collectivo Bogota Colombia

We’re Off the Map

Sunday September 15, 2013


I’m pretty sure we slept like the dead last night.  Even though our hostel had temporarily been turned into a discoteca, it wasn’t hard to fall into a deep slumber with the beats of Rhianna pumping through the wall.  They may have actually even helped a little, reminiscent of the days when we used to enjoy a Saturday afternoon nap at our old home, techno beats pulsing from our television and lulling us to sleep.  In the morning we spent a little time enjoying our luxurious hotel like hostel, and chatting with the young owners about things to do and see.

We happened to be there just in time for an event held every Sunday in Bogota called Ciclovia.  Certain main streets are blocked off to cars, leaving wide open spaces for people to cycle, run, rollerblade, or just walk in the street.  We were tempted to rent bikes ourselves, but the dark clouds and threat of rain had us putting off this plan since if we had to retreat into a building due to a downpour, there was no way to lock up our rental bikes.  We decided to explore by foot instead.  The hostel owners gave us a very detailed map and marked points of interest for us to see.  That day, we were nudged into going to an area called Usaquén.  There was a great outdoor market that was held on weekends only.

The walk may have been a little longer than we had intended, about 3-4 miles through on and off rain, but the neighborhood was well worth getting to.  Two square blocks were dedicated to vendors with tables set up containing jewelry, bags, jams, paintings, and many other items.  The neighborhood was very modern, and a stark contrast to the either historic or worn buildings of Peru.  For a few hours we strolled the streets and looked at the good, much too aware this time that nothing could be purchased though since it won’t fit in our bags.  I had been on the hunt for good Colombian coffee.  I was turned down.

art vendor in Usaquen, Bogota, Colombia

living statue, Usaquen, Bogota, Colombia

Once it was time to head back to the hostel, we realized we did not want to do that walk twice.  The guys from the hostel told us that there were collectivos constantly running up and down the main street we had taken, and it would only cost us a dollar or two to ride it there or back.  Even though we had just gotten off a 54 hour bus ride, we had no problem hopping back on one.  We thought it would be as simple and crossing to the side of the road we wanted to head down, flag a collectivo, and wait to be dropped off a block from our hostel.  Which are exactly the steps we took, but it didn’t quite turn out as we hoped.

We paid the fee of 1,500 Colombian pesos each, and took a seat as the bus jaunted forward.  Then Matt turned to me and whispered, “I hope this takes us where we need to go”.  We had never even considered the fact until after we had boarded one of the collectivos that they may venture down different streets than the one we were on.  And as soon as we realized that, the bus turned down a side road and further away from where we wanted to be.  I kept hoping, waiting for it to make a left turn, and starting taking us back in the direction we wanted to go.  It never did, and when we realized it probably wasn’t going to, we had gone far enough that we weren’t sure we wanted to walk back.

Then not only did distance become an issue, but the neighborhoods did as well.  Our thoughts went from ‘I don’t want to walk back that far’ to ‘This neighborhood looks a little dodgier than the last’ to ‘We are not getting off here, put the windows up and lock the doors’.  At this point we were no longer even on the incredibly huge map we were given, meaning that we were probably in a part of town not seen by many tourist.  We were positive that eventually it would turn around and end back up at the place we had started, and we didn’t even mind having to pay the fare again to hop on a new one heading the right direction.

Soon, every passenger had gotten off and it was only us and the driver remaining.  He turned the bus around and began heading down a street we had just come from, and Matt and I let out a collective sigh as we thought that meant we were now returning to Usaquen.  We were not.  Just outside one of the not so great neighborhoods he pulled to a stop in front of a bus depot and made it clear that this was the end of the line.  This collectivo would be going no further.  Luckily we were on a major road where there weren’t dark alleys and the though of something seedy happening to us was less likely, but those seedy neighborhoods are what we would need to walk through to get back to the other main road which would lead us to our hostel.

Just as we were about to break down and hail a cab for the $20 ride back, I saw a collectivo whiz by that had the name of our neighborhood printed on it’s front window.  It seemed safe enough to wait at least 10-15 minutes for another one to hopefully come by, so this is what we did.  Scanning the windows of each collectivo that passed, we finally saw another one after lots of squinting and two accidental flag downs of wrong ones.  It appeared as if our neighborhood was the last stop of this bus, and two hours after we originally boarded our first collectivo that day, we were dropped off two blocks from our hostel.  I think it is safe to say, we have seen this city.

collectivo Bogota Colombia

 Arriving back at the hostel, I had just enough time to whip out my computer and check emails before finding out that our friend Nicolas that we had met back in Peru, the one who went surfing with us, was looking forward to getting together that night.  Giving us the name of a bar/restaurant and the name of the street it was on, we were off once again, barely an hour after we had just gotten back.  There was going to be no chancing it with collectivos this time, we were taking a cab.  Which led to us getting lost.  Again.  I had written down the name of the bar, the street it was on, and handed him my map, yet it all must have been too confusing to him.  Not wanting to rack up a giant taxi fare, we got out in the general vicinity and started walking from that point.

To our delight, we finally found the bar after about fifteen minutes of searching….only to find out it was the wrong one.  The place we were meeting was called Bogota Beer Company, and apparently it’s as big of a chain there as TGI Fridays back in the states.  We ended up at the one two miles away from where we should have been, apparently back in Usaquen where we had been that morning.  Thankfully there was a young bilingual Colombian girl that took pity on us and called us a secure taxi which she put us in herself and then gave very direct instructions to the driver.  If it was not for her, I think we would have been wandering the streets of Bogota all night.

Finally finding Nicolas, we also found out that he was with his girlfriend and another friend and everyone was at another bar up the road.  Grateful to sit down and order a drink, our group squeezed around a low table as a hookah was placed in front of us, and the next hour flew by as we talked about life and travel.

Nicolas and Diana

Kathmandu, Bogota, Colombia

Matt with hookah, Kathmandu, Bogota, Colombia

 The party wasn’t as long as we’d hoped since, for a few of the people at the table, there was still work the next day.  We said goodbye to Diana and her friend, while we continued back to Bogota Beer Company with Nicolas so we could finally taste what all the raving was about.  Not only had this place been mentioned in our guide, but the guys back at the hostel also gave us an indication of the wide variety of beers they offered.  By this time though, Matt and I were ravenous.  Neither of us had eaten for hours and were getting delirious to the point that when we passed by a McDonald’s we couldn’t even remember the name of their signature burger.

“It’s a Mc Whopper!”

“No, that’s not it…..Mc Whopper?”

“It’s a Mc something…..   Whatever, I’m just going to go in and order a Mc Whopper.”

We promised ourselves we’d visit there after having one more beer with Nicolas at BBC.  One beer, which turned into a beer tower.

beer tower, Bogota Beer Company

 And over that one beer (tower) we all decided that it was way too early for Diana to be heading home for the night, and we needed to meet her back at her apartment so that we could drag her out for…more beer.  Which is exactly what we did.  I never did get my Mc Whopper, or any dinner really, which is probably why I have a photo album of the night which looks like this:

beer bottles at Bogota Beer Company

art on wall, Bogota Beer Companyglasses drying, Bogota Beer Companysign, Bogota Beer Company

Someone should have put me on a leash or placed me in a high chair, because I’m pretty sure the staff there thought I was mental for photographing everything.  I even have photos of the bathroom.  All beer & no food = silly Jessica.  That’s ok, a great night was had by all, and these are the things memories are made of, right?  I’m just not looking forward to the headache tomorrow is going to bring.

group shot at Bogota Beer Company



Tuesday July 16, 2013


It’s kind of funny how once you know you’re going to be in a place for awhile, it’s easy to fall into a rut. With 4-5 months here in Guatemala, there’s certain things we want to do and see, but they keep getting put on the back burner.

“We should go visit the ancient ruins at Tikal.”

“Yeah, but we have plenty of time for that. We’ll get to it later.”

“Copan is also relatively close you know.”

“We have all summer.”

Even our neighboring town of Morales, something that’s a 20 minute drive away, a larger town that carries much more than Fronteras, was put on the back burner. “There’s nothing we really need there, if we’re just going to check it out, we can do it later.” Three weeks we’ve been here, and in three weeks the only sights we have seen outside of our normal trek to town for necessities was our first weekend in Guatemala where we were swept away to El Estor. Every day after that has been focusing on boat work and nothing much else. Even though while we’re actively cruising we usually sweep through a country or destination in a week, we can’t seem to be bothered to take a hop to the next town over right now. So the other morning while I was having coffee at the ranchito and Matt was sleeping in (our sleep schedules seem to differ a little bit these days) and Luis came by to ask if the two of us would like to go into Morales the next day with him, Ana Bianca, and Luki, I agreed on behalf of myself and Matt.

This morning as I got myself ready for ‘the big city’, I finally got myself out of my athletic gear that’s become my new uniform for our days at the marina here, and into something more presentable. The five of us shuttled over to town in Luis’ lancha and made our way up to the main road, where I was told we’d be taking a collectivo into Morales. The only thing I knew about these is they were the cheap, local transportation. Thinking in my mind that it would be a bus, I almost walked right past the mini-van looking vehicle that Luis had stopped at. Ohhh, so that’s a collectivo! And the gibberish I’d heard them yelling out every time we walked by was “Morales”. Or as it sounded to me “MoralesMoralesMoralesMorales”.

This collectivo was a twelve seater van that had three rows of seating holding three people each running through the back, and then three seats up front for the driver and two passengers. Being the first people to get in, Matt and I slid into the first row of seats, with our other three friends taking the row behind us. Silly me, I thought we’d wait until we had eleven passengers and leave, but even before taking off we had about fourteen people squeezed into that tiny van. Even sillier me, I thought it would stay that way. All along the way to Morales we’d make a stop for anyone that was on the side of the road and waved their arms to flag us down. As each person joined, we squeezed in tighter with me eventually sitting on Matt’s lap as we fit five people into our row alone. By the time we made it into Morales, I kid you not, we had 28 people in that van. Four were small children, but that still meant we were double capacity for adults. I’m surprised that no one was hanging off the racks on the roof. One saving grace about Guatemalans though is they hold personal hygiene very highly and probably smelled even better than we did, which was a big bonus for us as we sat in such a cramped enclosure.

As we pulled to a stop in town and the door slid open, we all spilled out as if the closed door was the only thing keeping everyone in place.  I don’t know exactly what I was expecting form the ‘big city’ of Morales, but I don’t think it quite delivered to my expectations, not right away at least.  It could have been my recent researches of Guatemala City, or the repetition of hearing “Morales will have everything you need!”, but I was dropped on to a dusty road that looked like it had very few shops.  Fret not, it turns we weren’t quite in town yet.  We had chosen to get out early to check out a hardware and lumber store just on the outskirts.  I have to say, it’s a bit better than what we’ve been finding at the concrete mall, and may even give the hardware store in Grand Cayman a run for it’s money.

hardware store in MoralesI can see why they have an ATM at the front of their shop.


Matt and I didn’t make any purchases here, just wandered around converting prices from Quetzals to USD.  “Oh look, this hammer is only $6.50.  Look!  Drill bits for under $10!”.  We all came out of the store empty handed, but it was good to know the kind of selection offered just a 20 minute, 28 person van ride away.  That was really the end of our necessity to visit town, the rest of our time could be spent wandering around for fun.  I did pop in and out of a few pharmacies to see if they carried a prescription we were running out of, and although they did have what we were looking for, no one carried a generic and wanted $90 US a month for it.  Are you effing kidding me?  No thanks, I think I’ll wait until we’re back in Michigan and take advantage of Walmart’s generics for $10/month.

After doing a little more walking through the desert Central American sun, my shirt was soaked and I needed a little shade.  We found some at a fruit stand that was sitting on the side of the street, and even talked the woman running the stand to hack open a fruit that we were clueless on so we could all take a sample of it.

fruit stand in Morales

unnameable fruit

Still couldn’t tell you what this was if my life depended on it.

bag of...yellow stuff


The closer we got to the center of town, the more stores and shops we came upon.  Again, in my head we were going to a mini Guatemala City and I foolishly thought there’d be many more Americanized stores instead of the concrete cubes that house stores like back in Fronteras.  Nope, they were the same.  Just many many more of them.  Not that this is a terrible thing, and we browsed the stores and talked about how we really need to get Matt a set of cowboy boots and a cowboy hat to help him really fit in here.

cowboy boots

In the end we just did a big loop of the town before ending on the main road that would take us back to where we had originally been dropped off.  We stopped for lunch in a little cafe, and although it took all my strength not to order a cold beer or a tasty margarita, I instead opted for the free natural juice that came with the meal.  I have to remember that every dollar counts now for our South American trip.  Paying the bill at the end of our meal we were given Halls cough drops as mints.  Because, well, why wouldn’t you get those.  As our visit neared an end, the only thing for us left to do was step outside and hail down any vehicle yelling “RioDulceRioDulceRioDulce!”

market in Morales

Matt in Morales

butcher shop in Morales