So, it’s the beginning/end of yet another week here in
sunny hailing Bogotá. Oh yeah. There are massive, intense hailstones smashing against my windows at this very moment. It’s only vaguely terrifying, really.
Hailstorms aside, though, it’s been a pretty good week. I still absolutely love the kids and (almost all) the teachers at my school. I feel like such a nerd, because I wake up in the morning and I’m actually excited to go to school, just because it’s so much fun being with all the kids. I don’t even mind waking up before 6 a.m. to do this, which is just as shocking to me as it undoubtedly is to those of you who have known me for more than a week. The thing about getting up early here, though, is that it’s not nearly as hard as it is at home. Since it’s so close to the equator, Bogotá gets about 12 hours of daylight pretty much year-round, which is glorious. It also means that the sun rises by 6 every day, so I get to walk to school in sunlight, rather than in horrible cold darkness, as it would be this time of year at home. So a point to Bogotá, there.
Which leads us to the chicken-or-egg issue of how early everything starts here. I don’t know whether it’s a result of the lovely constant daylight schedule or that it just happens to be convenient that the sidewalks are visible when everyone’s walking to work, but people get up outrageously early. The public transportation systems start running before 5 a.m., and they’re PACKED by 6:30. Like I said, my school starts at 7, but most teachers are there by 6:30 — this retroactively gives high-school me nightmares. And not only do people have to get up early just to get to work, but they need to give themselves extra time to get ready, because most Bogotanos don’t leave their houses unless they look perfect. One of the other volunteers lives with a woman who’s a cosmetologist, and she gets up at like 3 a.m. to go to women’s houses to get them ready for work. That’s right, ladies. Here in Bogotá, you’re supposed to get a blowout and your makeup done before you even head to the office. Guess I’m never going to fit in here.
Disregarding the whole it’s-a-victory-for-me-even-to-brush-my-hair-in-the-morning issue, I’m doing a slightly better job of not looking like a lost gringa at all times. I’ve started figuring out how to get around using the busetas, which is nothing short of a miracle. Busetas (small buses, barely bigger than a van) are a great way to get around the city, except that you absolutely have to know where you’re going, since they don’t have specific stops. Just flag one down, hop on, and hope it’s going where you need to go! Additionally, over the last week, I’ve been asked several times if I’m some kind of foreigner — none of which have been American. So that’s exciting! I don’t have the worst accent ever! Go me! Now if I can just start remembering to say “tranquila” when people say “excuse me” or “sorry,” I’ll be well on my way to sounding like a real Colombiana. Or something.
This weekend I probably looked significantly more like a tourist than anything else, but I’m okay with it, since all of my adventures were so much fun. Saturday, I headed to the Botanical Gardens, which are nestled near the massive Parque Simon Bolivar, in sort of the center-west of the city.
The Parque is slightly larger than Central Park, and it takes what seems like half an hour to drive around it. Rachel and I accidentally ended up on the opposite side of the park from the gardens, and were told by a somewhat amused vendor that it would take us at least an hour to walk there. Whoops. To the taxis!
The gardens themselves are small but gorgeous — a tranquil little slice of the woods in the middle of the city. It’s amazing how quiet it is inside the gates — it’s almost possible to forget that you’re surrounded by cars, trucks belching diesel fuel and almost 8 million other people. We wandered through the Amazon greenhouses, the rose gardens and a few other exhibits before taking an-almost nap on the grass until we were kicked out by the staff (to be fair, we did stay more than half an hour after the official closing time).
This morning, Kate, Tasha and I investigated the craft market at Usaquén, which used to be a little mountain village before it was swallowed by the ever-expanding urban amoeba of Bogotá. It still feels very separate from the city as a whole, though — little colonial houses, narrow streets, vendors selling mazorca(corn on the cob with salt and butter) on almost every corner. They have a well-known artisans’ market every Sunday, which attracts a mix of Bogotanos and tourists — as evidenced from the vendors who began speaking to us in English when they spotted Kate and Tasha’s blonde hair. The crafts run the gamut from beautiful paintings to tiny finger puppets, from overpriced to surprisingly affordable. Naturally, we spent most of our time looking at handmade notebooks and earrings. Surprise. Maybe someday I’ll feel like buying other things.
Still, it worked out pretty well for me — I got a beautiful handmade notebook, a (very cheap) bag in the colors of the Colombian flag so I’ll fit in a little more (seriously, patriotism via bags is a very real thing here), and a pair of origami earrings shaped like elephants. Elephants!
Perhaps the greatest victory of the day, though, was our discovery of an Argentine empanada place, tucked away in a narrow space on one of the side streets. While they do sell empanadas here in Bogotá, they’re typically filled only with carne or pollo, and fried to ensure there’s no chance for survival of whatever’s inside it. Which is to say, they don’t hold a candle to the delicious variety of Argentine empanadas. I was beside myself with happiness to find empanadas al horno (baked), in flavors from espinaca (spinach) to delicious cebolla con queso (onion with cheese).
Needless to say, I may be making a pilgrimage to Usaquén every Sunday until I’ve tried all the available empanada options. And then I’ll probably go back for seconds.