Friday, 9 April 2010

On the other hand...

As I said in my last post, it is not all shocking street tramping and miserable stories of violence and drugs.
Aligning myself with some friendly Gringos and Colombians I had a really good time during Semana Santa, which was last week. Usually, the festivos in Bogota make me a bit nervous. Normality is thrown to the wind and people just begin to act a bit strangely; super friendly or generous, elevated sense of humour and a feeling of unpredictability which just makes me nervous. People are bolder when approaching you and asking for money, among other things. Anyway, during the 5 days of religious rest, Bogota emptied as everyone headed for their fincas in the country.

I also headed for the country on several occasions.
Drive for about an hour and you find that the plateau of Bogota unfolds into sloping mountains, looping down into verdant forest or farmstead and significantly warmer climes. It was a Tuesday evening and I was halfway through the week and with no plans of letting up, as some lines of work don't pay much attention to religious holidays. I received a message from my Canadian friend, Ben, who said his friend had a car with three spaces, they were going to do some adventure sports in a place called Tobia the next day. He wasn't very clear on the details but, determining the possibility do jump off things and get wet, I called Celine and we jointly took advantage of our positions as unpaid volunteers and rearranged Wednesday so that we could go adventuring. So we set off pretty early the next day with Ben and Graham and headed for Tobia.
Compared to its surrounding countryside, Bogota is a pollution choked hole at best. The hills and mountains just outside it are beautiful and peaceful and it is easy to imagine how the reality-enhancing crops that ruin the country and its inhabitants are grown so abundantly, but it is also difficult to think of the violence and terror which prowls the countryside as a result. For once, where we were going didn't involve much danger, and we drove deep into a leafy valley and stopped by the side of a river. We were approached and asked which activity we would like to get involved in, and as the river was low we all decided on repelling, or abseiling down a waterfall and jumping into the pools at the bottom. We had to take a small train and hike for about half an hour to get to the base of the cascada. I hadn´t really realised we would be getting completely soaked so didn't bring a change of clothes. The rest of the day was spent in a slightly uncomfortable cocoon of soggy clothing. Obviously, abseiling down the waterfalls was completely worth it and although it proved to be safe, it was brilliant to be completely free of the safety restrictions which plague such activities in the UK. There were experienced guides, short explanations and then we just had a go :)
In the afternoon we opted for horse riding to take us up to the top of the mountain to see some of the views. It was that time of day when the sun relaxes its grip on the atmosphere and everything slumps into a balmy post-baked reverie. Including the horses, which were not used to the British/American bulk and struggled with the climb a bit. The summit revealed sharply undulating hills and greenery that stretched for miles. It´s not the dramatic scenery of the Peak District dotted with slate lakes reflecting an equally morose sky, but a wild, intense and thrumming landscape, as if a fully formed rainforest would have sprung out of the ground given the chance.
So that was one trip.

The second, two days later was a hike in Parque Chicaque. This is a national park way down south on the outskirts of Bogota. It is a leafy, mulchy, footricking, rainforest trek, and I had been a week earlier with Fabio, Caroline, Kaitlin and some other friends. I had almost died the week before. The trek itself isn't actually that long but the first half is a VERY steep descent for about two hours, which my knees never deal that well with, and all the time you are thinking of the return journey. All the way back up. Luckily there is a midway destination of a pretty waterfall which makes rainbows in the sun (the pot of gold myth is definitely a lie, I checked) and a restaurant. Hannah, Celine, Vanessa, Santiago and I all bought picnics and it wasn't nearly as stressful this time, despite getting lost for a while in the woods. Good exercise and bonding and views etc. But it did last about 7 hours, and then Celine and I had been invited to Fabio's birthday dinner that night. I thought it would just be a sit down meal thing, nothing too stressful. But we soon realised it involved a bus, an hour long trip to Chia and a lot of drinking and dancing. Fabio and Caroline had booked a bus to take us to Andres, the most famous Colombian restaurant, bar and club. It basically sells meat and it a novelty restaurant mixing the burlesque, gothic and circus decoration codes. It was a mash of colour and salsa, Colombia paraphernalia dripping from the ceilings and rough wooden furniture cluttering the floor. It was cool, but by 3 am and far too much salsa, I was falling asleep on whoever happened to be in the direct path of my nodding head. We didn't get back until 5 am. I had stopped drinking at about 12 so I didn't have much of a hangover, but I spent the next day at work (Fenix meetings) feeling sick with exhaustion. The altitude makes everything hurt more.

By Sunday, and after a very long sleep, we decided a trip to La Calera in the North of the city was a good way to spend Easter Day. When I say we visited La Calera, we actually stopped at a roadside shack and ordered a Fritanga, on Hannah´s suggestion. This consists of a metal plate the size and shape of a medium sized, circular table top, piled high with grilled meat, platano, corn and salsa. There were 5 of us, all teaching in one way or another, and we sat and whinged about our respective classes. Ha. Never thought I'd be doing that, but it was funny, especially as the other two girls taught classes of 30 4 year olds English, and one of them could barely speak Spanish herself... Suddenly a class of ten ex-prostitute teenagers didn't look so bad.

And that pretty much brings me to this week. Not much to report that I haven't already said except that I would like to record that the Refugio kids were brilliant this week. I even taught them how to tell the time, a lesson I found so boring it took me about 3 years to learn. Seriously. Now I´m sitting with Fabio in Horwath doing some translations and trying not to do too much damage. I was left as main translator in a continuous flow of emails between the audit partner of Horwath and a client. Finance speak in translation? My head hurts... But it's fun and I enjoy coming here.

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