Los primeros días

I’m here. I’m somewhat settled. And I love it.

I’ll start at the beginning, which is a very good place to start. But since flights go one of two ways—good or bad—I’ll leave mine at good. It was good.

Before even that, though, I had a wonderful last couple days in New York. They were busy with packing, of course, but mostly stress-free. It’s great to discover at midnight, several hours before you’re going to leave home for a year, that, yes, of course, something is missing, and it’s your camera charger—but that there’s a 24-hour Best Buy in Union Square. And it’s great, when you call and find out that Best Buy doesn’t have your type of charger, to realize you don’t care. You’ll get another one later. In twelve hours you’re going to be in Bogotá. That’s pretty cool.

Your mom (by which I mean my mom) is also the best person in the world for her combination of packing talents and good cheer, and for being willing to stay up with you to make sure you don’t screw up your real and (hopefully) final move out of her home. Your dad is a total G for waking up at 3:30 and hanging out with you in your last hour at home, as you finish packing, go to get a bagel (your last one in months?), and head off. And your friend Avery shows his true, awesome colors by hanging out with you all evening as you pack, just keeping you company and helping you get ready to go. Again, this is my friend Avery who is so cool, though if you have a friend Avery, he is probably also quite cool, most likely because he is the same Avery.

Then I had my good flight and arrived in Bogotá, where the only thing tougher than the drug lords are the customs agents.

Or so I feared. I had read that I would need to show my outgoing ticket (to Lima, a trip I bought just to prove I “planned” to leave the country, and which I will cancel soon) in order to be allowed entrance. I expected I would be grilled about my intentions in Colombia, the amount of cash I carried, whether I enjoyed la cocaína, and much more, until I broke down, crying and ashamed, ready to renounce my possessions and plans and beg to be allowed to return home. At least I was ready with some thought-through phrases, my outbound ticket in hand with my passport, and a few beads of sweat ready to roll.

Here went my conversation with the customs agent, translado en inglés. “Welcome to Colombia.” “Thank you.” “Where did you come from?” “New York.” “What?” “Sorry, Ft. Lauderdale.” “Ok. What is your occupation?” “Student.” “You are a tourist?” “Yes.” “Where are you staying?” “The Platypus Hostel.” “How many days will you spend in Colombia?” “Sixty.” “Sixty days?” “Yes, sixty.” “Ok, I am giving you sixty days. See here?” “Yes, thank you.” “Next!”

And then I got a cab, and that was easy as pie, because Aeropuerto Internacional El Dorado has a taxi stand that is better run and more professional than those at LaGuardia or JFK, and then I arrived at my hostel, which is pretty as a peach, and then I asked for a food recommendation and was asked whether I was vegetarian, and I said “Sí, es preferible,” and then I got lost trying to find the restaurant, and then I came back to the hostel and asked for directions again, and then I found the restaurant, and then I ate a wonderful meal of a chalupa with soup and a banana and a drink, and then I paid the equivalent of five dollars for it, and then I made my way back to my hostel, and then I went to sleep, because I was exhausted, because I hadn’t slept the night before the flight.

And then I slept for fifteen hours, which is the longest I’ve ever slept continuously. (As Mitch Hedberg says, “I haven’t slept for ten days, because that would be too long.”)

Day two (sort of): I woke up, showered, got some tea (free at the hostel, as is coffee and beer), and answered emails. I felt lost and emailed some friends a moderately desperate message: WHAT AM I DOING HERE? KTHXBAI. It dawned on me that I didn’t really speak Spanish, that I had no idea what I should do that day or the next, that anything I would do next would not be something I’ve done before, that I wouldn’t be going home next week or even the week after. That was scary. Then I got hungry, and in short order that became more important than anything else, so I went outside. I was still scared.

Then I got lost, again. Then I found the restaurant I wanted to find, again. Then I ate a delicious falafel meal at an Israeli place and paid about eight dollars, which I could already tell was more than I’ll usually have to or choose to spend on meals, even very good ones like this one.

Then I stepped out into the street and realized I knew where I was going and that this—all this—was fucking awesome.

I walked, I saw some things I wanted to, I changed money, I came back to my hostel, I was very pumped. I realized I love Bogotá. I realized I am so happy to be here now, and to be beginning a year that I will spend here. I realized I have so far only seen La Candelaria, the nicer, historic part of the city that is packed with very attractive young people, but I will enjoy myself here, wherever in Bogotá I end up spending most of my time. (And did I mention this exists, and so nearby?) I posted a message to CouchSurfing Bogotá: Anyone want to meet up to show me the city and speak in English or Spanish? Within a few hours I had received six responses.

Then dinner, acquiring a good map from a tourist office, and realizing I was outsidein BogotáColombiaafter dark, and realizing I should head home, but still feeling mostly safe as I walked the few blocks, and appreciating the man on the street drawing and pinning his completed works up on the wall behind him, advertising his art for sale to passing tourists and bogotanos, even as it was drizzling.

Last night I read a bunch, including more from this book, and including this quote (top one on that page) for the third time in a week, and I realized, in a minor epiphany that had not come to me the first two times I read the quote, that the truth therein, which I have long known despite lacking the words to express it, is why I am happy.

Today I bought a SIM card (call me at 310 584 0860! plus whatever the Colombian country code is), ate more delicious food for outrageous prices, gave myself a Spanish lesson, called some Colombians I had been referred to, and emailed more CouchSurfers about meeting up.

Bogotá is somewhere between New York and Lima in every way I have so far detected. It is a lot closer to New York in many ways than I would have believed before I got here.

Here is what I have accomplished so far: Arrive. Figure out Bogotá’s street grid and numbering system. Eat half a dozen cheap, delicious, meat-free meals. Change money. Buy a SIM card. Buy a Spanish-English dictionary and Don Quixote in Spanish, both for Kindle. Be happy. Stay safe.

Here is what I plan to do next: Keep (re-)learning Spanish. Keep discovering Bogotá, hopefully venturing a little further each day. Meet more people, make friends, avoid loneliness. Eventually get an apartment, and look for jobs. Be happy. Stay safe.

Here’s something cool, a reason I’d encourage anyone who wants to try living abroad to do so: You can mostly waste a whole day doing all the shit you enjoy doing at home (isn’t To Kill a Mockingbird a wonderful book?) but which makes you feel kind of guilty when that’s all you do, and still have actually accomplished something, somehow. And you only spent about $30, so, win.

Going forward, I won’t be writing every few days (as Mitch Hedberg doesn’t say, “I don’t write every day, because that would be too often”), and I won’t be writing this much when I do. But I will be writing when I have more to report.  So check back, amigos.

And if you want to take a trip to Bogotá, please come. I mean it. This city is awesome.

3 thoughts on “Los primeros días

  1. Pete,
    This is such an incredible experience and I am VERY jealous of what you are doing. I would not be able to travel as well as you but am looking forward to vicariously living your experiences via the blog.

    Not to get all touchy-feely, but I’m proud to have a friend like you that does this kind of amazing stuff. You never cease to impress me.


  2. cosign jberk.

    hope you’re having a blast buddy, and come back to yale soon. we just played upperclassmen vs. freshmen capture the flag and i was hanging out in the froco suite before that and it just made me miss all of you guys that much more.

    stay safe, and hopefully see you soon.

  3. Add to list of things you plan to do:
    Visit your incredible, enchanting friend Charlotte in Cali and take a road trip with her to Armenia, perhaps with a lovely (camping?) stopover in the Andes 🙂

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