Off I go!
Little did I know that this smile would slowly disappear in the next 24 hours (you’ll soon find out why, no spoilers!), but the excitement, matched with a healthy dose of fear, still hasn’t faded to date. Phew!
The bad news started when, upon check in, the airline staff advised of a two and a half hours delay. I didn’t mind too much, as my connection in Orlando was five hours and I would have rather spent time in Gatwick than Orlando. If you’ve ever flown in or out of the States, you know why! Turns out the delay was closer to four hours, and I only realised I could miss my connection when an air stewardess interrupted my film-watching binge (including me balling my eyes out watching The Notebook) to get my details to see what they could do, should I miss my flight. Yikes!
We landed with less than one hour to spare to connect to our Bogotá flight and the airport crew wouldn’t let us off the plane for nearly half an hour, as immigration was overcrowded. There were no other flights to Colombia that evening, so it looked like I would have had to spend a night in Orlando. I’m not sure why, but it was news that I simply could not accept. I wanted to give it a try and catch that flight, despite staff offering us hotel rooms. Turns out there were three other people in my same position, so we all ganged up and tried our best to get on it. In a lucky twist of events, the flight was more than an hour delayed and after a lot of wandering around sweaty and tired and confused in that very bizarre terminal, we made it onto the flight. What a relief! What a win.
On the other side, when I landed, all I could dream of was a hot shower, a clean change of clothes and a comfortable bed. Ah, how far from reality that turned out to be. After waiting for more than an hour at the luggage carousel (I’ve been travelling more than 24 hours by then and could barely keep my eyes open!), three of us were presented with the awful news. Our bags were nowhere to be found, and were probably still stuck in Orlando.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried. Maybe I was tired, hungry or simply disappointed that this was the start of the trip of a lifetime and it all went so wrong so quickly. So I reluctantly got on a taxi and headed to my hostel, with nothing but my hand luggage which stupidly had two pairs of underwear, socks and a sarong but not much else.
Thankfully the hostel staff (Cranky Croc in Candelaria, highly recommend it!) was beyond helpful. They washed my only set of clothes overnight (had to wear a sarong to bed and in the morning) and a security guard took me to a little shop down the road to buy some toiletries. Faith in humanity restored, for a little while!
After a terrible night sleep (a mix of jet lag, over-tiredness [is that even a word?] and worry about my rucksack which contains all I own on this trip), I drag myself out of bed (in my beautiful sarong) and try to make the most of my day. Managed to find some shampoo and conditioner in the shared bathroom (thank you forgetful stranger, you made my day!) and headed out to Bogotá to try and buy an outfit for the evening (going out with some friends of friends, and definitely can’t wear a sarong! But ask me again in a few weeks…).
First verdict of Bogotá? I. LOVE. IT.
Which is weird, because I’ve never been a huge fan of big cities, but Bogotá has something special that I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s buzzing, it’s busy, it’s loud but it’s lively and positive I am slowly falling in love with it.
The beauty of not having internet working on either of my phones probably makes me appreciate my surroundings even more. And I can dedicate a healthy amount of time doing my favourite activity: people watching!
After finding something half decent to wear for that evening (I’m going to be honest here, not so sure about Colombian fashion…), I start wandering around Candelaria, the neighbourhood I’m staying in.
And oh boy, isn’t it colorful, beautiful and overwhelming! Pictures don’t do it justice, but look at them anyway.
I sit in Plaza de Bolivar for a little while, observing the crowd and somehow noticing I am one of the few Western tourists there. Yes! And also how much Colombians love their snacks. So many vendors, selling food and drinks I am not so sure what they are but will most definitely try at some point.
I quickly head back to the hostel and get ready for the evening. I’ll be meeting a friend of a friend who’s lived in Bogotá for eight years and I look forward to seeing what the nightlife here has to offer.
We start drinking at a ‘tienda’ (like an off-licence but with a few tables and chairs. Genius idea! But it wouldn’t work in the UK ha!). My first drink in Colombia, and boy did it taste good (and was super cheap!).
We then go and meet some other British friend of his, living and working in Bogotá at an Irish pub (yes yes judge away). We are joined by two lovely Colombian girls so I have a chance to practice a bit of Spanish. Which made me realise how much I’m struggling with it. Despite studying it for a year and being Italian, I seem to get stuck when trying to speak, even if I understand the vast majority of what people are saying. Frustrating, but I am confident that in a few weeks I should be OK.
We move onto different bars and clubs, all located in this beautiful neighbourhood called Chapinero, that somehow reminds me a bit of California and with a very distinct Western vibe. Despite having an excellent time meeting new people and trying to dance as well as all the beautiful Colombians there, I soon have to admit defeat and head home at a ‘reasonable’ hour (3am).
I wake up with a slight headache and still no sign of my beloved rucksack (sigh!) so I head to the communal area of the hostel to have some breakfast. Turns out the chef is too hungover to cook (ha!) so I head out and explore Candelaria a bit more in search of some food. My rucksack suddenly turns up as I was leaving, which puts me right into a great mood. Woohoo!
On a side note, I’ve been very impressed with the vegetarian choices so far. I even found a vegetarian cafe on my first day and every place I stumble upon seem to have a couple of vegan/vegetarian friendly options, which has been incredibly reassuring. But I guess this may change when heading to more remote areas next week…
I’ve tried my first arepa today, a delicious bread made with maize flour and then, whilst looking outside the cafe window onto Monserrate, I decide to venture up there. I vaguely did some research on it, and I know it’s a bit of a walk, but I definitely was caught slightly unprepared.
I changed into some more comfortable clothes and my hiking boots and I make my way towards it. Monserrate is a mountain that dominates the south of Bogotá and which has a church called El Señor Caído. I can’t find the entrance of the cable car (didn’t look hard enough clearly) so I follow the crowd and start walking up the mountain.
That was probably the most strenuous and tough hike of my whole life, but I am SO glad I did it and made it to the top, which is 3,200m above the sea level. I nearly gave up a few times across the path as the ascend was so intense and steep, and the air so thin, that it made me incredibly dizzy and lightheaded. But I was determined to reach the top, and with the help of a fruit paleta (ice lolly!) freshly made by the locals, tons of water, and some rest every few minutes (ha!) I finally made it to the summit.
The view was beyond spectacular and the atmosphere was so buzzing that I nearly shed a happy tear.
I ‘cheated’ and returned by cable car as I was too exhausted to descend the same way, and I was ready to go back and have a much-deserved shower.
I strongly recommend making that trip if in Bogotá by foot and not by cable car, despite it being very tough. With the risk of sounding a mother, wear appropriate shoes and sunscreen. I didn’t, and my face now has a nice shade of lobster. Ha!
More exploring beautiful Bogotá tomorrow, if my legs haven’t given up on me.