park

Parks are always free, and lucky for budget travellers, there are some really beautiful ones in Bogota!

Parque Nacional: near the centre, this is a lively park with lots to see and do. On Sundays during the “ciclovia,” you can also sometimes find live music and free group exercise classes going on.

Parque Simon Bolivar: an enormous park in the middle of the city with a large and peaceful pond at its centre. It is often the host to large outdoor events like concerts. The beautiful Virgilio Barco library and Botanical Gardens are also nearby.

Parque El Virrey: situated near the trendy Zona Rosa area. It’s a very green park that offers a nice view of the mountains on a clear day. You can come here to use some free outdoor exercise equipment or to jog along the canal. Or, if you’re like me, you can visit just to admire the large amount of dogs that play there.

Parque de la 93: a picturesque park in another trendy restaurant area. Well maintained and with a big play area, it’s especially great for those with kids.

Eating

Some of the most delicious Colombian foods are easy  and cheap fast-foods. Look around for vendors selling empanadas, arepas, pan de bono, pan de yucca, and almohabanas among many other things. Pan Pa Ya! is one example of a chain that sells these types of foods, but you can find random shops selling these practically everywhere in the city. Perfect for hungry budget travellers on the go!

Additionally, fruit is amazingly cheap in Colombia. You can find vendors all over selling sliced mango or fruit juices or “salpicon” – a fruit salad drink. Quench your thirst with some fresh exotic fruits at one of these stands!

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Enjoying my salpicon along the ciclovia. Nothing fancy – just delicious!

If you’re looking for a more complete meal at a restaurant that won’t break the bank, look for one of the following:

Crepes & Waffles: amazing selection of crepes… and waffles.
Wok: delicious assortment of pan-Asian dishes.
Cali Mio: tasty fast food, particularly Colombian specialties.

Additional tip:
Look or ask for “menu” options at restaurants. They will often include an entrée, a main dish, and a drink for a great fixed price. Lunch menus are most popular.

Drinking

Alcoholic drinks are easy to find in grocery stores and convenience stores. You can buy them there instead of ordering them at bars. It’s actually quite common for people to just gather in certain areas drinking in plazas with their friends.

If that’s not your thing, don’t worry, there are lots of decently-priced bars too. Try El Candelario, Theatron­­­­, or bars in the Zona Rosa (although beware – some here are very pricy!)­ for a fun night out after some drinks.

Getting Around

Taxis
Taxis are very cheap in Colombia. You can travel quite far and still pay under $10USD. It is suggested to download and use apps such as “Uber” and “Tappsi” to get around more safely.

Local Transit
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The local transit system is called the Transmilenio. The red buses run in their own lanes so are often faster than driving if going long distances. One trip will cost you just $2000. It is a bit tricky to navigate at first, but if you ask at the ticket office at any station, they can likely help you out.

You buy a transit card and recharge it at the offices whenever you need. To enter the stations, you just tap this card. When looking for what bus to take, make sure to check on the plaques above the doors to see all the stops that they will make. Most buses do not stop at all stations so make sure you get on the right route.

Download the Transmilenio & SITP app for iPhone or android to see a map and figure out your route.

Always watch out for your belongings, and oh, and if it’s rush hour, get ready to push your way on!

Accommodation

Hostels are abundant in Bogota as well. Walking around the Candelaria, you pass one every few blocks it seems. As I’ve been lucky enough to stay with family in Bogota, I haven’t stayed in any of them, but here are some of the most popular ones I’ve heard of:

Kozii Hostel – from 25000 a night.
Casa Bellavista Hostel – from 26000 a night.
12:12 Hostels – from 32000 a night
Masaya Hostel – from 35000 a night.

You can find them listed on Hostelworld, Expedia, and Booking.com. 

Of course, there is also always Couchsurfing or Airbnb if you would like to stay somewhere more local.

I hope you enjoyed these budget tips for visiting Bogota. I’d love to hear if you have any more suggestions, or questions – feel free to comment below or send me a message if you do!

L

How to Deal with Feeling Homesick Abroad During the Holidays

Today is my first Christmas away from my family at home. I’m sitting in bed relaxing, listening to Christmas music, and wondering what I would be doing if I were home in Toronto. I know my mom must be getting ready to go over to my brother & sister-in-law’s place for Christmas dinner. I guess I’d just be getting ready as well!

Christmas in Colombia is a bit different; celebrations happen on Christmas Eve rather than on the 25th, but the 25th is a holiday so everyone is still relaxing and enjoying time with family. I went out to the grocery store earlier with Elena and was shocked to see how empty the normally traffic-ridden street was. It was a beautiful day, sunny and it got up to 21, so I was walking in a simple t-shirt, thinking damn, this isn’t Christmas weather at all.

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I’m more used to weather that requires this type of apparel in December. (I can’t believe I’m putting this on the internet!?)

 

The part of me that hates the cold was super satisfied at that, but the part of me that loves Christmas felt pretty homesick. Where’s the snow? Where’s my jacket that goes down to my knees?

Even surrounded by family here and after a fun Christmas evening, I can’t help but feel a bit of longing for home and what I’m used to.

Perhaps you’re abroad as well and are also feeling homesick. Everyone has different strategies to cope, but here are a few that helped me along this December:

Christmas Carols

I’ve been listening to the same few Christmas playlists on Spotify ever since my cousins and I returned home from Peru. Lots of them were new Spanish songs so I could get into the Colombia Christmas spirit, but on days when I felt more homesick, I made sure to go for the classics. It made me feel back home, where carols play pretty much all December.

Note: Singing along is recommended, but not required.

Movies & Shows

Ever since I’ve been in Bogota, I’ve been watching Gilmore Girls in Spanish to practice my language listening skills. The past few days, I’ve reverted back to watching it in English to give myself a break. It’s helped! I also watched a movie that made me happy, Chicago. I’d never seen it, but I watched the broadway show in New York with my mom so it reminded me of her and our trip!

 

Retail Therapy

Malls are pretty much the same everywhere in the world. I never really noticed how true that was until I spent a bit of time in the nearby mall almost everyday this past week. Kids playing in the Santa area, people rushing all around, long lines. I’m normally not a big fan of shopping but I found the familiarity of the environment soothing. Buying gifts for my family here, too, was a fun distraction.

 

Eat what you love

Food not only fills the stomach, but the soul! I’ve eaten a lot of chocolate and sweets these past few days. I always do around this time of year, so being abroad was no excuse to stop! I also love the Colombian Christmas foods of buñuelos and natilla, so made sure to have my fill of those. *Nom nom nom.*

Colombian buñuelos - basically fried cheesy balls of deliciousness, & natilla - a sweet custard-type dessert.
Colombian buñuelos – basically fried cheesy balls of deliciousness, & natilla – a sweet custard-type dessert.

 

Skype

Skype is of course a great way to keep in touch with friends and family that are far away. I’ve found it especially useful these past few days. Chatting with friends and family face-to-face relieved a bit of the homesickness and made me feel like I was hanging out with them back home. Well, not really… but it’s the next best thing!

 

Enjoy the festivities in your host-country

Christmas may not be the same here as it is where I’m from, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing! I actually loved seeing how the season is celebrated here. There were lots of lights in the streets, with clusters of decorated trees in parks and malls. There was also a really cool light show that happened in Bogota’s main square. I went to see it with Elena, my aunt Consuelo, and her family. A chilly night, with lots of street vendors selling Christmas goods, it got me more into the holiday spirit.

 

Pay more attention to detail

While out and about in the city, I tried to pay more attention to the details of the city. The buildings, the people, the nature, the sky. Focusing on things I hadn’t noticed before made me appreciate more where I am. It’s not home, but it’s still pretty amazing!

On a recent trip to the botanical garden, I was able to marvel at all the pretty flowers and trees that grow here.
On a recent trip to the botanical garden, I was able to marvel at all the pretty flowers and trees that grow here.

 

 

Talk with locals 

I’m fortunate to still be with family here in Bogota. Chatting with my cousins, uncles, and aunts here always makes me feel loved and at home. I know a lot of travellers may be totally solo in a city which makes things a bit tougher, but I found that even small exchanges with strangers in the streets or in malls can be nice. My cousin and I took a bus one day but had no money on our metro cards, so asked if anyone on the bus could use theirs in exchange for cash. One man used his card for us, but didn’t take our money after. It was so nice of him that we felt like there was definitely some Christmas magic in the air.

 

Sleep as much as you need

After Peru, I was perpetually exhausted for a while. For the most part, I’d go to bed early, wake up late, and take naps in the day. The part of me that feels a strong need to be productive was appalled at how much time I spent sleeping at first, but then I just let go. I started feeling better after I allowed my body the sleep it needed. Being tired and cranky is not a good combo with homesickness so make sure to get those Zzzzzs. 

 

Do something silly!

I spent 10 minutes singing and dancing in front of my cousin’s cat yesterday while I was getting ready for the evening’s party. It allowed me to let loose and laugh, making me feel more relaxed and less homesick. The cat, on the other hand, didn’t seem too amused.

This is the cat, Pascala, looking at me with her staple unamused look.
This is the cat, Pascala, looking at me with her staple unamused look.

Do you have any more tips for fighting homesickness abroad? Let me know in the comments or send me a message!

Thanks for reading, and wishing all a merry, merry Christmas! I hope you’ve spent it doing exactly what you love, wherever you are in the world.

Lots of love,

L

Back in Bogotá!

Late Monday night, my cousins and I arrived back in Bogotá after our two-week adventure in Peru. Since then, Elena and I have been sleeping lots (11 hours last night), and Carlos is already back at the airport getting on another plane for a family trip to Seattle, where his brother lives.

It was an exhausting last few days, but exciting! Our Inca Trail trek was incredible. We started on December 7th, giddy and curious for what was to come, and ended the trek four days later at Machu Picchu after lots of rain, fog, and challenging stairs. At least that’s where it officially ended – after exploring the ruins, my cousins and I walked about 5km more down countless stairs to get to Macchu Picchu Town a.k.a. Aguas Calientes. We preferred to use the bus fare of 41 soles for a good meal instead, so down we went. We’d already walked so much anyway, what was a little more!

There’s so much to tell about the Inca Trail, and I can’t wait to share our experience. I’ll be posting soon all about it! For now, here are some photo previews:


After taking a train and a bus to get back to Cusco, we spent one more half-day there, enjoying the sunny weather and shopping for some souvenirs. We then got onto a bus to Lima for a 20-hour bus ride. For some reason it felt shorter than the 17 hour bus ride from Ica to Lima – perhaps because we slept most of the time!

We hung out in Lima for a few hours, going for a delicious last lunch at a place called Mama Olla, outdoing ourselves with a ceviche appetizer, a two-course meal, and dessert. We rolled out of the restaurant to hang out in Kennedy Park for a while, a park at the heart of Miraflores filled with cats (aww!), with wifi, and with lots of people just hanging out. There were two groups of musicians just jamming in the centre so we could enjoy both of their music. It was a relaxing way to enjoy our last few hours in Peru.

Our flight left at 9:50pm, and I slept nearly the whole way to Bogotá, where Elena’s dad, my Tio Alfredo, was waiting for us. Crawling into bed and sleeping in until 11:30 the next morning was incredible. Once I’m over this continual exhaustion, I’ll be sure to post more!

Til then,

L

10 Things to Do in Bogota When It’s Raining  

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Bogota is in Colombia which is close to the equator, so it’s hot and sunny right? Wrong. Lots of places in Colombia are hot and sunny, but Bogota is not one of them! The climate is one of perpetual spring – chilly at nights but usually warm in the days, and often raining. Mind you, I’ve only been here for October and November, two of the rainiest months (along with April and May), so my rain-filled vision of Bogota may not always be true but it certainly is now – it’s rained here almost everyday! Some days it’s just a light drizzle for about ten minutes, but then there are other days like today where it was raining so hard that I almost started getting my ark ready.

With so much grey and so much wet, it’s definitely hard to leave the house a lot of the time. But, luckily, there are lots of cool (and inexpensive) things to do in the city, even when it’s gloomy! Here are ten ideas to get you inspired to brave the weather:

1. Immerse yourself in Colombian culture & history at a museum.

Gold Museum 
One of the most popular tourist attractions in the city, this museum is definitely worth a visit. It displays over 55,000 gold artifacts and other materials from early pre-Hispanic civilizations.
Cost: COP$3000 (Free on Sundays)

– Museo Botero
Another tourist favourite, you can find here an extensive collection of paintings and sculptures by Colombian’s treasured artist Fernando Botero. You can also find works by Picasso, Dalí, Chagall, Monet, Renoir, and more well-known artists.
Cost: Free!
(Optional audioguide COP$6000)

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 Museo Nacional
Housed in what used to be a Panopticon-style jail, this interesting building houses collections of archaeological finds and art reflecting Colombian history and identity.
Cost: $3000 for adults. $2000 for students. $1000 for children 5-12.

2. Pack a book to read at one of these beautiful libraries. 

– Virgilio Barco Public Library
An impressive circular building surrounded by water and green gardens, this is a peaceful place to get away from the centre of Bogotá.

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– Luis Ángel Arango Library
If you’d rather stay in the centre of town, this is the place to go. Right across from the Botero Museum, you can pair the two for a nice day out of the rain.

3. Hang out at a café.

Magola Buendía
This sprawling and quirky café makes you feel like you’re in a greenhouse. At the gateway to the Candelaria and right across from the Parque de los Periodistas, it’s a good escape from the rain if you’re exploring the downtown core.

Casa Libreria Wilborada
This is actually a bookstore in a beautiful old house, but it has a yummy café on the ground floor where you can try an assortment of different coffees, as well as other treats.

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Krost Bakery
So. Many. Options. You’re going to have a hard time deciding which fresh-baked goodie to buy here! Once you do, enjoy it in the colourful backroom where you can stay nice and dry.

Juan Valdez 
No matter where you’re staying, you’ll be sure to find one of these cafés nearby. A Colombian staple, there is a wide variety of premium coffees for you to try.

4. Get your monkey on and go rock climbing.

Itching to do something active but don’t want to walk or run while it’s raining? Get to an indoor climbing gym:

– Zona de Bloque 
My personal favourite so far, this is a bouldering gym that has loads of routes of all difficulties. It also has a personal training area with weights and equipment
Cost: COP$13000 during ‘happy hours’ (Mon-Fri 10-4; Sun 11-5) or $16000 at other times. Shoe Rental – $4000. Chalkbag rental – $2500.

– Weya
A smaller bouldering gym, with lots of challenging routes as well as fitness equipment.
Cost: $11000.

5. Shop til you drop at a popular mall. 

Centro Andino
A big upscale shopping centre located in the popular Zona T, you will find all of the big names here. It’s also surrounded by lots of restaurants and bars for when you’re finished shopping, and has a movie theatre.

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– Unicentro
A good mix of higher-end shops with more affordable ones. It also has a bowling alley and a movie theatre.

– Titán Plaza
A large, beautiful mall with a wide variety of stores, and a good food court. It also has a movie theatre – noticing a trend?

6. Visit a local’s favourite chain restaurant.

Crepes & Waffles
Literally everything here is delicious, and there’s such a big variety that you’re bound to find something you’ll love for all meals of the day. Big portions and reasonable prices – you really can’t go wrong.

El Corral
Yummy hamburgers, sandwiches, fries, milkshakes etc.; this restaurant will definitely calm your fast-food craving.

Wok
Craving Thai? Sushi? Chinese? This restaurant has amazing dishes from all around Asia, and all at a good price.

Bogota Beer Company
Feel like a beer? Or two? Or three? This is the place to try out Bogota’s most popular brews all while enjoying a relaxed atmosphere. The food is also delicious! Prices are on the higher range, but it’s definitely worth a visit.

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7. Go to the theatre. 

Theatre is huge in Bogotá, from bigger productions to many small performances all around the city. You can find out what’s on these days here for the biggest shows, and also here for a list that includes smaller productions.

You can also check out the Teatro Colona beautiful theatre built at the end of the 19th century. They offer tours every Wednesday and Thursday at 3p.m, and house many performances of ballet, opera, theatre, music, circus, and more.

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8. Challenge yourself at an escape room.

Room Of Riddles 

An international chain of escape rooms from Amsterdam that has recently arrived in Bogota. You and up to four friends have 60 minutes to solve the riddle! Located in the popular Zona Rosa area.
Cost: 2 people – $74000. 3 people – $84000. 4 people – $88000. 5 people – $90000.

– Escape Room Colombia
There are two games possible, for you and up to five friends.
Cost: 2 people – $90000. 3 people – $100000. 4 people – $110000. 5 people – $120000. 6 people – $130000.

– Trap Bogota 
There are currently three games possible, for you and up to four friends.
Cost (per person): 2 people – $35000. 3 people – $27000. 4 people – $23000. 5 people – $20000.

9. Watch a movie.

Sometimes the most normal activities are the best plans, especially when it’s raining out. There are a number of cinemas around town, particularly in shopping malls.

– At Cine Colombia locations, you can see various theatre, opera, ballet, and art shows broadcast from London’s National Theatre, Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet, The Metropolitan Opera, and various art galleries around the world. You can find out what’s on now and what’s coming up on their website.

– At Cinemania, in the Calle 93 area, you can also watch a number of independent and international films if you want to avoid the normal Hollywood productions.

10. Visit the Paloquemao Market.

This big and busy public market is mostly covered so you can hide from the rain. You can try typical Colombian dishes, explore the fresh produce aisles to taste some tropical fruits, buy some souvenirs at the craft stands, or buy a bouquet of fresh flowers for a loved one – all at great prices. Note that Tuesdays and Saturdays are the best day to see the outdoor flower market.

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So there you have it. There are lots of things to do in the city, so stop staring out the window wishing it would stop raining and get out there and enjoy!

Do you have any places you like to go when it’s raining in Bogotá that aren’t mentioned here? Leave a comment! I’d love to hear what you think.

Cheers,

L

The Joy of the Journey

20161121_162017A few days ago, I started my day in a park close to where I’m living. I brought along a notebook and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude, planning to pass some time writing and reading under a tree while the sun was shining hot and bright. I had no other plans for the day – but that changed pretty quickly.

I had texted my Tio Carlos asking him to call me so I could clarify something about my phone plan. He called while I sat there reading, answered my question, then said adios. He called back a few minutes later: he seemed surprised I was spending the day alone, so invited me to lunch at his place. I said sure, and he picked me up about an hour later.

After a yummy lunch and a quick siesta, we hopped back into his car as he had the idea to take me to visit a nearby ‘pueblo’ – a small town or village. He wasn’t sure where exactly, so we drove without a clear destination. We continued to pass possible candidates, but he dismissed them as uninteresting so on and on we went.

We ended up driving about an hour and half away to a town called La Vega – far enough to have a noticeably warmer climate than Bogotá. To get there, we had to pass through an area called “Bosque de Niebla” – Forest of Fog. It involves driving up to a point densely covered in clouds and fog. Upon descending, as the clouds clear again, the Cordillera Central – the central mountain range of the country, becomes visible in all its splendour, seemingly going on forever. Of course there was also a rainbow to make everything seem more magical.

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After many “oohs and ahs” on my part, we got to La Vega. We didn’t stay long, however. In fact, we just drove around a bit in the town, got out at a store to buy some goodies, then headed right on back the way we came. Driving back into Bogotá (and into all its rush hour traffic glory), there was even a really pretty sunset – the perfect end to our last-minute roadtrip.

It was a mini-adventure that truly matches the phrase “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” Between chatting and admiring the beautiful views, it was one of those moments that are so special for their simplicity: just a man and his niece driving through the countryside.

Experiences like these, so simple and spontaneous, make me reflect on the importance of taking time to do more things like these, to just go for a drive, to just spend time chatting. It is so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of work and school and commitments in the fast-paced life that so many of us live these days. I’m definitely guilty myself of overloading my schedule, having to make appointments just to spend time with my family and friends. But it doesn’t have to be so complicated – just drop by to say hi, just give someone a call; it doesn’t take long. We’re all on this journey together, let’s not rush through it; let’s take some time to get to know each other better. Let’s take some time out of our busy schedules to show kindness, love, compassion. Let’s take some time off to just live. I know I’ll be trying harder to do so from now on. 🙂

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Thanks for reading!

L

A Look at Bogotá Street Art

For the few weeks I’ve been in Bogotá, I’ve noticed a lot of beautiful street art pieces scattered throughout the city. The bus I take most often goes through a tunnel that is covered in art. There’s so much that every time I pass through, I notice something I hadn’t noticed before. Intrigued by this subculture, and upon hearing from two cousins about a tour that explored the graffiti in the city, yesterday I decided to go for it and learn more. I was blown away by how interesting it was! The tour guide, Carlos, told us about the artists, described various artistic techniques, and explained the meanings behind some of the works.

Since I studied literature, I’m a huge fan of “searching for meanings” so it was really cool to do an urban art tour like this. I didn’t know much (cough, anything) about the topic but through the metaphoric imagery, I felt like I could still connect to a lot of the works nevertheless. Of course, a lot of art and literature are connected in the way they both use creative mediums to critique or subvert various social realities and ideologies. I am fascinated by this sociopolitical function of art, and where better to explore it than in Colombia, a nation with such a turbulent history.

Here are some of the more political pieces we saw, along with some explanations:
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This is a piece by DJLu, a professor and trained architect and artist who elusively never shows his face. To explain some elements of this mural:

Pineapple Grenades: Pineapples are very aggressive to the soil they are planted in; nothing else can be planted afterwards. Similarly, war is aggressive to the land —   destructive, with incredible repercussions for the future.

Insect Guns: Insects carry diseases far and wide, just as war does.

People – In addition to images of war and violence, DJLu is known for his representation of people who live in the streets. The man on the far right is a man known as “Calidoso,” a well-liked street dweller who was burned alive in the street by an enemy in 2014.

Other than that, he may be alluding to victims of the False Positives Scandal – a scandal in which military figures were to be given financial rewards for the murder of guerrilla members, so they lured many poor and mentally challenged people out of the city with the promise of work. They then staged victims’ deaths as if they really had been guerrilla members to increase their body counts and make more money. According to a UN report, there were more than 3000 victims between 2002-2008, until the scandal was afterwards discovered and investigated.

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This is another piece by DJLu. “Todos Contamos” means “We all count,” and he is referring to voting and abstention. Colombia normally has an incredibly high rate of abstention, and it was made evident in the recent October referendum for peace, where 62% of citizens did not vote. The figures DjLu has painted here represent those who are practically unable to vote since they live too far off the grid, needing to travel up to 15 hours to get to a polling station.

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This is another part of the first wall shown, but painted by Lesivo. The message “La explotacion arruina la vida” means that “Exploitation ruins lives,” and the images all represent this idea:

Exploitation of labour: Coffee farmers undergo very difficult life and work conditions, including cramped space, inadequate access to toilets and hygiene, hard work with few breaks, and little pay. Coffee then sells for high prices, but farmers see a very small fraction.

Exploitation of land: Government and guerrilla groups moved people off their land to use it for their own purposes, displacing them largely towards the cities, causing a large-scale refugee crisis.

You also may notice Ronald Reagan with horns stenciled lightly in the middle. He was president during the start of USA’s war on drugs. The plan involved fumigating large stretches of lands with glysophate to kill cocaine plants. It killed the plants, but also innocent crops, and due to its carcinogenic properties, innocent citizens.

Exploitation of mineral resources: Illegal mining of gold causes the production of a mercury-cyanide compound, which is then disposed of in streams, contaminating drinking water.

These three pieces are just a taste of the social and political injustices that have faced many, but primarily the rural poor in Colombia in recent decades. By representing such problems through art, citizens and visitors alike can begin to question and critique these realities, encouraging positive social change.

Not all the graffiti art in Bogotá is politically driven however. A lot of it is simply aesthetically pleasing – not promoting any particular message, but just beautifying the streets and maybe telling a story. Here are some of my favourites:

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A shop in a narrow pedestrian-only street in the historic and colourful area known as the Candelaria.

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Not all art is painted – there are fun sculptures like this all around the Candelaria.

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Each cat in this restaurant’s mural was painted by a unique artist, and interestingly the street sign and post have been incorporated into the art! 


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A piece by Vera, a prominent Ecuadorian female street artist.

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A natural scene depicting Bogota before the conquistadors arrived, when it was primarily the land of the Muisca people. The artist used concrete to make the art 3D.

I left the tour much more informed about the history of street art and its development here in Bogotá, as well as on social and political issues in Colombia that have inspired a lot of the art. It also made me reflect on my trip two years ago to Berlin, where I walked along the Wall and looked at countless pieces by countless artists critiquing the division of the city, and rejoicing in the wall’s fall. It makes me think about how art can speak to people from all walks of life, and unite them in a common goal against injustice.

My final impression is one of hope. After all, there are tours happening to show the art. These artists are permitted to paint these (as long as they ask), so clearly something is changing. I am optimistic about the future of the country. One day, just as people today walk along the Berlin Wall and see a Germany that has recovered from a harsh past, I hope people will walk along Bogotá streets and look at these artworks as pre-Peace relics.

Just as walls can be painted and repainted over and over with new images by new artists, I believe that one day Colombia will be able to paint over its painful past, in its place leaving something beautiful and new.

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If you are interested in doing a Bogotá Street Art Tour, you can find more info here: http://bogotagraffiti.com/ 

Feel like staying local? Check to see if your city has its own graffiti tour – they’re increasing in popularity all around the world!

Thanks for reading!
“Hasta que nos encontremos de nuevo” / “Until we meet again”

L

Whoa – a month already!

It’s been over a month now that I’ve been in Colombia, and I can’t shake the feeling that it’s been way longer. When I first got here, I came with my mom. Five of her six siblings live here, along with the majority of my cousins, so there were lots of visits, outings, meals, and parties planned. The three weeks she stayed were therefore a whirlwind of all these. We stayed with my Tia Helena and Tio Jorge at their place near Bucaramanga (a nice and hot part of the country) for two weeks before driving to Bogotá to stay for one week. It’s a really, really beautiful seven-hour drive that goes through (and by through I mean up, up, up and down, down, down) Chicamocha Canyon, and then through lots of little towns and varying landscapes. Here are some photos from the journey:

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Driving up in the clouds. 

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A quick stop on the side of the road to admire the beauty.

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A stop at a famous restaurant, “Caseteja,” in Socorro, for some “postre de natas” – a cream dessert.
I made sure to make use of their hammock! 

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My mom walking in the old streets of the town Socorro. 

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My Tio Carlos sipping his coffee and taking a break from driving at another “Caseteja” stop.

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Beautiful country landscapes dominate the last stretch of the trip. Rolling green hills and grazing cows are everywhere.

After one final week in Bogotá, saying bye to my mom at the airport was really hard. I’ve been away from home before but never for over a year so it’s something new for both of us. Plus, she’s a crier…I’m a crier…. things inevitably got emotional. But I’m excited to get to know the country she grew up in, and I know she’s excited about it too.

Since then I’ve been staying with my cousin, Elena, and my Tia Consuelo at their place in Bogotá, and it’s been really fun. I’ve been able to explore the city, to try and figure out the (highly illogical) metro system “Transmilenio”, to hang out with lots of family, to get a taste of Bogotá nightlife, to work on my writing and my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course, as well as to continue practicing my Spanish.

But back to that feeling of I’ve been here forever: I’m having trouble recalling what my room back home looks like. My job with the city seems like a distant memory. Speaking English out loud is feeling weirder and weirder. Paying more than the equivalent of $1 for a coffee is starting to seem extravagant! But with this feeling have come some definite positive personal changes. For example, two days ago I was reading an article online, and I didn’t realize it was written in Spanish until the very end. Wow! That felt really good.

Additionally, a lot of my worries and questions about the safety of wandering the city have been alleviated. Colombia has a bad rep as a result of its incredibly rough past (which has been further exaggerated by movies and TV shows like Narcos), but it is definitely a country on the mend. It’s evident in Bogotá streets. Thieves are not lurking at every corner. There are no gun fights happening in the middle of the night. Instead, there are just ordinary people doing ordinary jobs, trying to make an honest living just like everyone else; there are wide, clean streets; there are big, modern buildings; there are delicious restaurants with food from all around the globe. Not to mention that there are marches and events happening with hopeful citizens demanding peace. It’ll happen soon!  It’s a bustling, exciting, at times chaotic city but all in all, I have never felt like I was in danger, and taking regular precautions, I feel comfortable exploring solo.

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An encampment for peace in the Plaza de Bolívar – the main square of the city.

This increased sense of security, my improving fluency with the Spanish language, and the comfort of having lots of family around have all led to this feeling of having been here way longer than reality dictates. And actually, that makes me really happy – it feels good to be so comfortable in a city that is in my genealogical roots.

In a way, it feels like I’ve come home.

That being said, I do miss a good Tim Hortons Boston Cream donut every now and then, but hey, you can’t have it all!

Until next post.

L