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Since when have angels had permission to come down from heaven?

by Alex on Sep.18, 2010, under Blog

Of the many cultural differences between here (Colombia) and the country in which I grew up, one of the most blatant and in-your-face is the way that men and women interact. It is, interesting to say the least.

I recently followed a link sent to me by a friend and clicked the ‘login via Facebook’ option and lo, without warning, I had a profile on Badoo.com which appears to me to a hook up site very thinly veiled as some kind of social networking thing.

Flicking through public comments on profile photographs on Badoo one notices a theme. I’m not going to express my opinion though I do wonder how the authors possibly think they are going to be taken seriously. Check these out:

Hey, since when have angels had permission to come down from heaven? Don’t tell me that you’ve escaped. Well, if that is what’s happened I’d love to cut your wings so that you can’t go back and be able to look upon the beauty that you are, precious princess

An exquisite woman is not she who has most men at her feet but she who has one man that makes her really happy
A beautiful woman is not the youngest nor the slimmest, neither her with the smoothest skin nor the fairest hair, rather she who with just a smile and good counsel can bring cheer to your life
A rich woman is not her with many titles or academic honours, it is she who would sacrifice her dream for the happiness of others
An exquisite woman is not the most passionate, but she who shakes with joy on making love with the man she loves
An interesting woman is not she who feels flattered for being admired for her beauty and elegance, it is she of solid character who can say no
And a man, an exquisite man is he who values this kind of woman

Meeting people via this medium is a lottery, there are people of all types, for all types of people. The key lies in sincerity, respect and chemistry. Your profile caught my attention and if you’d like to get in touch it would be interesting to know a bit about you. I love your look and demeanour – the irony with this is that the guy has left the same comment on loads of girls’ pictures

In the beginning we were one, unknown, splendour without gaze, love without value. Then two through many reincarnations, we lost the footprints of the other without looking for each other, without finding each other. Like curious, frightened children wandering the world without destination painfully conquering fears and at last, suddenly, light is born. Aeons bear fruit, conscience lights the path brining us back together, to the one, to the same

Precious, you are the most beautiful woman in the world. I’d love to talk to you, my MSN is … sending you lots of kisses xxxxxxxxxx The sun hides itself, out-shined by the beauty of your heart

Not sure about you, but I think I’m going to chuck…

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Gunshots

by Alex on Jul.06, 2010, under Blog

I’ve heard a few explosions since being in our new(ish) flat. I’ve never worried that they might be bombs and the lack of any subsequent siren action has suggested that they were indeed something other than bombs.

Hearing two bangs in quick succession this afternoon, I thought nothing of it, after all from the not unusual noises one hears ’round here it seems that letting off fireworks is not infrequent… Ten minutes later in my local shop I asked Ángel, the owner, what all the police were doing – he told me that they were looking for a criminal. I asked him about the bangs and he said that indeed they had been gunshots. Apparently the police had fired (into the air), presumably to frighten the guy. To be fair if anyone fired a shot near me I’d run like shit, cops or otherwise!

The mental thing is that about 2 blocks from here is a massive police complex with plenty of guys outside sporting automatic weaponry, not the place to do crime, by any means.

Still, I guess it’s better than worse, definitely a safe part of town to live in…

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Parque Natural Chicaque

by Alex on Jun.22, 2010, under Blog, What to do in Bogotá

Parque Natural Chicaque is a cloud forest reserve to the south west of Bogotá. It is visitable from central Bogotá in one (long) day but it’s probably best to stay there for a night, or two.

View from park entrance:

chicaque-view-from-park-entrance

Its website tells of 18 km of footpaths through seven types of forest and more than 300 species of birds and 20 of mammals.

refugio1

Accommodation is available at the refuge (right) or in nearby cabañas, both options including breakfast, lunch and dinner. Camping at the refuge camp site includes the three meals as well as use of the refuge’s toilets, showers etc. You can also camp near the park entrance, no food is available there so bring cooking stuff.

view-west-from-refugio


The refuge has a large circular dining room with balcony with stunning views (left) of the valley of San Antonio de Tequendama, the large fireplace in the middle providing for a cosy evening after a day of exercise and general naturey stuff.


To get there by public transport from Bogotá, take the Transmilenio to the Portal Sur (1,600 COP) and from there take a bus west along the autopista to Soacha (1,300 – 1,350 COP). If you can, get a bus to El Parque de Soacha and get off the bus at El Parque (an obvious central plaza type place), other buses pass Soacha on the autopista, ask someone to tell you where to get off and walk the 3-4 blocks from the autopista to El Parque. I’ve heard that in the mornings you can find cars that will take you from El Parque to Chicaque for 10,000 – 15,000 COP. The other option is to walk two blocks south from El Parque to a small roundabout from where you can get buses that pass the entrance road to Chicaque. Buses to Apulo, Anapoima, La Mesa, Mondoñedo and Funza all pass the park entrance road. Your best bet is to stop any bus that passes and ask. As well as asking the driver to stop at the entrance to the park, it’s wise to ask fellow passengers to tell you where to get off the bus, it’s not unusual to find yourself at the end of a bus route with an unapologetic driver telling you that he forgot that he was supposed to stop for you…

peacock

From where the bus drops you it’s about a 30 minute walk to the park entrance where you pay the park entrance fee (if you get a private car from Soacha’s Parque it will bring you to the entrance). From here you can walk the trails of the upper part of the park and also use the park entrance camp site. If you are staying at the refuge/cabañas/refuge camp site, there is a fairly lengthy decent through probably about 500 metres to get to there, it’s reckoned to take about 50 minutes – we managed to scab a lift in one of the park vehicles having had a shambles of a time getting there, including ending up in Funza explaining to the bus driver that implicit in my question ‘do you go past Chicaque’ was the request that he stop there… You pay for your accommodation at the refuge. If you don’t fancy the long climb out of the park you can hire a horse to take the strain for you.

They have peacocks too…

Prices:

Entrance to park – 10,000 COP
Camping at the entrance camp site – 10,000 COP
Camping at the refuge campsite including breakfast, lunch and dinner – 42,000 COP
Accommodation, breakfast, lunch and dinner at the refuge – 75,000 COP
Accommodation, breakfast, lunch and dinner per couple at the refuge – 159,000 COP
Accommodation per couple in a cabaña plus brekka, lunch and dinner at the refuge – 220,000 COP
Horse rental – 16,000 COP
Guide (general) – 55,000 COP
Guide (specialist) – 65,000 COP

Just found some lovely pictures of Chicaque here

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Police escort dos

by Alex on Jun.01, 2010, under Blog

Although the title of this post sounds like a shit sequel to an equally shit what ever you call the film that precedes the sequel, it pertains to a much cooler set up than was my first police escort experience in Colombia.

Having worked out that paying in cash rather than by debit card is going to be part of doing business here, we headed to the bank to withdraw ten million pesos. That’s about £3500/USD 5000. On signing receipt of my wads of currency, the teller told us that we could use one of the office phones to call the police for an escort. Clearly we were at first a little confused but we thought it over, figured why not, verified that it wasn’t going to cost anything and then called the boys in… green and reflective.

The standard two cops on a bike set up turned up, and in very friendly manner too. We’d not planned on this and had stuff to do before going home but didn’t want to impose on them, what to do… Basically they would come with us wherever we needed to go, so long as it was in Bogotá – decent! So we hailed a cab, one cop got in the front and the other followed us on his bike. Stopped off at an office to pay for an engineering survey then headed to the furniture district to sort some stuff out there. The guys were more than happy to chip in regarding what colour material to chose for the sofa although there was a little disagreement on the selection of colour for the cushions. We certainly got more looks than usual as we wandered around, the people in the beanbag shop were almost dumbfounded.

I guess that it might have been a small-scale insight into what it might be like living as an ‘important’ person surrounded by body guards and escorts, I must admit it did feel pretty cool in the taxi on the way home with a motorcycle outrider stopping traffic so that my beanbag-stuffed taxi could change lanes as it pleased.

I can’t think of a better example of acting out the motto ‘To Protect and Serve’…

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Tips for Colombian visa applications

by Alex on May.26, 2010, under Blog

So you’ve decided that Colombia is such a great place that the six months that your tourist visa gives you is not enough (click here for info on how to extend your tourist visa). You now want to set up a business, work for a Colombian company, become an ‘entrepreneur’, invest (at least USD 100,000) or study here – great decision…

Details of the myriad visa options are available here

Below are my top tips for the process of applying for a Colombian visa:

  • Do not pay for anyone to ‘help’ you with your visa application, this is a waste of your money, the process is not difficult
  • Some visas require that a public accountant provide you with a certificate of funds or monies invested in Colombia (along with a notarised copy of his or her licence). To acquire a certificate does not necessarily mean that you have to have these funds in Colombia, or indeed have said funds… In Bogotá, there are a plethora of accountants with very very small offices in a mall on the corner of Carrera 8 with Calle 16, diagonally opposite the Cámera de Comercio. There you may find that a foreign bank statement showing that you have access to funds will suffice for the acquiring of your certificate
  • To apply for many types of visas you have to do so from a Colombian embassy or consulate outside of Colombia. Before leaving Colombia, take everything you need for your application (detailed per visa via the link above) to the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores (MRE) where they will verify that everything is in order, or advise you of any changes you need to make. MRE in Bogotá is on Carerra 13 between Calles 93 and 93a, about half a block south of Parque 93. Go early in the day, it closes at 13:00
  • If your visa application requires that you leave Colombia it will cost you much less in Venezuela than in other countries. My visa had a published cost of USD 175. In for example Ecuador or Panamá I would have had to pay, obviously, USD 175. In Venezuela the official exchange rate at the time was 2.6 Bolívares Fuertes (2,600 Bolívares) to the dollar and thus the cost in Bolivares was 455 Bolívares Furetes (455,000 Bolívares). The exchange rate that you get when buying Bolívares in the casas de cambio or in the street either side of the border is much much better than the official exchange rate, the 455 Bolívares Fuertes cost me about 120,000 pesos which is about USD 60
  • To get your visa in Venezuela fly to Cúcuta (Colombia). It may be safer to book a one-way ticket as you don’t know how long it the process will take, if you’re insistent about booking your return then allow 3 days to be in the safe side. Aires do one way flights for about COP 90,000 it is no cheaper pro rata to buy a return. From Cúcuta you cross the border to San Antonio (full name San Antonio del Táchira)
  • If you are trying to save your pennies do not get a taxi from Cúcuta airport, you will likely be over-charged. Walk to the main road outside of the airport where you can get a bus to the terminal for COP 1,300 (and from there a bus to the border for a further 1,300) or negotiate the taxi fair to the border – 12,000 COP is a fair price to pay
  • Cross the border early, visa applications are accepted between 07:00 and 12:00
  • Once across the border, although it’s not far to the Colombian consulate, a motorbike taxi will cost you about COP 2,000. The address of the consulate, according to a website I’ve just found, is Calle 5 No. 12 – 39
  • You need a photocopy of your passport page(s) that show your exit stamp from Colombia and entry stamp to Venezuela, there is a place opposite the consulate that will do copies (at an inflated price)
  • If you are lucky the ‘nice lady’ in the consulate might process your visa on the day you arrive, or she might not… If you need to come back the next day then consider travelling the hour or so by bus to San Cristóbal (Venezuela) – a chance to see a bit of a different country and a for a great night out head to Barrio Obrero
  • It costs to leave Venezuela, at the time I went 65 Bolívares Furetes
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Santandercito – a day trip from Bogotá

by Alex on May.14, 2010, under Blog, What to do in Bogotá

Or a couple of days in the countryside, either way, it’s a great place to go to escape the hecticosity of the city…

The first part of the journey across town to Portal del Sur on Bogotá’s transmilenio is as quick as you might like, dedicated bus lanes avoiding the seemingly constant congestion of the capital:

transmilenio

OK, so that picture was taken on the only day sans congestion, that’s not the point…

From Portal del Sur take a green ‘alimentador’ (feeder bus) to the Terminal del Sur, the cost of the journey is included in your Transmilenio ticket, buses leave every 20 minutes and the journey takes about 4 minutes. Alternatively, it’s a 10 min walk west along the autopista. At the Terminal del Sur get a bus towards Mesitas del Colegio to Bella Vista, price 8,000 COP. It’s not long before you pass the city limits and the views start to pick up…

salto-de-tequendama-1

The Salto de Tequendama (above) is stunning to say the least. There are plenty of eateries at viewpoints opposite the falls and in fact it would not be a bad idea to get a ticket to the falls, hang there for a while soaking in the view and smells of barbecuing meats mixed with the stench of most of Bogotá’s sewerage that it seems flows over the falls, then catch another bus the twenty or so minutes on to Bella Vista.

Although only an hour out of Bogotá it feels as if it could be 5, 10, 15, whatever. Warm (18-22 degrees year-round) and with beautiful views of the mountains to east and west, Bella Vista is a one horse town with two petrol stations and half a dozen or so purveyors of food that probably exists only to service passing traffic – muy tranquillo indeed:

bella-vista

Just uphill of the Santandercito road is a great arepera that does arepas in the Boyacense style, if you’re after a snack. If you are not going to stay in Santandercito, you might want to wander the 100 or so metres down the main road to the Parque Temático Orquideas del Tequendama and continue your relaxation with some prettiness. Entrance is 7,000 COP which includes a guided tour and a tinto.

orquideas-1

If you are going to stay then walk down the Santandercito road from Bella Vista. After about 10 minutes you pass the Alto de la Palma hotel on the right hand side, it’s expensive and I’ve read some pretty dire reviews. About two minutes further on you come across a road on the left (this is the first turning since taking the Santandercito road from the highway). This road leads to Santandercito village and a few buildings down on the right hand side is Hotel El Prado run by Carlos Ortega (tel. 316 613 9972). Double rooms cost 50,000 – 60,000 COP per night. Continue down the road from the hotel to get to the village centre:

santandercito-plaza_0

The highlight of the town square is spectacular hand-made ice cream from a shop opposite the square from the church. There are a few bars and eateries and down-hill from the church is a shop/cafe run by Gustavo, a friendly Venezuelan who speaks good English. There is also a pizzeria in town.

You can usually get a bus back to Bogotá from Bella Vista, if you are visiting over a bank holiday weekend or other busy period it is worth the effort to book a bus from the office on the left hand side of the road that leaves the square opposite the church – during busy periods buses passing through Bella Vista can be full and a long wait can be had waiting to get back to town…

Click here for orchid garden pictures and here for pictures of Santandercito.

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Something unexpected in my herb garden

by Alex on Apr.28, 2010, under Blog

So I bought a chilli plant and a rosemary thing – what is it, a plant, a bush, not quite sure…

Anyway, I put them on an old planter box thing on one of our 5 (five) balconies and of course I water them diligently.

herbs

Seems that their drainage has facilitated the propagation of some other herbs that have been lying dormant for a while:

da-herb

Decent!

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Agent Frank Patrick, FBI.

by Alex on Apr.26, 2010, under Blog

So my mate Andy, owner of Cranky Crock (hostel) had to turn down a small acting part as it was being shot on a Friday and Friday is his BBQ day. I think he wishes that he’d asked me to do the barbie, instead of giving me the part.

The week before, my friend Sarah the Barber and I had been witness to a massive drugs bust near her house, complete with guns and blood (I even managed to get a picture of the huge stash:)

cheeky-stash

being filmed as part of a new series of a popular soap opera El Cartel de los Sapos. A week later I was to be recording with the same bunch of guys…

The scene was set in a strip club brothel type place. Normally, working on Latin America time gets right on my tits – I arrived at 11:00 and we didn’t shoot ’til 16:00. This day though I wasn’t that bothered about the time – being surrounded by scantily clad and interested in the ‘gringo’ Latinas was far preferable to hanging out in the apartment working away with the only scant cladding to be seen belonging to Travis my housemate and business partner as he wanders past me betowelled on his way to the shower.

To be fayre I was a bit nervous during the first walk-through of my scenes, surrounded by professional actors, some of whom had travelled from Mexico for the filming, film crew, director etc, even the mostly nekkid laydies didn’t have much of a calming influence. After a couple of goes though I got into my stride, as it were – it seems to me that Latin soaps are mostly about holding massively exaggerated facial expressions for overly-long periods of time, which I think I’m quite good at.

It’s due to air in a few weeks and although I’m sure I’ll look a proper spaz, I’m quite looking forward to it. I wonder how many of the natives will question why an FBI man has a Brit accent. Far more I’m sure than those who will pick out the double entendre in my fave line: ‘You’re very good looking. You can pull it off.’

Bit embarrassing but if you want to see my 5 seconds of TV stardom then click here and go to 18 minutes…

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Extending tourist visas in Colombia

by Alex on Apr.26, 2010, under Blog

Extension of tourist visas is administered by the DAS (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad). My understanding is that one is entitled to stay in Colombia as a tourist for six months per calendar year but from experience DAS will only grant up to six consecutive months.

Each time your extend your tourist visa you need to pay COP 72,800 (you do this at a bank, details below), whether you are granted a 30, 60 or 90 day extension is up to the discretion (or lack thereof) of the official that you deal with. DAS in Bogotá have recently been issuing 60 day extensions without question.

The first time you apply for an extension you need to present the following at a DAS office:

  • Completed tourist visa extension form (download here)
  • Photocopy of the photo page of your passport
  • Photocopy of your entry stamp into Colombia
  • A 3 x 4 cm photo with a white background
  • Receipt of payment of visa extension fee
  • Your passport
  • You will need to include on the form the name and address of a Colombian who can act as a reference. After submitting the above you’ll have your fingerprints taken. For all subsequent extensions you only need to provide receipt of payment, as well as your passport of course.

    You can make your payment at any branch of Davivienda or Bancafe (banks).

    Below is an example of how to fill in the pay-in slip, note the price has increased (click to enlarge):

    tourist-visa-payment

    For tourist visa extensions in Bogotá you need to go to the DAS office in Edificio Platino at Calle 100 number 11B-27 (Tel: 601-7200), it’s open Monday to Thursday from 07:30 to 16:00 and Friday from 07:30 to 15:00.

    From the centre, a cab will cost less than COP 10,000. You can also take the transmilenio (big red bendy bus system with dedicated carriageways) from Museo del Oro to Calle 100 for COP 1,600. The quickest transmilenio bus to get is the B74, other B busses will get you to calle 100 but will make more stops. From the calle 100 stop you can either walk, take a local bus or a cab for the 10 or so blocks east (towards the mountains) to the DAS office.

    Take a book, sometimes it can take 7 minutes, other times 3 hours…

    Cheers, Alex

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    In Colombia, they love trees…

    by Alex on Mar.21, 2010, under Blog

    They must do.

    Look. These trees are obviously ill and they’ve put drips in them to make them more betterer.

    I’ve never seen tree drips before…

    tree-drips tree-drip
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