The bus back from Suesca is easy - and direct, so no standing at the side of the road wondering what happens next. We've also finally mastered the Trans Mileno system in Bogota and I'm even able to offer different options for our route home - yeah, we got this..! No walks through dodge town for us today, and we even manage to point a lost tourist in the right direction for good measure.
Back at the Cranky Croc, and it's no surprise to see Ben, Maria, and of course James, recovering from another crazy night by getting stuck into the rum. Ben & Maria are leaving for Medellin, but James is waiting for another friend of his to arrive from back home, who I'm sure won't be led astray into more shady antics on the mean streets of Bogota...
We're being sensible again, so head for the mysterious Mongolian Kitchen just across the road for dinner with a couple of new peeps from the hostel that CP has befriended, and Maria who seems to have a pretty loose idea of when her bus is leaving. With Ben and Maria packed off on their way, it's time for some quiet time for RD and I head back to our dorm which is empty... and quiet. CP has made a new friend so is talking at a million miles an hour, while entirely ignoring quiet time, spending the next hour popping in and out asking questions about the name of some town, or the number of a bus, or some other query. No respect.
In the morning I'm feeling somewhat refreshed, although we have strict instructions to get to the meeting point for a graffiti tour of Bogota before it starts, CP opts instead to spend too long chatting (OMFG), until I have to drag her and her 2 new chums out the door.
It's a tour of Bogota's graffiti, but an education about the city and the whole country as well. Some of the murals that have been painted by these supposedly underground street artists are incredible, and it's no surprise that some of the artists have got to the point where they are being commissioned to paint pieces in cities around the world for thousands of dollars... although at this point they cease to be "underground", despite what they may claim.
If someone says graffiti, most people probably think of the scruffy, scrawled, spray paint tags that blight pretty much every urban area around the world, the kind of thing that is barely a step up from the school desk scrawls of "Tim woz 'ere". The graffiti we're looking at could not be more different - home owners with a suitable outside wall will invite artists to create a piece on it, knowing that the would be taggers will not touch another artists work, and so the carefully crafted murals will survive for a year or two, until the paint starts to fade badly enough for taggers to see it as fair game, and then the process begins again.
To be clear - this isn't happening in the nicer neighbourhoods. But in Candelaria, where we and the rest of the gringos are staying it's entirely normal.
It wasn't all pretty pictures though - a lot of the pieces contain references to the political situation or a major past event. We make no apologies for the number of pictures here, and we'll try to explain the ones that are something other than a incredible piece of artwork:
A female artist using the pseudonym Lik Me, producing lots of pieces inspired by the Karma Sutra...
Our guide, who partway through the tour reveals himself as "Crisp", does a lot of these masks - which he's had to keep putting higher and higher as they've become collectors items in Bogota!
This piece is a collaboration between a father (left) and his two sons (middle, and right) - all use eyes as their signature piece, but all have very different styles.
One of my favourites - the owners of the house commissioned an artist to paint this, knowing that the respect between graffitors means that their wall will stay tag free.
Topical piece by our guide on the wikileaks episodes involving Bradley Manning and Ed Snowden:
The first time we've seen anything other than the disappearing butt (see Tayrona blog) of one of these giant rodents:
The outside wall of a shop:
This piece is a couple of years old so now has a few tags on the bottom - but the photo doesn't do justice to its size, this is about as big as a tennis court. The female artist exports her work on rolls which have been pasted on to walls around the world, wherever her contacts go.
An artist called DJ LU uses stencils to create these images:
Close of up one of his signature images, an insect with guns for wings:
This massive piece spans 2 buildings and makes use of the unique "canvas" shape created, with a lizard DJ-ing and his tail disappearing round the corner and up the next building:
Another big complicated stencil by DJ LU, with his signature wording "juego siempre" (always playing) on the left, and "mas no es mejor" (not being older) on the right:
Finally these next 5 shots are all part of the same huge wall, a collaboration between several artists, each with political statements to make:
The machine gun in a cocktail glass:
This represents a method of travel that really used to happen (hopefully doesn't anymore!?) - the slave carrying a rich man on his back, being dragged forwards by the doves of peace, but weighed down by material possessions - horses (farming), cars, and just out of shot, bags of cash.
Some of these murals inevitably prompt a few local history lessons.
Colombia has around 5 million displaced people, second highest in the world to Syria - some displaced as a result of a government policy to eradicate coca plantations (a legal crop and an effective medication against altitude sickness amongst other things, until it's mixed with various chemicals to create cocaine), done by spraying pesticides over vast areas which inevitably clears out a variety of other farm crops forcing subsistence farmers to abandon their homes. Others are "displaced" simply by paramilitary groups seizing their land.
In addition, it has one of the worlds highest numbers of amputees as a result of land mines, and the highest rate of Union assassinations. Abortion, a sensitive topic the world over, is illegal, which results in some people choosing to have it done anyway. There have been sting operations by the police whereby they will pose as a black market abortion clinic, then the mother to be is forced to have the child under threat of a murder charge.
Colombia is also infamous for the FARC, ELN, and other left wing groups which obviously get a lot of bad press, but apparently 80% of civilian murders from this era have now been attributed to right wing paramilitaries, as a result of the governments policy of paying these guys for every guerrilla fighter that they killed. They would round up homeless people, people displaced from their land, and even ordinary citizens that had wandered into the wrong area or travelled down the wrong road, execute them, and then dress them up in guerrilla uniforms to claim their $$$. This particular scandal is now known as the "false positives".
With all of this information on board, we walk around Bogota with our eyes opened a little more, managing to spot a few of the more subtle images and artwork along the way.
The last tourist spot we have to tick off in Bogota is the church and lookout point at Cerro de Monserrate, which towers way up above the south of the city. There are cable cars that go up there, but where's the fun in that? We set off on our hike having left all valuables at the hostel as this walk is notorious for robberies (yay!).
We needn't have bothered though, as the police at the bottom turn us away - it's so notorious that it's routinely guarded by the police, which goes only partway to making it safe, but we guess they are finishing early today so we're denied. We do pick up some rather interesting corn on the cob from a lady on the side of the road, furthering our assistance to those trying to make a living in la Paz in the little ways.
Instead of our trek up to the lookout, we make our final Trans Mileno journey to visit Cody and Danielle, the lovely couple that we met at our Spanish school back in Antigua, Guatemala, who have since moved to Bogota. Despite Cody feeling rather sick, there's a very warm welcome from our favourite travel couple, as well as a not insignificant amount of concern that we've been regulars on the Trans Mileno system - apparently not quite as safe as we'd believed...
That doesn't matter now, as we've gone up in the world - what follows is a night and day of drivers calling to collect us to take us to and from anywhere we want (amazing being chauffeured around when we've spent so long on public transport), including to a pretty incredible steak house called Andres Carne de Res (the little brother of the one in Chia that CP had hoped to "surprise" me with a few days previously), strolls through the park without having to first lash all valuables to your person...
... and a final day with Danielle sampling the last of the local food that we haven't managed to try yet - empanadas and ariquipe (like a giant stroopwaffle with filled with caramel and your choice of chocolate, strawberries, sweet condensed milk, and lots of other ), sushi (ok, we've tried that before but we love it and we needed dinner for the flight so it was a no brainier really), or anything else that took our fancy. You'd have to go pretty far off track to wonder into dodge town from here!
CP has inputted that the trip to Andres Carne was epic, with some of the best food and certainly the best company, atmosphere and above all, wine, that we have had all trip! Do not ask about the price of the wine, but, as usual, CP had the wine waiter showing her all the suitable wines (which had to be Argentinian Malbec, no later than 2010), giving her a tasting of the best reserva and then decanting the bottle for us...us little back packers wearing shoes borrowed from Danielle and had not played "wine" for months... we were back in our element! Needless to say, the wine was amazing and CP was in a world of her own with each sip! Special mention to Cody here, who was feeling terrible but still made it out with us and put on a brave face despite barely being able to eat anything! Kudos!
We do manage a trip back to the dodgy part of town however, (by private car of course, we are loving this!), for a visit to the National Police Museum with Danielle, we chose it because it was apparently famous for housing Pablo Escobar's gold and silver adorned Harley, the jacket he was wearing the night he was shot, and a blood splattered roof tile from the same event. The large papier mâché model of Pablo has long since been removed however, as people had begun to refer to this place as the Pablo Escobar Museum. Er... that is actually why we're here?!
Cody very kindly organised a driver to take us to the airport and we are ever so grateful. We wish we could have stayed longer, much longer, but all good things come to an end and we get to the airport not only in style, but on time.
Popcorn kept us busy as we lined up in the various usual airport lines (freshly cooked, epic idea by CP - especially as it was still warm and smelling awesome all the way through customs...) and, of course, our lovely suuuuushi eaten with all the class and sophistication of two backpackers on the floor of the airport terminal... and then finally, we're on our way to Bolivia! (actually, we've been here for 2 weeks, we're just behind with the updates..)
So what's the "single serving friend" thing about that we mentioned in an earlier blog? There's a scene in the film Fight Club when Ed Nortons character is talking to Tyler Durden on a plane and remarks that he is the most interesting single serving friend he's met, a reference to the single serving of sugar, salt, pepper, bread roll, butter, etc, that you get on a plane, and comparing it to the brief conversation and friendship that you might have with the person sitting next to you.
When you're travelling, you inevitably meet a lot of people - in fact that's one of the best things about staying in hostels. You may have a fleeting conversation with them, you may stay up drinking together, you may end up travelling with them, but for the most part the main thing that you have in common with them is that you happen to be occupying the same space as them for a short period of time. There's a reason CP doesn't ask someone's name until she's deep enough into a conversation to decide if she cares enough or not...
When you're back home, you wouldn't automatically attempt to strike up conversation with a stranger that happens to be in front of you in the queue at Costa. "What have you ordered there, a cappuccino? Good choice. So what's your name, where have you come from, where do you work, and how come you're buying a coffee?!"
But as a traveller, it's almost expected, even though lots of people we've met have shared a dislike for the standard Q&A session that often follows. Lots of questions are asked, often answers are barely listened to, let alone remembered. These people that you meet are the single serving friends. Yeah you might be pretty cool, we had fun hanging out, and you might trade Facebook friend requests, but the chances of you staying in contact with them beyond next week are pretty remote - and that's fine, we're all going continue on our own paths and live happily ever after!
Note that these guys are a significant level up on the simpletons that will quiz you in great detail and then attempt to repeat the exact same questions the next day. This is not a networking lunch, you just happen to be in the kitchen at the same time as me and it's ok to be quiet, so just shhhhhhh...
Then there are those few people that make it past the SSF stage - the people that you have enough of a connection with to arrange to meet at a particular hostel in the next town you're visiting (Ben, James, Maria), the people that you're pleasantly surprised to bump into later on in your travels (Ross, Alex), the ones you trade emails with, fully intending to stay in contact with in the future (too many to mention), and finally the ones that if you realise that if you happened to live in the same place, you know that you'd become great friends (Cody & Danielle). We will have to settle for seeing them both again in San Diago later on in our trip and take it from there! :0)