Getting my bearings in Bogota

Whenever I mention things about Colombia that I like better than Peru, Oscar gets very defensive as if I am saying I like the neighbor’s daughter better than I like Sofia. He has an attachment to Peru that I find endearing.  (Disclaimer from the American with a Masters degree in International Relations: I realize that even though Colombia and Peru are both in South America they are two totally different countries and perhaps should not be compared. But, having lived in Peru a year ago it’s hard not to.)

So, what do I like better about Colombia? Maybe it’s a Bogota versus Lima battle?  Despite being perched on the Pacific, Bogota is a lot prettier than Lima. The wide avenues are lined with trees and depending on which neighborhood you are in, the buildings are a mix of styles ranging from the squat, colorful colonial buildings, to modern apartments to tudor style homes. There are lots of interesting shops and restaurants and museums. The city sits on the edge of the Andes mountains and is the second highest capital city in the world at an altitude of about 9000 feet.  The views of the mountains from around the city are gorgeous. So far, I have found Bogota to be a sophistcated, busy, friendly city and one that is much easier to navigate than Lima. The infrastructure and attitude while absolutely South American are also more North American then Lima. (And using Uber makes it so easy and cheap to get around.)

It’s also a lot easier because Sean already knows so many people who live here and they have been willing to hang out with us and help us navigate the city. We had a fun and excellent dinner at El Bandido Bistro with Sean’s friend Mario. Sean has talked about this place a lot and was eager for us to try it. The food, which we shared over several courses was delicious, especially the steak. Mario lived in the U.S. for several years so we had lots to talk about. We had dinner on the earlier side and by the time we left, the party was in full swing, complete with a band and packed bar.

The kids and I spent the next morning at the Nacional Museum (Museo Nacional de Colombia) with Zuly and her adorable daughter, Isabella. Sean works with Zuly’s husband, Eli who is American. Their family has lived all around the world and are now back in Bogota which is where Zuly grew up. After our dinner with them the other night, I asked Zuly for a list of things to do with the kids. She recommended the museum and kindly offered to come with us.  

The museum which is housed in an old prison, is one of the oldest in Bogota and was the perfect place to begin our exploration of the city.  The exhibits contain a chronological display of Colombian history through objects and artwork. The Museum is huge. We saw everything from emeralds to Spanish crosses to Botero paintings to archeological finds. The architecture of the building is really interesting. It is laid out like a Greek cross and you are definitely reminded that the building you are in used to be a prison. The walls are thick and the windows are small. The top floor has artwork arranged in the tiny former cells.


(Museo Nacional.)

 After the museum we went across the street for lunch at Tabula. The food was excellent and the lamb bolognese lasagna that Oscar insisted we order was delicious. Sofia had a pasta made from tomato purée with a roasted tomato sauce and half the largest avocado we had ever seen. We had a such a fun time at lunch. Zuly, the kids and I chatted the entire time about everything and nothing. 

After lunch we got caught in some bad traffic which is quite common on a Friday afternoon in Bogota. I was already running late for a doctor’s appointment (I’m fine) so Zuly jumped out with the kids and took them to the apartment to meet Sean while I stayed in the taxi. Alone that afternoon, I felt that familiar feeling of panic that comes from being abroad in a place where you barely speak the language. Although the doctor spoke English, his receptionist did not and I struggled to understand some of her questions. I couldn’t find a pharmacy.  I got lost on the way back to the apartment, my phone died and it started to rain. As I walked in circles, too intimidated to ask for directions (and not sure I would understand them anyway) I berated myself for not doing a better job of keeping up with my Spanish. (This is beginning to sound like a country music song.) Even though my initial impression of Bogota was good, walking around in the rain, I felt angry that I didn’t know where to buy a hair dryer and that the apartment, though very nice didn’t contain all the things that I needed. I missed home. (My home that often times feels very boring.) I had no idea what the kids and I would do while Sean was at work. (Was I even going to have a job when I got back from this prolonged vacation?) Why were we here?! Clearly, I was (as they say) having a moment. 

I finally found my bearings after finding some familiar landmarks (I’m good that way) and walked back to the apartment in the early Equatorial dusk. (It gets dark here at 6 p.m. nearly all year round.) Sean and the kids greeted me at the door, hair still wet after an afternoon swim at an indoor pool. We cooked dinner and sat around the dining room table long after we had finished eating and talked about what we had done that day and what our plans were for the weekend. And my moment passed. Bring it on, Bogota. I’m ready!

(I would like to hang this Botero painting in my dining room.)


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