Hello everybody, and welcome to the latest blog post from South America. I continue to enjoy my time here in Bogota, Colombia. Life has included a routine of mainly watching the world cup matches each morning, then going into town in the afternoon for lunch, either alone or meeting Vibi, then enjoying some 'people watching' around town. Social events have included Symphony concerts, Toy Story 3 (in Spanish), and a birthday bowling party last night. The rest of my time has been spent getting seriously worried about how I was going to get from here in Bogota, back to Santiago for my next lecture... so sit back, get a cuppa (cup of tea), and enjoy the read!
I want to share this next picture with you, as with the start of each evening here, more and more street sellers appear, selling everything from illegal DVD's to pizzas, but the one thing I just don't quite understand is the need to sell almost any kind of TV remote.. have a a look in the picture...do people here constantly lose their TV remote control, or do they just break a lot???
So one little scene I must share with you all, that I have seen in a few countries here in South America, is a group of people all connected by some kind of chain, and all speaking on mobile phones. It is a very odd sight, but I have finally got to the bottom of this mystery. People here have mobile phones, but for many people their tariffs don't always allow for free or cheap calls. This has led to many people standing somewhere randomly, (and I do mean in random places), holding a sign saying 'minuto' meaning cheap calls per minute on a number of different mobile phones that they have in their possession. To avoid the phones being stolen they are linked to metal chains, and this leads an almost aquatic sight, like an Octopus holding out a mobile phone on the end of each limb. You can see circular groups of people all using these street phone vendors to make calls, like the woman in the picture below! The man with the sign is the street vendor!
So back to the end of last weekend. On a little discovery trip 'downtown', I found a little more than I bargained for when wandering around Calle 19 (street 19). I got off the wonderfully full Transmilenio bus, and decided that I would enjoy a little stroll, (no map needed), through the little side streets, because that is always where you find the hidden treasures... and oh boy did I ever! Searching for a lead for my electric shaver I turned down a little street that seemed to have a never ending supply of electrical stores. I picked up an adapter lead for just 1000 pesos (40pence) and turned around to wonder where I should head next. The scene that greeted me took a few seconds for me to make sense of. In between the numerous electrical stores, there seemed to be groups of women, or a few single women, that seemed a little too dressed up (or dressed down) than you might expect for the time of day. Now thinking that these ladies had seemed quite friendly as I passed them (nothing new there), I began to realise that either I had been walking through several groups of prostitutes, or Bogota's women have some serious fetishes for electrical items.. no comments please!
I quickly moved on after deciding against taking a photo of such a scene, which I so badly wanted to! A little later that very afternoon I was sat in a little place called the 'Classic Pub' watching another appalling performance by France's football team when a rather odd looking couple came into the bar. An older man, and a younger woman, sat at a table in front of me. The man looked old enough to be the girl's father at the very least! My attention was drawn to this couple as the girl seemed to be responding to the guys talk with some indifference, then I saw the guy reach for the young woman's hand. This prompted me to start to look around the bar, where I began to see other rather odd looking couples/groups of younger women with older guys... I was glad to hear the final whistle of the football game and retreat from what was clearly a pick-up point for the 'working ladies'! How do I find these places?
So after seeing one side of the local culture, I happened to stumble across another side of Bogota's cultural delights' the symphony orchestra... on a whim I bought two tickets at just 10,000 pesos each (4 pounds each), these being the cheapest tickets in the balcony of course! So the following evening, Me and Vibi got to see the Bogota symphony orchestra play a concert, I can't say the music was from a particularly famous composer, but it was lively and offered me a different outlook on life here... though I must make a few comments, especially being a former theater duty manager. I learned about classical music working for 5 years at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. I learned that turning up late for such a concert was considered a criminal act by most of the audience, and walking into the theatre, mid piece was punishable by death (looks of death from audience members)... and even though I have become accustomed to the lack of punctuality, and lack of order in general, especially in public places, I was nothing more than shocked to see several audience members not only arrive late, but be let into the auditorium. Worse was that rather than quickly sit down with minimal fuss, they stood in plain view, having a five minute discussion about where to sit! You have a bloody seat number on your ticket!!! The fact that the concert didn't start on time was at least something I could live with... how funny the things are you can and can not get used to! So hear is proof that we did indeed go to the concert!
Back to more professional matters, and to prove the world is indeed a small place I has a very interesting visit this past week to some Government offices! The reason for my visit was to speak with an OT (Occupational Therapist), that is working for the Government in the department of health! A key figure indeed. And the reason for such a meeting, apart from the contact made by my host Vibi, this woman was chairing the session that I had presented in, at the conference in Santiago.. what a small world indeed! This lady (Solangel Garcia - Director of Disability Programmes) not only gave me some lovely books as a gift, but gave me a really fascinating insight into some of the Government policies and projects being carried out in the city. in fact I am going to visit a project tomorrow. Here's a little photo from our meeting...
So, onto the main event of the week, and no I am not talking about the re-election of the seemingly less popular candidate, and existing Colombian President - Santos. I have to say that I did not see one single poster or display of support for the existing president, but I saw lots of posters and support for the opposition leader 'Mockus'. So I was a little skeptical to say the least when the TV results showed that Santos had won by a very large margin. Read between the lines if you will!
The main event was in fact my 31st birthday, and wow what a lovely day I had. I didn't mind being woken up at 0730, as the reason for such an early rise was a phone call from mum and dad. I then received a very nice call from my friend Tinh in Vietnam, who sang the first of 4 renditions of happy birthday for the day! Thanks Tinh! The England football team gave me the next surprise of the day by actually winning a game at the world cup, and playing quite well too. After all this excitement me and Vibi headed out for a leisurely lunch at TGI Friday's to have some gorgeous beef tacos, and some cheesecake... hmmm... cheesecake.... this is also where 'Happy Birthday' rendition number 2 was delivered by the TGI Fridays staff, with a complimentary ice cream... bargain!
The evening closed in, and a trip to the mall for a little bit of bowling fun with Vibi, Santiago, Ruth and Alejandra was next on the agenda. Ruth and Santiago decided to give me happy birthday rendition number 3! See below...(if I can get the video to upload - I'm having some Internet troubles...)
Back to the bowling, and here's a few photos of our game (no electronic scoring system, it's all hand written! So we just bowled for fun!).
On returning home with Alejandra and Ruth, I was ushered into a darkened room, where a candle lit cake and happy birthday rendition number 4 awaited. There were balloons, funny hats and fizzy drinks... what more could I have asked for?
And as a final little note I must mention the 'fun' I have had trying to find a reasonably priced mode of transport to get me back to Santiago for my next lecture. The flights from Bogota to Santiago were coming up at around $700... which is way over my backpacker's budget, and seeing as a bus trip would take over 5 days straight, this wasn't really leaving me with much time to play with, or many options! So I thought hey, a little bus trip to Quito (Ecuador) might bring the price down? Hmm... not quite, as the ticket from Quito to Santiago was a rather steep $520... and I'd still have to get to Quito! I was beginning to realise that I had actually traveled a huge distance north of Chile, hence the high costs of flights. My solution; after a serious night of partying on Saturday, I will watch England's game with Germany Sunday afternoon, then get on a bus on Sunday evening, (for 3 days!) and arrive in Lima (Peru) Wednesday afternoon. I then have a flight from Lima that night, to take me Santiago in the early hours of July 1st. My lecture is July 2nd. Oh, and July 5th I fly to Argentina for 2-3 weeks! So I'm going to enjoy the last few days here in Bogota, Colombia and party the weekend away!
Come on England, just beat Germany this one time! (On penalties would be great!)
Regards from Colombia