We rolled into Colombia’s capital after a few days of utter tranquility in Salento. Up until the minute we left Las Camilias we were debating if we should leave at all, but we’d booked a flight to New York in the coming days and figured we’d have to at least try to make the plane. I’d also realized when entering Colombia that I was definitely not going to have enough pages in my passport to cram in six or ten more stamps, so I set up an appointment at the US Embassy in Bogota in order to have some extra pages added. If we didn’t have these two somewhat important errands, we might still be in Salento.
Bogota has none of the tranquility of Southern Colombia. It has a mean, fast reputation and there is some truth to both charges. Our taxi driver from the bus station was unusually grumpy for a Colombian and couldn’t find our hostel. We knew we were near it though and got out to find it on foot. As we looked around in vain for an address or landmark, a man approached us and asked what we were looking for. We told him the name of our hostel, which was in English.
He reprimanded us: “En Espanol!”
We told him, in Spanish, that the name of the hostel was in English. He waved his hand at us and walked away.
After we found our hostel and walked the narrow streets of La Candeleria, the old town, we occasionally felt that we needed to turn off towards a more crowded plaza, or duck for a moment into a store while someone we didn’t like the look of passed. But eclipsing our nervousness was a growing sense that Bogota was a compelling, lovely city. We were soon distracted not by the occasional shady character, but by free or very cheap museums like the Museo Botero and the Museo de Oro. Haciendas from the 16th Century dangled wrought iron balconies over cobblestone streets. Hole in the wall sandwich places served delicious food, and alleyways stuffed with merchants sold incredible pottery, handwoven bags and indigenous crafts.
Since Ecuador, I’d been harboring a lingering jealousy over the hat Magda bought, so when we passed a funky old hat shop called Sombrereria San Miguel, we stepped in to try some on. The little old woman behind the counter first tried to sell me some ten gallon stetsons but I told her that as an American I felt that buying a Stetson anywhere other than Texas would be some sort of crime against humanity. Instead I asked to see a stack of broad-brimmed fedoras and tried them on as the señora gave us advice for what to see in Bogota, peppering her lecture with warnings about sketchy characters and tales of daylight hat heists. We asked her about a restaurant that multiple Colombians had told us we had to try, Andres Carne de Res. Like all Colombians at the mention of this famous place, her eyes lit up, and she went on a riff about how her doctor had prescribed more dancing. Apparently Andres Carne de Res was the perfect place to fill the prescription despite it’s meaty name (It means, literally, Andres Beef). I bought a brown fedora of the kind typical to Andean men everywhere – and a few women as well. I wore it out of the shop, and we sauntered through the streets feeling a bit more fancy, but certainly not fitting in any better.
On our second evening in Bogota we arranged to meet once more with with Frank the Berliner. Something about Frank made us happy whenever we saw him wandering through Colombia, towering above most people’s heads, wearing his beatific smile. He wore this smile as he walked into the Bogota Beer Company and looked around the crowded room to find us. We celebrated our final reunion with a pint of the best beer we’d had in months and we dropped our plan for the evening on him. We’d made reservations at Andres Carne de Res and were dragging him along. As expected, Frank nodded vigorously as he agreed to join us.
Our reservation didn’t matter to the woman with the clipboard and earpiece. Or to the people lined up by the dozen to get into the second of two incarnations of Andres Carne de Res. Though this was the second location and therefore inferior to the first, the crowd of people paying $10 apiece just to get in didn’t seem as shocked as us.
As the three of us finally entered, a man wearing a Mexican sombrero gave us free tequila shots. It was the perfect slap in the face to receive before entering the four floor, three ring circus that is Andres Carne de Res. For those of you who know and love Times Square, Andres’ wouldn’t seem unfamiliar or unpleasant to you. Though early, it appeared the fiesta was underway. Our ‘reservations’ seemed to account solely for getting us in the door, once inside we were told to go to the third floor and wait. Unseen speakers were pumping Cumbia, a Colombian mestizo mix of African, Indian and Spanish beats. Flat screen TV’s hung from the walls, televising other parts of the restaurant, though initially it seemed to be tuned to an all Cirq de Soleil channel, or highlights from Rio’s Carnaval. There were bars everywhere, lined by backlit bottles of liqueur, throwing their amber hues out onto the floor.
We sat at a long bar, gawking at the circling spotlights and the view down to the other floors. Despite a blowing AC, smoky fires blazed in brick fireplaces below, giving the sense that we were sausages hanging in a smokehouse. Soon, a line of dancers that we’d seen on the TV’s snaked down a staircase, some beating drums, some wearing masks, some dressed as mid-century body-builders, their striped shirts stuffed with paper. They mugged theatrically at us as they shimmied by, one of the women yelling, “Vivamos!” We are alive! As if we needed a reminder.
We were seated more quickly than we’d assumed and chose some items off of the painfully overpriced menu. It wasn’t just overpriced by Colombian standards, it was overpriced by any standards save those of a Saudi Sheik. $24 for a margarita?
The three of us shared a side of beef served on a big board which was admittedly absolutely delicious. We stuck to beer in the bottle in order to avoid the temptation of spending a small fortune on an ordinary cocktail. While we were finishing up, a man with a large puppet sat down with us. The puppet had a cigar and a bad attitude. The puppeteer was invisible. The grumpy puppet scoffed at all of us except for Magda, who he attempted to seduce. Frank offered him some leftovers which he impolitely refused. He did allow Frank to try to light his cigar though, but it was made of plastic and smoldered, giving off an unpleasant smell. He did not seem grateful.
At some point Cumbia had turned to Salsa and couples began dancing at their tables. Heart shaped confetti blizzarded from the ceiling and got in people’s food. None of us had quite gotten into the mood and eventually we decided to leave the nascent party behind. We walked down to the exit on the first floor, past the body builders who were sitting in people’s laps, posing for pictures. The first floor, which we’d caught glimpses of on the televisions, was pulsing now, dozens of people working off their steak and sweating overpriced alcohol.
Back outside, the line had doubled, along with the cover-charge. We caught a taxi back to La Candeleria, and, on Frank’s suggestion, we returned to the far more sedate Bogota Beer Company, raised the first of our last ultima cervezas, and proceeded to pass the evening with slightly more dignity.
Late in the evening, we said goodbye to Frank for the last time in Colombia and made our way back to the hostel. The next day we prepared our things to leave for home, an odd, almost inconceivable place to be headed. We’d go to New York and return to the trip in Costa Rica two weeks later. I wondered multiple times out loud if I’d be able to return – the idea of coming back to familiar Brooklyn, catching up with friends and eating some comfort food was very appealing. Magda had done it in Brazil and we’d been able to continue as normal. It remained to be seen how we’d adjust after “coming back” to Costa Rica.