Update on day one of this adventure: I arrived in Bogotá last night after about a seven hour journey which was one of my more challenging ones, but nothing unmanageable.
I had read about the requirement to show proof of onward travel plans, but in the midst of preparing for the trip I lost track. When I arrived to check in at Copa Airlines, I found out it was not a mere suggestion. They let me through security but would not let me board the plane unless I could show that I have plans to leave Colombia. A quick forum search from the boarding area yielded the perfect solution: I bought a ticket on aircanada.com from Bogotá to Toronto. Air Canada has a 24 hour cancellation policy whereby you get a full refund, you must book from their website. I took my open laptop to the desk and showed the agent my ticket confirmation and was cleared to go. As soon as I landed and connected to wifi, I simply cancelled the ticket. It turns out, waiting until the last minute was the best option because anything bought more than 24 hours ahead would have been difficult to cancel. Note: always read the fine print! I found a $350 refundable ticket on Expedia.ca, but they would have withheld a $200 administrative fee for cancelling it. This wasn’t obvious anywhere in the purchasing process, I had to read the T&C and even then it was confusing wording.
My flight from Toronto to Panama City was excruciating. I was seated next to a very large man who took up about 1/3 of my seat. I felt for him, and didn’t want to make him feel worse than he obviously did. I didn’t want to make a big deal about moving but wish I would have asked the flight attendant for a new seat at the beginning. Instead, I was squeezed against the window for five hours. But I started my book, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez and watched the movie Dear Eleanor which I would give a 7/10 (minus three for Jessica Alba’s terrible acting).
My bag was the very last one off the plane and I had doubts it would arrive, but I was surprisingly calm about this. I had all of my essentials with me and would make do until it arrived. I think I squealed when it came out. I found a cash machine and took out enough to cover the taxi and the hostel, figuring I would find a better rate away from the airport. The man in charge of the taxi line quoted me COP 58,000 to get to my destination. I said in very broken Spanish, “No, I will pay COP 25,000.” My hostel had emailed me when I booked the reservation and said not to pay more than 30,000. He sent me to a different line where I got a cab who said he would take me for COP 28,000. I said no again, and he settled for 25,000. The difference of 3,000 is only C $1.35 but that wasn’t the point. I felt extremely proud of myself, and ended up tipping him 5,000.
I dropped my things at the hostel and wandered out for dinner. I’m staying in a busy neighbourhood but was feeling disoriented, it was dark and I didn’t want to pull out my map and look confused. I have a horrible sense of direction so I just counted intersections and only turned right. I sat down at the first quiet place, Estrella Polar, a Russian restaurant. The restaurant was empty so I was skeptical of the food, but it was early and I was tired. It turned out great, I had a vegetable crepe and a couple of local beers and collected my thoughts. I made my way back to the hostel and posted a blog entry, then tried to sneak quietly into bed.
So far today, I have been reflecting and writing. Here is where things stand: I am cold, I am old, I am vulnerable, and I am not sure what to do with myself right now.
I am cold
Bogotá is 16*C and rainy today — my favourite weather! It feels a little colder than 16*C would feel in London or Toronto, the elevation is over 8600 feet which is the highest I’ve ever been. So far, no altitude sickness but I’m taking it easy on the beers and drinking extra water. I could have done a better job of preparing, I mostly packed for hot weather. I have 3 long sleeved shirts and a pair of pants though, plus a light rain jacket and a thin scarf. I did look this up, but I was researching from Toronto where it was over 30*C and felt disgusting. I was so excited to not be sweating that I didn’t think about the fact that I might be shivering. I’m going to venture out this afternoon and enjoy the crisp weather.
I am old
I’m not actually old. I’m only 32. But my body is much older than it was ten years ago when I backpacked in Europe. I am staying at Hostal Sue Candelaria which is about COP36,000 (C$16.20) per night, on the top bunk of a 4 bed dorm. I woke up this morning snap-crackle-popping and having to stifle a groan as I climbed down the ladder.
Over the last several years my travel standards have changed a lot – it has been years since I climbed into a hostel bed. I almost always stay at nice hotels or AirBnB. But that is not the experience I am looking for here, and I could not afford more than a month on that budget. I think I will adjust soon, I need to get stronger and walking and carrying my pack will help.
At breakfast, I listened to the other guests chattering and realized that most of them are in their early twenties, traveling on gap years. I said hello to the guy in my dorm, after a bit of small talk he confided he hasn’t travelled much and then spent about ten minutes asking me for advice on things like SIM cards and public transportation. It gave me quite a confidence boost, realizing I am actually an experienced traveler. I don’t know about SIM cards or public transportation here, by the way, but he was impressed anyway.
I am vulnerable
Many people ask me how I travel alone without getting scared, and I tell them it is easy: it is just like going about your day in another place, people are generally kind and willing to help, and the worst case scenario is rarely all that bad. Last night, I was uneasy, and I wished I was traveling with someone else.
I speak almost no Spanish, just basic words and sentences structure that I learned in high school. I have been practising with the Duolingo App and trying to listen to background conversations I would normally tune out (e.g. safety announcements, radio/tv, other people). I have Google Translate downloaded for offline use, and I have a pocket Spanish dictionary. I want to learn, and plan to find a lesson while I’m here.
In Bogotá (so far), many people speak a little bit of English, but many do not. So far I have gotten by with a lot of repeated words, hand gestures, and carrying a little notebook to write things down. The people are incredibly patient and even if they do speak English, they are happy to help me struggle through Spanish so I can learn. This is all well and good when dealing with hostel staff and restaurants, but it simply won’t do if I find myself in a difficult situation.
I have been getting my bearings and have not been very outgoing so far, but I am going to try to join a tour later so I can make some friends.
I am not sure what to do with myself right now
I woke up this morning around 8am, had a quick shower, and came out for some free breakfast in the common area. Others started to wake up around 9am and I listened to them make plans for the day. Two Kiwi girls decided to get their noses pierced, an English guy signed up for the graffiti tour, and an American hurried his friend to get dressed so they could get out and walk around.
I started to feel rushed, like I needed to get out and about to see the city. I am used to spending 2-3 days in a place, so I feel guilty for wasting a morning. This morning I realized I have no timetable! I can stay here in Bogotá for as long as I wish. I have three nights in this hostel but can easily extend it or move…I could stay here for three months if I want to! I will see the city in my own time and at my own pace, and when I get tired of it I will move on!
It is now after noon and I have not left the common area. But I am going to go out and walk around, I am hungry and eager to see the city in the daylight. Plus, I have to get away from the two American boys helping each other design their Tinder profiles. It has been amusing but I just can’t.
How about this selfie? Do you think my hair looks better than the other one? Dude, when we go out today I want to borrow your sunglasses and have you take it so I don’t just have selfies. You can tell I used a selfie stick in this one, I’m going to try to crop it. Dude, use a filter so you look more tan, you look pale. Should I use an elephant one? It’s a great photo but I think some girls might not like it. I can add the koala one too so it looks like I’m friends with animals, but I also don’t want to look like a douche.
I am cold, I am old, I am vulnerable, and I am not sure what to do with myself right now. I can’t think of anything better, and I wouldn’t change a thing about how I feel right now.