Britannia is a real British pub with a real British landlord and all the inane banter that that might entail. It’s as traditional as you can get in Bogotá – clearly back home no self-respecting landlord would waste money on waitresses and to my mind a pub can do without TVs but we are in Colombia and with that comes table sevice and perpetual sport. Looking on the bright side you don’t need to expend effort in going to the bar for your next drink and let’s face it, there are a lot of sports fans out there and you only need ask to have your game shown, so long as there is no one bigger and tougher than you wanting to watch something on the other chanel…
We have Sierra del Tigre beer, the best beer by a long way in Bogotá and probably the best in Colombia. We opened with an American Pale Ale, an Irish Red, an American Brown Ale and an IPA, and have recently put on our second batch of IPA, even more hoppy than the first. We have a good range of imported beers and spirits and use decent liquor in our cocktails (many bars have recognised brands on the shelves and use cheap made-in-Colombia vodka, gin etc. for coctails). You will recognise the difference in quality when you drink at Britannia.
On Mondays we entertain our North American cousins with Monday Night Football, we have games night on a Tuesday and a language exchange on Wednesdays – come and chat foreign with the locals. Our after office special Monday to Friday gives you 20% off jugs of beer, bottles (of liquor) and coctails from 4 until 7 and the atmoshere is always friendly – a safe place to come and sit at the bar and chat with the landlord and staff. Every day we do a lunch with either a half pint of beer or a soda for $15,000 –
Britannia is on the 26 on the way from the airport to downtown or vice versa depending on your point of view, in the Marriot Hotel building, full address calle 26 number 69b-53 local 1. There is secure parking under the hotel, really secure with dogs and guns and all that jazz and you get an hour’s free parking when you come to Britannia.
So I suppose I’ll see you here. I tell you what, I’ve had a few Sierra del Tigres and am feeling generous – bring a couple of friends and if you tell me (Alex) that you found out about the pub here I’ll regale you (as they say in Spanish) with some real chips complete with lashings and lashings of salt and vinegar (whether you ask for it or not)…
Find Britannia on the map here
In the post My new life, I chatted about how I’d ended up here, in Colombia, enthusing about the people and country in general, but why do business here?
Well… during my travels and thoughts of what the hell do I do next after a typical British upbringing and 6 years of corporate London life, I settled on the idea of opening a hostel with a view to creating a chain of hostels across Colombia. I love travel, love meeting, talking to and helping people and can be reasonably hypercritical – finding fault in the many systems and processes that we’re surrounded by and interact with on a daily basis. Many hostels are run by fellow travellers who’ve chosen to settle in some paradise, far removed from their home countries and upbringings with travel being their main qualification for running a hostel. Unfortunately, often, their enthusiasm and loving of ‘the road’ is not necessarily met with the business acumen and attention to detail necessary to create a great place to stay.
So, I decided that it’s time to put my money where my mouth is, stop bitching about the failings of other people’s efforts and get the hell on with it. And where better than Colombia? As an hispanophile, it had to be Latin America and as previously explained Colombia is my favourite place for the people, as well as all the country has to offer. Key for business though is the fact that tourism here is going mental!
I imagine that general international perception of Colombia is still that it is ‘a dangerous place’. Indeed, when I was here 8 years ago, tales of armed hold ups of buses with the occasional kidnap were common place and indeed after spending some time in ‘safe’ areas on the Caribbean coast, I flew to Ecuador, there being no way that I was prepared to bus through the country. Whereas ’1234 tourists brutally executed’ makes for a great international news headline, ‘Colombia is now safe’ is hardly news-worthy and therefore the only information that many have of this country is negative and out-of-date. You’d be better off espousing the slogan of Colombia Tourism – ‘The only risk is wanting to stay’.
And the word is spreading. It’s not just backpackers that I’m meeting – there are plenty of people coming to Colombia for a 2 or 3 week holiday maintaining that they’ll tell friends and family on their return how wonderful a place this is to visit and the numbers are there to back it up – an increase in tourist arrivals of over 10% per year is reported in official figures. This recent boom in tourism means that you need to book to get in to the best hostels – Cranky Croc operates at about 95% occupancy and during high season turns away about 25 people a day and there are plenty of places that would not get away with their shoddy service and poor facilities in a more mature backpacking market. So this place is perfect for doing my thing – the market is here and my business partner and I have the knowledge, will and passion to do it – create a fantastic backpackers’ hostel in Bogotá. I’ll write soon of the fun we’ve had finding the house we want to buy…
Apparently I have to find twelve grapes for this evening. And then I’m to eat one in time with every strike of midnight’s bells. If I succeed (and I read it’s quite difficult) then I’ll enjoy a prosperous two thousand and ten. It’s a Spanish tradition of about one hundred years and it seems that it’s made its way to Colombia, I’ll let you know how I get on…
A celebratory thing that is one hundred percent Colombian is lechona. It’s not Yuletide-specific but one was served on Christmas eve when we went with the guys from Cranky Croc (hostel) to Destino Nómada (hostel) for our Christmas dinner.
The meat is first removed from the pig and mixed with garlic, onion, peas and rice and seasoned with salt, pepper and cumin, shoved back in the pig which is basted with bitter orange juice and roasted for ages.
It sounds pretty tasty though didn’t have any, being a veggie and all.
Well, it’s a few minutes before midnight in the UK so HNY to all over there, we’re still wondering what to do this side, am sure we’ll come up with something good though wonder how I’ll fayre being four days into my month (or so) off booze!
T’was the eve of my birthday the dress code white and the destination Parque Jaime Duque, about an hour’s drive north of Bogotá. We had to pay a ‘fine’ of 50,000 pesos when flagged down by the policia as Marty didn’t have his driving license on him and when we got there the parking set up was a shambles, naturally…
I wondered if our ‘VIP’ tickets might get us close to the action and laughed when I realised that a ‘VIP’ ticket in Colombia, at least at a Tiësto concert, holds about as much kudos as does the title ‘Vice President’ when working for a large United Statesian corporate. We were right at the back, platinum ticket-holders in front of us and uberplatinum (or something) in front of them. It was for the best though as we had plenty of space and didn’t have a half hour queue for the toilets.
What a night: we were about 15,000, the music was amazing and the smoke effects were provided by mother nature – the mist rolling across the open-air arena added to the ambience no end though brought with it the distinct threat of hypothermia.
Music-wise, at least electronically-speaking, I’m a bit of a turn-of-the-millennium trance boy, my first favourite of the night was Gouryella then came one of my bestest choons of all time – Silence. The pièce de résistance was Barbers Adagio for Strings with a firework accompaniment. The fact that you see me dancing hands in pockets at the end of the video below is reflective of the fact that it was freakin’ freezing, it’s neither a sign of apathy nor lack of enjoyment! Stick with the video ’til the end for the fireworks. Oh and a special thanks to Travis for spending so much time finding the worst possible photo of me for the vid x.
I was both surprised and happy to find out that the ‘day of the candles’ is a specifically Colombian thing. Surprised as being of Catholic origin I’d have thought that it would be celebrated in other Catholic countries and happy as being specific to Colombia means that you probably know nothing about it.
It is said that celebrations vary across the country but it seems they mostly consist of lining the streets with millions of candles and hanging lanterns from everywhere, either on the eve of the 7th or morn of the 8th of December. My friends told me that the tradition is one of celebration of love and friendship and that on their balconies and from their eaves, on their doorsteps and on their streets, people place and hang the candles and lanterns as individual dedications to those for whom they care and it’s pretty. For me the candles will always mean this – I’m quite happy to ignore the alternative (religious) explanation.
From our apartment, we watched the fireworks explode from the top of the Colpatria building then went out for a wander. The streets were lively and indeed were lined with lanterns made from paper bags, sand and candles with paper lanterns hanging all over the shop. Front doors were open with families hanging out on what would be their stoops were they a little bigger – this in itself is unusual as doors are normally securely locked in this part of town. Septima, the main street, was packed to bursting; I’ve never seen it so full, nor Plaza de Bolívar. Rammed with sightseers and vendors selling hot drinks food and stuff with flashing lights on, the massive Christmas tree was lit up as were the buildings around the squares as you can see from the pics below:
I couldn’t find anyone selling (cell phone) minutes though, which seemed odd as you can go there on a day when it’s mostly empty and find at least 30 people selling calls. I’ve dug around on the interweb and found these pictures from around Colombia.
Well, they certainly like to celebrate here. So far not a week has gone by without learning of a new festival or celebration or at least a big event of some kind, which is great as far as I’m concerned!
The Cerro de Monserrate climbs to 3,152 metres providing a fantastic look out over the great city of Bogotá. We’d reached the top by way of the funicular railway laden with cheese, wine, baguette and an excess of warm clothing. It was about 25 degrees but at this altitude when the sun goes down it tends to get chilly.
We got to the church as the doors closed, it being full. Initially disappointed, it didn’t take long for us to conclude that sitting on the steps above the plaza outside of the church in front of the big screen would probably be a more fitting location to tuck in to our cheese and wine fest, and to smoke. We’d come to see the Orquesta Filarmónica de Bogotá and what an amazing setting, far better than being cooped up inside. Off to the east roll heavily wooded hills for as far as the eye can see, due south lie the last of the hills with some kind of big Jesusy statue a few hundred metres from us. To the west Bogotá. The fading orange of the sun setting behind flat grey clouds gives way to myriad lights – street, vehicle and building, ever brightening as the sun retreats further below the horizon, the city becoming a blanket of dark sequined velvet stretching far across the altiplano.
‘Hovis advert’ declared my brain as the orchestra commenced with Dvorak’s Symphony Number 9, detracting massively I suppose from the appreciation of the music were it not to have such a mundane ‘daily bread’ association, hey ho… With the start of the third movement there was little doubt as to from where John Williams took inspiration for his Dual of The Fates(Darth Maul’s theme) and I wondered if this symphony ‘From the New World’ was as well known here in Colombia as it is back home, maybe there exists here a tradition of small boys pushing bikes laden with bread up steep cobbled streets – I’ll refrain from endeavoring to find out.
The plaza continued to fill as the orchestra played on and no one seemed to mind when we first lost the audio and later the video feed from the church. In my mind I pictured an inattentive security guard tripping over a cable bringing the performance to an end for those sitting outside. In time it was fixed and when the music was over the fireworks started. I don’t wish to come across as being too negative but had they shortened the display to 5 minutes it would have been great, I find the spectacle more… spectacular when the sky is filled with sound and colour, bangs and flashes, screams and sparkles – 2, 3, 4, 5 and more fireworks going off at the same time. For me that holds far more of the ‘ooh, ahhhhh’ factor than does maximising display time to the detriment of what otherwise might have been a veritable extravaganza of light and sound. Mostly black sky and silence punctuated every 3-4 seconds by an albeit pretty high-level firework ain’t floating my pyrotechnic boat baby. Maybe I should have words with the fireworks association of Colombia and tell them what it’s all about.
I then noticed the lights, they were everywhere. Angels in the trees, stars on the buildings, stuff all over the shop. It was… colouful and I shall refrain from proffering my opinion as to how tasteful I thought it, you can form your own from the below:
I got interviewed on some national radio channel, had a cup of canelazo – a winter warmer made from aguardiente (the national anise-flavoured firewater), panela (sugar cane-based drink) and cinnamon then queued for 3 hours to get off the mountain during the process of which I realised that we were, probably, the only westerners in the thousands-strong crowd – even though tourism in Colombia is increasing at a rate probably higher than any other country in the world, you can still get off the beaten track here, very easily, even at a large event in a city of 8,000,000. Come to Colombia, it’s brilliant!
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…
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…
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…
I’m sat in the kind of living roomy place in the Platypus Hostel in Bogotá and of the 9 of us here there are 6 with laptops – what a change since my last traveling stint in 2002. Robbing a backpacker in those days meant you’d be looking at a battered copy of Lonely Planet, some useless travelers cheques, at best a soon-to-go-out-of-date APS camera, some fisherman’s trousers and a couple of pairs of skidded pants. Nowadays you could jackpot it right up with a laptop, iPhone and massive 12 megapixel SLR. And, to be fair, robberies are pretty rife around here – La Canderaria in Bogotá. It’s a pretty place: an old colonial part of town close to the historic centre with lots of little eateries, hostels, universities and I guess guys with blades judging by the number of people I’ve chatted to recently who have been robbed at knife point. Now, don’t worry mum I’ve not heard of anyone getting hurt, it seems as if the local ladrones have discovered the easy targets that are non-attentive tourists wandering round a nice yet poor area supposedly laden with phones, cash and cameras. To advertise the fact that I’m not such an easy target I’ve recently purchased a tambo – an extendable baton that fits neatly in the pocket and can be drawn at a moments notice to suggest that they might like to seek out a less potentially violent source of profit.
Anyway, that is not what this post was to be about. I’d taken some lovely photos of the lights of Bogotá at night, was struggling to think of anything to say about them and now seem to have run away on several tangents. Oh well, back to the pics…
I’d not been out to a good good restaurant since leaving the UK – coming on for a year ago, and the other day booked a table at the restaurant on the Cerro de Monserrate, the big hill thing overlooking Bogotá with both a cable car and funicular railway to take you to the top. The decor, ambiance and general quality of service was fantastic which is a rare find in Colombia. It’s perfectly usual to go into a shop, bar or restaurant here and be consummately ignored for minutes on end and I’m sure hours were you to be happy to stand about unattended for that length of time to see if it would really happen.
There was a slight down side, and of course when I say slight I mean reasonably significant – it was a French restaurant which as a vegetableanarian is second only in the ‘what can you knock up for me’ stakes to dining at an abattoir. The meat looked pretty high-level though and value-for-money-wise at less than 11 quid for a Chateaubriand, anyone spending pounds, dollars or euros and not yet scared of all the zeros involved in spending pesos would be well happy with the set up. Wine though is a different matter, it being easy to spend 10 times the cost of your main course on a bottle, which amounting to significantly more than half the minimum monthly salary here in Colombia seems a little odd, especially considering how much wine is produced a few countries down in Argentina and Chile.
Anyway, all of this has nothing to do with the photos, and it’s getting late, so: