While I’m pulling the title phrase of Bomba Estereo’s song “Algo Está Cambiando” out of context, my attitudes about Colombia are certainly changing with every passing day. And I’ve been listening to Bomba Estereo on repeat, so it feels fitting to pay homage a little in the naming of this post. (Bonus points if you listen to the song while you read this 🙂 ).
Going on six weeks in the country, I’ve adjusted to the altitude (hallelujah, took long enough!), the air (there will always be pollution, but it’s been raining more!), and the culture shock. I’m starting to get a deeper sense of the culture of the city and the vibes of different neighborhoods. And I’m even exploring beyond Bogotá, writing this from a hostel in Cartagena—ending a fantastic first day here at the Festival del Cine Internacional de Cartagena.
But before I launch into how much I’m loving Cartagena, I should backtrack a bit because I’m still processing all the cultural knowledge I soaked up in the last month. My second week in Bogotá was consumed with running around the city, mainly to malls, to collect house goods for my new apartment, but this gave me exposure to more areas of the city. Fortunately, one of the main conclusions then and in the time I’ve spent exploring since, is that my neighborhood (Chapinero Alto) is a perfect fit for me. It has a calm, residential vibe, with lots of green areas and there’s an abundance of tasty cafes and bakeries within reasonable walking distance and in all directions from my apartment.
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The other big realization of the last few weeks is that this country is incredibly diverse, even more so than I expected. I’m not talking about biodiversity (yet!), although, Colombia ranks as the second most biodiverse country in the world, which I’m sure I’ll experience when I travel more. I’m talking about more of a diversity of people; like many capitals in the world, Bogotá draws people from all over the country. The one thing that seems to unite nearly everyone I’ve spoken with—classmates in my dance and film classes, uber drivers, grocery market cashiers, etc.—is that they share a deep pride for their country, and those who come to Bogotá from other parts don’t renounce their origins to become full-on bogotanos. Rather, those from other parts of the country bring their regional pride to the capital, and in Bogotá these styles then mix in exciting ways. This dynamic makes Bogotá a rich cultural center, with an incredible variety of art forms (especially dance and music styles), culinary traditions, and linguistic variations (some slang is pretty regional, and so far I’ve learned about costeño and paisa accents, the costeñobeing what I hear these days in Cartagena, and it’s tougher for me to understand).
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While I expected salsa would be one of the dominant dance forms here, it turns out that there are so many more dance styles and accompanying music styles emerging from all regions of the country. The Caribbean is a particularly rich source of new art forms, which makes sense geographically since many immigrants first land and then settle in this area. So far, I’ve been introduced to Vallenato music (which comes from a town called Valledupar) and Champeta music, also originating in the Caribbean. While I appreciate music, I don’t have the best ear, and despite many efforts of friends trying to teach me how to identify styles of music, the only thing I’ve learned is that Vallenato songs often have prominent accordion sounds and in Champeta songs they often shout the word “Champeta” in the lyrics. In addition to the regional styles combining (Andean, Caribbean, Pacific, Reggaeton, etc), a recent wave of “urbana” updates on many of the regional styles has evolved, with champeta urbana dance and music taking an especially strong hold.
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I’ve also begun to explore more of the gastronomic scene, but this is going to take many posts to fully address (I take food very seriously). Starting at the very beginning, breakfast foods are pretty unique in Colombia. A typical breakfast often features cheese prominently, which I’m all for; cheese is spread on soft bread and dipped into rich hot chocolate (similar to hot chocolate you would drink in Oaxaca, Mexico), or the cheese is dipped directly into the chocolate. Cheese is also often served with perhaps the most typical Colombian breakfast item: arepas. Made of cornmeal in thick patties, I first found arepas to be very dry, and I’m not a fan of most crumbly things. But I’ve since learned that the consistency of an arepa is variable, and the more buttery the arepa, the better. Now, I’ve found the best places near my apartment to buy hot arepas, and I even found some decent store bought brands of arepas. I love mopping up a gooey egg with a moist arepa.
My go-to breakfast for days when I’m feeling too rushed to prepare something at home is a chocolate caliente and a palito de queso (exactly what it sounds like, a stick of very cheesy bread that you can ask a cafe or bakery to heat up—do this!). Having tried a few local bakeries as well as franchise cafes, my preferred palito de queso at the moment is from Pan Pa Ya. The franchise (not sure if this is true at all branches but certainly is at the one on Calle 56 and Cra 6) also serves Amor Perfecto coffee, which is considered by many coffee experts to be the best in the country.
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Now that I’ve shared all sorts of exciting things, here’s a downer: like Mexico, Colombia is not the most efficient, particularly when it comes to anything involving bureaucracy. Several weeks ago after the person I’m renting from missed several internet bills, the company disconnected our service and it took several phone calls to the company before the cause of problem was even identified (it didn’t help that when I told the person I’m renting from about the wifi disconnection, she reassured me that she had definitely paid all the bills and that it could not be disconnected, but alas…). Luckily, after the several phone calls, I was able to go first thing the next day to pay the several months of missed bills, and it took a few more calls before the company actually processed the payment and reconnected, but this was a maximum of 20 hours of stress. Once everything was reconnected, I was proud at my ability to manage such a real-life scenario and in Spanish no less (understanding Spanish over the phone is a skill I’m not too confident in).
But little did the I know the same day that I had fixed the internet, I lost hot water. Nearly three weeks later, I still don’t have hot water in my apartment, and it’s been an incredibly stressful saga that I’m planning to write up in its own post—mainly so I can look back at this in a few years and remember how crazy it was to deal with layers of a person I’m renting from, a property manager, and a whole group of technicians.
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I’ll shift back to end with the positive and the present: the utilities chaos gave me an excuse to escape, an extra justification to come to Cartagena for a visit. The architecture of the colonial port city is enough to merit a several-days-long visit, but I’m thrilled that my visit coincides with the film festival because the two screenings I attended today (both with the directors, producers, and many actors in the movie in attendance and answering questions afterward) were wonderful. I can’t wait to see more films—just assembled my itinerary and in my typical overly enthusiastic style, I am hoping to see 7 more films before flying back to Bogotá on Sunday night. When the heat and humidity catches up with me, I might scale back a bit…