This week we travel to Colombia with fellow blogger Ernest White II aka Fly Brother. Ernest recently wrapped up his four-year stint in Colombia, where he worked as a teacher in Barranquilla on the Caribbean coast and in the capital of Bogotá. I caught Ernest just before he moves back south to Brazil later this fall and asked him to reminisce about his time in Colombia for the guest post series. Enjoy Fly Brother’s story!
KEEPING WARM IN BOGOTÀ
Sweaters and thermal underwear aren’t typically associated with South American nations bordering the Caribbean Sea but in the capital of Colombia, I had to have my warm duds packed. Bogotá sits perched stratospherically in the Andes at 8,600 feet above sea level, where altitude and frequent rainy cloud cover conspire to keep temperatures hovering in the 50s and 60s. Colombia’s equatorial latitude ensures the city a Frigidaire-like ambiance year-round; ergo its national nickname, La Nevera, “the refrigerator.”
With heating systems being a luxury, most houses have barely more than a fireplace to keep things hot; my old apartment in Bogotá’s historic district was situated in a drafty, Iberian-style colonial home, built with an interior courtyard intended to cool the structure in toasty Spanish summers but only served to suck out what little body heat I could muster in the Andean heights.
Occasionally the chill is broken by bursts of intense sunlight, which could last for a few minutes or a few days, but only until nightfall or the next inevitable rain. Mamas and abuelas supplement this precious little heat with hearty stews like ajiaco – packed with chicken, corn, and seven different types of potatoes – warm wine and locally made spirits, and elaborate hot chocolate servings with bread and cheese for dipping into the cocoa. Folks from tierra caliente, the tropical, lower elevations fanning toward both coasts and the Amazon basin, spice up the capital with their energy, music, and dance in itty-bitty matchbox salsa spots and vallenato halls. Tourists and be-suited executives fuel Colombian café culture after work at coffee houses like Oma and Juan Valdez, then hit the Zona T (near the Centro Comercial Andino (Carreras 11, 13, and 15 between Calles 79 and 85) or Parque 93 (off Calle 93 between Carreras 12 and 13A) for sometimes (illegally) super-fueled late-night raves.
Then on Sunday mornings, when the principal streets are given over to pedestrians until 2pm, the entire city turns out to redeem itself with either a cleansing pilgrimage up to the summit of Monserrate or by sweating their sins away by bike, roller-blades, or a brisk jog. Sometimes the sun is even out.
I would usually hit the gym, then opt for a remarkable $6 seafood dinner at the unremarkably named Sabores del Pacifico (Flavors of the Pacific; on Carrera Septima in Centro). Then I’d scoot home to my apartment with the intention of beating the almost always-impending rainstorm but almost always dampened by the first fat drops of a high-altitude tropical downpour, strip off the wet clothes, throw on the pajamas, start the fireplace, and wrap up in layers of woolen blankets to watch a movie or CNN. That’s keeping warm in South America.