The 25-Step Guide to Successfully Taking a Bus in Bogotá

  1. Walk to the intersection of the two largest streets near you. Hope that the bus you need will conveniently run along one of these streets.
  2. Every 15 seconds or so, turn your head from one direction to the other. You wouldn’t want to miss the bus!
  3. Decide you’re at least 60% sure the bus you need is green. Pay attention to all of the buses, but pay extra-close attention to the green ones.
  4. Squint frantically at the sign in the front window of each approaching bus, trying desperately to read as many of the neighborhoods as possible before it goes hurtling past you at pedestrian-killing speed. Attempt not to fall into the street while reading the aforementioned signs. Succeed at this, more or less.
  5. Get impatient after about ten minutes, decide to settle for a bus that passes even close to where you’re going.
  6. See a bus that has your destination in its sign. The bus looks especially rattletrap and scary. Let it pass.
  7. Take this previous bus as a positive sign that there must be other buses heading in that direction. Feel confident about your decision to wait for one that at least appears to have functioning brakes.
  8. Wait.
  9. Wait some more.
  10. Start to wish you’d just gone with the first damn bus when it came by. It couldn’t be that bad.
  11. Wonder whether the buses have all been rerouted today for some inexplicable reason. This is a perfectly reasonable hypothesis, since it happens all the time.
  12. See the bus, finally! It says the neighborhood you need! It is also red. Try to figure out why you were so certain it was green.
  13. Hail the bus, which screeches to a stop about 20 feet in front of you. Scamper to it and swing yourself onto the stairs. Brace yourself for the bus to lurch back into traffic as soon as your second foot leaves the ground. Try not to fall back out the open door.
  14. Catch the strap of your bag as you push through the turnstile. Piss off the woman standing on the stairs behind you as you try to wriggle it free. Hope she doesn’t fall back out the open door.
  15. Give your fare to the small child sitting in the front seat, on the other side of the glass partition. She is probably the driver’s daughter. She is probably about eight years old. She should definitely be in school right now.
  16. Miraculously find a seat next to the aisle. Proceed to get smacked in the shoulder or face by the bags or arms or bodies of every single person who passes by for the rest of the ride. Wonder why spatial awareness is so difficult for everyone.
  17. Get stuck in a horrible traffic jam about ten blocks from where you boarded the bus. Fidget anxiously in your seat as it takes half an hour to go four more blocks. Hope your iPod doesn’t die.
  18. Check your phone for any scolding text messages. Reflect on the fact that your friends are probably going to stop hanging out with you at some point because of how goddamn long it takes you to get everywhere. Accept that you can only blame your chronic lateness on the transportation for so long before people expect you to start learning from your mistakes.
  19. Conclude that you have yet to learn from your mistakes. Try not to think about that Einstein quote about repetition and insanity.
  20. Breathe a sigh of relief as your bus finally passes through the green light to the sweet, sweet freedom of the open road.
  21. Resist the urge to strangle something when it becomes clear that the open road freedom only lasts for three blocks before it turns back into a tangled, cacophonous catastrophe devoid of any recognizable road rules or human decency all over again.
  22. For the next ten minutes, devote yourself to gnawing on your thumbnail as your bus slowly crawls toward an intersection with a major, TransMilenio-containing road.
  23. Elbow your way past the rappers or guitar players or ladies selling candy or whoever is currently entertaining/asking the passengers for money and leap off the bus as soon as it crosses the road.
  24. Take the TransMilenio instead.
  25. Arrive forty minutes after you said you would. Consider this to be a fairly acceptable time frame and, in fact, a minor victory.

The final countdown

We invented tea parties. The rest of y'all are just copycats.

I KNOW, BOSTON. I don't understand why anyone would want to leave you, either.

Okay, so this is it. At 9 a.m. tomorrow, I’m on a flight to JFK, then it’s off to Bogotá that afternoon. My brain is not so much wrapped around this whole ditching-the-country-for-a-year business, although saying goodbye to what feels like everyone I know over the last week or so has impressed upon me that something, at least, is happening.

A brief logistical note, for all of my fans: We’re spending most of January in orientation/training, in a town called Cota, which is here, just outside Bogotá. We do not have consistent (or possibly any? The details of this are slightly unclear) internet access while we’re there. Even if we did, we’re apparently getting our brains stuffed full of all kinds of information about how to teach English and what the hell the pluperfect tense is and occasionally, how not to behave in a way that will reflect poorly on the US, because we’re representatives of the country etc. Point being, I will probably not be updating this blog much, if at all, during the month of January. Do not assume this means I’ve already been kidnapped. It doesn’t. I’m just busy, learning how to try to do my job. If it’s possible to update it, I’ll do my best, but don’t expect much action around there here parts between now and the end of the month.

On that note, however, I am pleased to offer a bit of last-minute advice to anyone else considering international travel sometime in the near future. I present to you…

An Expert’s Guide To: The Mature Way to Flee the Country

Waiting for your friend in Panera, unsure whether or not she’s already arrived, you wander slowly downstairs, just in case she’s already at a table. Upon clearing the blocked view of the ceiling, you spy, sitting at a table with some random blonde girl, your Terrible Ex-Sort-of-Boyfriend from freshman year of college. How to deal with this situation like an adult:

1. Proceed to almost fall down the stairs in shock, because what in the name of Rob Gronkowski is he doing here? You work on this block! This is YOUR turf. There is an invisible “Step Off It” sign hanging all around the greater Camberville area, and it is to be respected.

2. Whirl gracefully around, creating a blinding flash of swirling color in your bright green peacoat. CIA experts and decades of research can confirm that this is the most effective way to stay incognito.

3. Scamper back up the stairs as quickly as physically possible without sounding like a herd of stampeding, Lion King-esque wildebeest.

4. Feel incredibly proud of yourself for how well you confront surprising and mildly horrifying situations. Feel totally prepared for anything South America is going to throw at you.

I’m so ready for this. Bring it, Colombia 2012!