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Archive for November, 2009

What did I just say?

by Alex on Nov.30, 2009, under Blog

Travis and I are in a cab racing north through Bogota. Not as we’re in a hurry particularly, mostly as that’s the driving norm here. I know everyone comes home from Italy or Thailand, Greece or India with tales of crazy driving and I’ve been party to my fair share but past experience does nothing to lessen my flinching as we weave through traffic leaving a generous 6 inches either side as we slice between buses. I try to tell myself that it’s a beautifully orchestrated ballet, each and every driver having practiced their moves time and again culminating in this masterpiece of oh so very close to lethal coordination. But it’s not. And yet I’ve seen few accidents. Maybe these guys are just very very good at what they do… I guess on the plus side I’d think it impossible that you could get pulled over, fined or prosecuted for dangerous driving as I’ve no idea what you could do that might be considered dangerous. You certainly can’t cut anybody up as nobody looks twice at some swerving in front of them, a foot between bumpers.

We’d been looking at houses in which to set up our hostel and I’d diverted a call to answer phone whilst in the middle of a visit. On leaving the house I called the number and, the person being unavailable, I’d left a message. In between winces and sharp inhalations of breath through clenched teeth I get a text, and check this: the message tells me that the person for whom I left a message is now available followed by a verbatim copy of the answer phone message that I’d left. Were I to have been in Japan I would maybe not have paid it much attention, but here? Massively impressed! What a dichotomy – technology and a service that I’d neither seen nor heard of back home and then there being at least one part of the city that gets piped water for just 3 hours a week.

I was also quite impressed with my Spanish, must be getting better if the voice recognition software could understand me…

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A ride in a cop van

by Alex on Nov.24, 2009, under Blog

So I’m sitting in the eaty room of the hostel at about 11 pm and a guy wanders past, having come in from the street, wearing no shirt. I made a witless comment that probably had an edge of derision to it and was promptly informed that he’d just been jumped by 3 guys and lost his shirt in the ensuing melee. He’d also lost a shoe. We’d been talking about robbings and I’m sure my getting robbed story came out.

So four of us went out for a stroll to look for the shoe, armed (for purposes of defence only) with batons and a hefty piece of wood. We saw nothing as we approached where the incident had occurred and a brief chat with two late-night street sweepers illicited nothing interesting. What was interesting was the response of the police when we got to the party venue where it had happened. Whereas they, as is the norm, took little interest when the mugging had been initially reported, they seemed to consider the search for a shoe a pretty high priority task. After a few minutes of chatting we were invited into the police van to go for a drive, to look for the shoe. It seemed very odd, it was genuine friendliness and helpfulness but then you’ve the whole dichotomy to deal with when you compare this reaction to the laissez-faireosity encountered on recounting getting jumped on and punched etc.

From the outside, I’d not realised that a Colombian police van has three key areas. The first is the driver’s bit, the second, as you might expect is the bit in the back where more police might sit. The third, which I’d not seen before, it the little locky up bit where they put people. I’ve no idea how long these guys had been there but they seemed quite settled and indifferent to our presence as they chatted away in animated drunkenness as I looked at them with interest through the glass and metal grille. I’m sure they had no idea nor care for our quest for the shoe…

After a few blocks, a further chat with the street sweepers and a call over the radio, it was obvious that we’d not find it but happily we were very close to where we were staying. The police seemed a little concerned when I got out of the van, thinking that I intended to walk on alone, not knowing that the other guys were coming too. I told him I’d be OK and showed him my baton. With a smile he told me in an almost avuncular manner that ‘when I hit them, hit them round the legs, not round the head’. ‘Of course’ I replied with a knowing grin, ‘you could kill someone hitting them round the head with a baton’. I can’t quite imagine a cop in the UK advising me as to where best hit someone with a metal bar…

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Back in Bogotá

by Alex on Nov.23, 2009, under Blog

How time flies…

After extending my trip back home I eventually spent about 10 weeks in the UK, including a visit to my bro and his girlfriend in Finland and a lovely trip to Paris. I was introduced to a quality Finnish cartoon comedy called Pasila. After a cursory search, I’ve not managed to find any full episodes with English subtitles but you can find some of them in parts here. It’s well worth a peep.

On arrival I wasn’t as happy to be back as I might have thought but that all changed with a simple walk to the supermarket. There is so much vibrancy here, I’m not sure how to describe it effectively but it’s as if you can see real life going on around you as compared to the UK and other ‘western’ countries whereby to me it feels as if you see a lot more of people just getting from A to B.

I walk past an old guy hauling a cart of stuff up a (very) steep hill, chat to a wizened-looking lady selling cigarettes, sweets and crisps from a trolley who warns me to keep my camera out of sight and bids me a departing ‘a la orden’ (to the order – don’t ask me…). Admiring the approaching view of the Plaza de Bolivar, well the pointy bits of the cathedral that is on the plaza, I soak up the general hustle and bustle of La Candelaria. A bunch of school kids call ‘hello’ to me from a second floor window and I remind myself of the story that the reason why all motorcyclists have to wear high-visibility jackets bearing their license plate numbers on the front and back is to put an end to drive-by machine gun assassinations. Past Quinoa and Amaranto, a well presented rustic kitchen that does a three course veggie lunch for 9,000 pesos (less than £3/$5), the Botero Museum and little eateries, windows laden with attractive looking sweet stuffs, arriving at septima – seventh ‘avenue’ at thePlaza where a guy is busy pressure hosing the pavement in front of the cathedral.

I wander round the square a little between the ice cream vendors and those selling bags of seed to throw at pigeons wondering not for the first time how you can make a living selling phone calls when there are four other people next to you offering calls at 200 pesos a minute. Not having fully reaccustomised it’s very notable that about one in ten people on the street is wearing a police uniform, that is certainly one way to keep the streets safe. Then I wait the 10 minutes or so it takes for the supermarket to open, and during the meanwhilst am engaged by a random guy wondering where I’m from, how I’m enjoying Colombia and what I’m doing here. And this is downtown in a city of 8 million. What I bought at the shop is incidental, the fact that a simple stroll facilitating such a perfunctory task as buying some food might lift my mood so is perhaps not so incidental…

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