Since my last post I have mastered the Transmilenio (public transport system) so have considerably less sore legs and arrive everywhere much more efficiently!  I have moved out of my boss’ house and into my new apartment!  On leaving I bought a few bits and pieces for the house and for Diego’s mum which she didn’t just refuse out of politeness, she flatly refused to take them!  She genuinely shook her head and wouldn’t take anything!  So I’ve subtly hidden things in drawers so she’ll have to accept them!  Since I last wrote, she has ventured out of her bed to decorate the Christmas tree…Christmas starts as soon as Halloween is over here and everyone gets very excited!

I’m living with a lovely girl called Lorena who is a Colombian artist, and her very shy cat Lola.  She also makes clothes and has a studio in the flat.  The apartment is in Teusaquillo which is a really central and very picturesque part of Bogota. 

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The apartment block is on Avenida Caracas which is a main road and very busy, but the flat is on the other side to the traffic so it’s surprisingly quiet and this is my view! 

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My room comes with an exercise bike (ha!) and an actual bike, so I hope to brave the ‘loco’ traffic of Bogota soon and get cycling again.  There are quite a few cycle routes in the city but I don’t get the impression that these are particularly respected…Lorenav assures me that cycling is the best way to get around the city though, and if it’s anything like London I completely agree!  However, like other cycling Bogotanos, I will have to buy a waterproof suit – the rain here is unbelievably heavy and transforms the roads into rivers.  The most recent storm forced me to seek refuge in one of Bogota’s many huge, ornate and totally over the top churches where the congregation were singing a hymn to the tune of ‘Hey Jude’…I kid you not!  On a Beatles note – I’m getting tired of Colombians mocking my accent – I keep reminding them that the BeaTles were from the UK and BeaDles is not the ‘cool’ way to pronounce it! 

Waging a war of British pronunciation is not particularly productive as Colombians tend to learn American English and obviously hear it in films and music.  However, whenever people say they find my accent hard to understand I make a point of saying I speak the Queen’s English, the real English, and they have obviously learnt the language wrong…!  I had an interview and an exam for an English teaching job yesterday and I’m through to the next stage which is preparing a lesson and taking another exam.  So hopefully soon I will be able to spread the British love and convince people that despite the spelling, it is actually ‘water’ not ‘WAAADER’!  My boss returned from the States today so hopefully I can get started at CPDH too which I’m really looking forward to.

As I said previously, Bogota is a huge city which is becoming more apparent the more I explore.  I recently met someone from an area in the far north of the city called Soacha which used to be a village outside of Bogota but has been engulfed by the ever-swelling metropolis!  With the huge amounts of displaced people fleeing their rural homes due to violence, cities are becoming hugely crowded and slums have developed around the outskirts.  The public transport system has improved immeasurably with the Transmilenio, shipping hundreds of thousands of Bogotanos in and out of the city center.  Yet cars still completely rule the city, striking fear into the hearts of tourists as they swerve across streets at high speeds seemingly predicted by other cars, however, as I have yet to see a crash (touch wood)…

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The mayor of Bogota currently is Gustavo Petro, a left wing, ex-militant from the guerrilla group the 19th April Movement, which as you can imagine is pretty controversial!  I’m still not entirely sure how he has come to be mayor as he is pretty unpopular with the right wing government and splits opinion in Bogota itself.  He takes quite a radical and authoritarian approach which some feel gets things done, while others remain to be convinced.  He is now attempting to bring Bogota into the ‘technological age’ by making sure the whole city has wifi (which I found out at a free Colombian rock concert Petro organised in one of the main plazas last week!).  It’s a funny phenomenon that next to such innovation lies such chaos but I think that is a common theme in the fast-growing cities of developing countries. 

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Guide books warn foreigners not to ask people about the sensitive subject of Colombian politics, however naturally I have so far ignored such advice and made it my mission to gauge public opinion and find out the true impacts the conflict has had on the people living in the country.  Despite the positivity and optimism that exudes most Colombians, few are confident that the peace talks in Havana will lead to any sort of palpable peace agreement or reconciliation process.  The positions of both the government and the FARC remain pretty steadfast and it is difficult to see how either will compromise.  Equally, the problem of the guerrilla controlled drug trade is not being approached and continues to be a huge source of tension contributing to so much violence and unnecessary deaths.  Perhaps drug policy deserves a separate blog, but just to mention quickly, I think policy that criminalises the production of a product at the supply end, in such a poor country that only responds to the demands of Europe and the USA, is ill-conceived.  As long as the demand for cocaine remains at the level it is, and indeed increases as it has done over the years, the illegal drug production and trafficking that funds the guerrilla movement will continue.  I’d say the ‘war on drugs’ focuses on the wrong people – we should be targeting drug users and thinking of innovative ways to cut the demand rather than spraying coca crops with chemicals that pollutes the earth and water supplies of innocent farmers who have no choice but to bow down to drug lords given the huge power they wield in Colombian society.  Anyway, perhaps you disagree!

On a lighter topic, I now have a long list of Colombia food to try that various people have added to which is always nice!  The food is mostly corn-based and fried so you don’t need much of it, but it’s pretty tasty.  Lots of soups, rice, chicken, beans and plantain.  However, since having been forced to try ‘Chicha’ (a horrible drink made from fermented corn…traditionally chewed corn, spat out and left for a few weeks before being drunk!) I am wary of these so called ‘delicacies’ and perhaps slightly more selective about what I consume! 

So all in all a very productive week (I can’t believe it’s only been that long!).  I’m hoping to head to Medellin this weekend to see a friend and to escape the cold and rain!  Oh and here’s my address for those who fancy sending cheddar cheese, baked beans or French fancies…in return for Colombian goods…! 

Apartamento 401, Avenieda Caracas, No. 31b-15, Bogota

 

 

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