Monday, January 10, 2011

A Night Out in Bogotá

Hanging out at the hostel
One of the toughest things about being a tall gringo in Colombia is the fact that none of the buses are designed for passengers over six feet tall. Standing with my head awkwardly cocked to the side, I hunched to catch a peek of the passing Colombian countryside as the bus sped towards Bogotá (bo-go-tah). It was Saturday night and I was with a dozen other people from my program.

Our mission: to party it up, Bogotá style.

It took just over thirty minutes to take the country bus from Cota to the TransMilenio station on Bogotá’s outskirts. TransMilenio is Bogotá’s rapid mass transit system—picture BART or the D.C. Metro, except instead of subways and trains you have special lanes and buses. You wait at above-ground stations that feel like subway stations, buses arrive, doors open, you get in and off you go. It is surprisingly efficient and easy to use and is a much cheaper alternative to an expensive subway system.

On the bus to Bogota
 We took TransMilenio to downtown Bogotá and walked to the hostel we planned to stay at. I was excited to have my first hostel experience.

We arrived at the hostel just after dark and were greeted by the hostel manager who was an American from Colorado. We signed in and went upstairs to check out our rooms, which were large and filled with several bunk beds. The manager told us that they sold beer for $2,000 pesos (about 80 cents) a bottle and had computers with free internet—music to our internet-deprived ears. Needless-to-say, we would capitalize on both offerings without inhibition.

I was chilling in the foyer waiting for the manager to get me a beer, when I heard a high-pitched yap come from the living room. I took a curious peek into the other room and thought I was hallucinating when I saw a four month-old golden retriever puppy growling and slapping at a ball with its tiny paws. Instinctively, I entered the room and said hi to the little guy. His eyes lit up and he loped towards me. I got down on a knee and let him greet me by gnawing on my hands with his razor-sharp puppy teeth.

And people say there is no such thing as a hostel golden retriever...

Irish Pub in Bogota equals awesome
At any rate, Gerico would have been pissed.

We left the hostel to look for food in Zona Rosa, a posh neighborhood in downtown Bogotá (yes, Bogotá has posh neighborhoods). Much to my delight, we found a Mexican restaurant in Zona Rosa and I ate a quesadilla. Colombian Mexican food is slightly worse than Chipotle, but better than Taco Bell, so they get props for that.

That night we went to a few different bars/clubs. The first one played a lot of American hip hop complemented with seizure-inducing strobe lights. The bathroom was pretty cool because you peed on ice in marble-encased urinals. Next, we went to a salsa club and I was able to show off some of my salsa skills.

TransMilenio Station
On a side note: I am so glad I took salsa lessons before coming here. They paid off big time one night when we broke into a spontaneous salsa dance party at Santa Cruz after drinking too much aguardiente (don’t worry, it’s legal) and cerveza at a small tienda across the street.

Okay, side note over.

Overall, we had a great time in downtown Bogotá. The locals laughed at our pathetic gringo attempts at achieving rhythm, but we didn’t care. The area was so nice that it felt like it could have been in any American city. There was even a Hooters, a Burger King and a Harley Davidson store in the area.

Despite this affluence, one only need walk a few blocks south to enter an entirely different world. A world where people survive on only a few thousand pesos a day and the thought of patronizing upscale salsa clubs seems just as likely to occur as spontaneously developing the ability to breath underwater.

The most beautiful sight in Bogota
As I enjoyed Bogotá’s nightlife, I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty. I am not on vacation. I didn’t come here to party—I came here to help the people who can barely afford to feed their families, much less a night out in Zona Rosa.

Two weeks from now, I will.

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