27.03.2008 - 01.04.2008
View Channelling the Cane Spirits in South America on Jeremy T's travel map.
Candelaria, where I was staying, is Bogota's oldest barrio, a snaking suburb of low-rise and ancient colonial buildings between the city centre and a mountain range that marks the city's eastern edge. The place is crawling with people during the day: tourists, business people and thousands of university students. Present too in alarming numbers are the police, the tourist police (who visit the hostel nightly without fail), camouflaged army personnel of seemingly every rank and private security dog-handlers. It was the latter that had me most concerned – Why did the government hire security firms for 'on the beat' work? What was with the heavy blind-man-cum-nightstick leash all about? And is that a golden retriever? What is that going to do, nuzzle me to death?
I was collected in the evening by my friend Juan, who I'd met in Iguazu back in August. He took me to the Zona Rosa in the northern suburbs, and it was here I had my first taste of Aguardiente. The name literally means 'Firewater', it's aniseed flavoured and tends to sneak up on you at about 1.30am. Liquor comes in a box in Colombia. Not only do the country's favourite rums, aguardientes and red wines come in 1-litre easy pour Tetra-Paks, but they also come in 250ml fun-size varieties, perfect for slamming down 'on the go' or sucked up with a straw for playlunch. Try swapping that for a peanut butter sandwich!
Despite morning sunshine turning to bitter hail every afternoon, I was positive the good weather would hold out at least until after I had visited Monserrate atop the mountain range. The first thing I'd noticed once the cog-train had climbed the frighteningly steep slope was the complete change in temperature. The second was dark clouds lurking about the place like a bunch of hooded teenagers at 7-11. The general trend would be downhill, I surmised as I snapped a couple of shots and slowly began to ice over. By the time the rain commenced I was already heading off the precipice in a gondola to the station below. I chose the scenic route for the walk home and before long was huddled under a conifer begging a disgruntled canine security guard to share his easement. He refused. Eventually I took advantage of a less sodden spell, but soon the sleet began and I found myself hurtling down a treacherous embankment with a drizzle of other stranded nitwits. The next ten minutes were spent charging from doorway to doorway to escape the worst of it, but I was halfway to 'drowned cuy' when I finally reached the hostel.
It was Juan's birthday party on Saturday night, and we celebrated with his girlfriend Ana and friends in their apartment before a few of us headed to the Zona Rosa again. There was quite the lineup outside 'The Basement', but according to Bacon's Law, we knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who could get us in immediately, but sadly neither that person nor Kevin Bacon himself could let us enter without paying. The club attempted to be everything that every other Latin club was, and for that it was hugely popular. I'd hate to complain about the music selection, but when Salsa is followed by Reggaetón, and then into Latin Rock, Cumbia, Hard Dance and a ballad or two, the whole thing becomes incredibly hard to follow. In times like these I start drinking and looking to the lasers for guidance. This time they told me to go home, and I wasn't in the mood to argue.
Sometimes when travelling you encounter a group of street-savvy folk who are highly motivated to get smashed every single night. I had been spending the week with such a group, including an American named Levi and Daniel from Sydney, but I'd been finishing a magazine edition. In fact it'd been ages since I'd had a good blowout, and on Tuesday night I was ready to cut loose. With Candelaria too dangerous to loiter in at night, the mayhem was confined within the hostel, but when I was finally ready to retire, from outside came a bit of a commotion. The night guard took his nightstick and went to investigate while I scanned the security cameras. Lo and behold, Daniel and Levi had crawled up onto the roof to watch the sunrise, but after breaking a couple of tiles, the cops swooped, yelling "Ladrones!" and pointing their guns. I grabbed a nearby ladder and rescued them from the roof while the hostel guard convinced them not to fire. At the end of it all, we were handed free beers and kicked on until 9am. I wasn't relishing the thought of catching a flight in the coming evening.