Friday, 18 December 2009

Heeeeey Macarena!

We’ve now moved to La Macarena. An optimist, I’d hoped the locals would pour out of the restaurants and bars to greet our arrival by performing “the dance”.

I was cruelly let down. However, I was pleased to see a policeman carrying an enormous gun sitting on the steps of our building.

Unlike equivalent blocks, ours doesn’t have a doorman. Instead, it is opposite a police school.

As a result, the 24/7 security that would usually be offered by a dozy doorman is provided by a succession of seemingly identical, heavily armed teenagers. All teenagers are dozy, even heavily armed ones.

In this sense, the police station is a clear security boon. However, there’s a flip side: if the charming young men are attacked in a riot or a bomb, we’re right in line for any over-enthusiastic rock throwers or the blast.

Still, no-where’s perfect; and La Macarena is restaurant-rich and right in the centre of town. On the downside, it’s also right next to Perseverancia.

We’re warned by everyone never to go there. It’s two blocks to the right of the flat and, yet, it’s so dodgy that we shouldn’t drive through it. Even during the day.

We’re told that La Macarena is also home to the son of President Uribe. Again this is a double-edged sword, security in his neighbourhood will always be tighter but on the other hand he must a tempting target to any hostage takers.

My fears that we’d hear the screech of endless sirens have proved unfounded. This morning, however, they were howling outside. Nervously, I peered through the window fearing the horrors unfolding on my doorstep.

Nothing had prepared me for the sight of a life-size nativity scene on a police float. The thin blue line was now dressed as cows, horses and—in a revisionist version of the holy birth—snowmen. It was the centre of cavalcade, complete with policewomen outriders in sexy Santa outfits.

Merry Christmas, all!

Friday, 11 December 2009

Bikes, camp Jazzercizers and a tumbling unicyclist

On Sunday, we hired bikes from a shop in the Candelaria, the colonial part of town. To the south, north and west, the city of nine million stretches endlessly. Only a few blocks to the east, it stops.
Here, civilization ends; huge green hills loom over the capital in a reminder of the wildness that still reigns over much of the country.
In the city, the police and soldiers keep the fragile status quo from seemingly every street corner.
However, this is a very pleasant city to live in, it would be easy not to pay too much attention to the madness beyond its border.
Every Sunday, one side of the major thoroughfare, the septima or seventh, is shut to traffic.
Bicyclists, runners and rollerbladers replace of the usual chuffing traffic. Stalls are set up on the street side to supply fruit, food and drink, and provide repairs.
I’d not ridden a bike since my jaunt down Bolivia’s Road of Death and Susi hadn’t cycled since we left England nearly two years ago. La Paz is not cycle-friendly, in the way that Kabul isn’t ideal for stag parties.
Frustrated bikers happily back on two wheels, we pottered happily along, finding our feet on the alien pedals and adjusting to the roads.
We were quickly drawn into the park by the promise of people watching and loos. Girls competed at street hockey; boys belted a football; a mixed group played capoeira, while twanging and chanting; hundreds bounced more or less camply in front of stage doing Jazzercise.
It was great to see people enjoying being outside, mostly lying about eating ice cream.
A boy was being taught to ride a bike, while a unicyclist practiced on a new higher ride. He pedalled into a group of cyclists and fell off. An uncharitable part of me, that had previously kept itself hidden, found this quite amusing.
That’s wrong, isn’t it?

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Gastronaut boldly goes. Regrets it.

It’s high time for a good news story from Bogota: it’s not all prostitutes and tramps scuffling the rozzers. In fact, I’ve hardly seen a Colombian “Belle de Jour” or a fight since our first night here. Tramps and police are everywhere. We even saw a bum's bum.

On Saturday night, we went out for a posh dinner at Leo Cocina y Cava, “a concept-restaurant offering Colombian dishes in an evolved manner”. It was much better than it sounds.

Keen to try something that we wouldn’t usually have at home, we ordered tuna sealed with big-arsed ants, sea bass with black rice drenched in snail stew, and red snapper with chiripiangua, ginarron and poleo (this last was Susi’s order, she says it was “seafoody”).

As this is not a food blog, I won’t bang on about the meal. Except to say it all looked beautiful, the service was great, the menu was innovative, everything was prepared perfectly… And yet, somehow, it didn’t carry me off on the waves of delight I’d wished.

Perhaps I should have ordered on the basis of what I actually wanted to eat.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

First impressions of beautiful Bogota

Hello there,
This a bit of a cheat as it's taken from my previous stibbsgoestobolivia blog. I've now gone from there to Colombia.
And very nice it is too, despite first impressions...

Colombia may have a reputation as a dangerous cocktail of drug barons, paramilitaries and guerrillas but I knew things had changed. I’d seen the adverts: who could fail to be convinced by this man’s voice? Less gruffly, Susi had told me that Bogota was now safe (relatively speaking) and awash with glamorous people dripping in Louis Vuitton.

So I was expecting something pretty spectacular. When we left the airport, with trolleys bearing the bodyweight of an elephant, it was chaotic and dark. Few places look good in the dark and this was no exception.

Our private bus left as it began to rain, the surrounding buildings had the appearance of a long-neglected building site. It was comforting to see the occasional person knocking about it, until I realized there were a lot of unseasonably dressed women around. We’d found the red light district.

Even the people outside an alternative rock club looked menacing, no mean feat in de-rigeur silly hair and tight jeans. All blokes, they stared at the ridiculous vehicle we had had to commandeer—the only vehicle large enough for our unfeasible quantity of stuff.

Past the prostitutes, we slowed and stopped in the middle of nowhere. To our right, a homeless man was shouting for help as two policemen were trying to beat him into submission so they could handcuff him. To the reluctance of our disappointed driver, who was enjoying the scuffle, I insisted we left.

A little later, we pulled up again outside a rather uninspiring block of flats. The doorman stared quizzically through the dirty window at the strangers and their extraordinarily large luggage. Little did he know he’d be helping us lug it up four flights of stairs.


(I ought to point out that things have improved immeasurably since then.)