Escape from Bogota

In the morning we played basketball. We played two on two and I was amazing. Afterwards, we were going to the Zona Rosa and on the way there a guy sitting next to the basketball court said, “Hey mister”, and when I looked around he gave me a thumbs up. I wondered if he had been watching.
In the evening we were going to Cali. To get to Cali from Bogotá takes ten hours. We shared a taxi to the bus terminal with the English couple who wouldn’t STOP TALKING. I liked them though. They were interesting enough and weren’t full of shit. They were going to Medellín.
We squeezed into the cab. There wasn’t enough room for all the bags in the back so we had to lay them across our fronts. There was a small television on the dashboard playing classic rock videos which made it all right…
We waited at the gate. There were lots of Colombians already waiting there. We stood behind them. Then we were told to get on. I was looking forward to the journey. I like a night bus. You can do some thinking. You can remember where you’d gone wrong, or where you’d gone right.
We pulled out of the station and a film came on. It was a terrible film, something about returning the President’s dog. I knew it was going to be terrible when I saw Eric Roberts’ name in the opening credits. I pulled my headphones out and put on some music.
The bus bucked and jerked in the traffic. When a gap opened in front, the driver would stamp on the accelerator then brake hard. The streets were still alive with people selling, buying, dying. A jazz song came on through my headphones, something by Chet Baker maybe. I thought it was just like the bus, the fucking STOP START bus. We had stopped moving again. I looked out the window and watched a stray dog limp under an underpass. After an hour or so I wanted to BREAK something. I was feeling sick.
“THIS IS RIDICULOUS! ALL THIS TRAFFIC! IT’S ALMOST FUCKING MIDNIGHT!!!”
We turned into a bus station. I recognised it as the south bus station. On the screen above the film had finished. It had taken the length of a shit film just to get to another terminal in the SAME fucking city.
My mind was in riot and the only way I could calm it was to breathe breathe breathe. We left the station and the bus kept stopping. The traffic was gridlocked. It was midnight.
I can’t say that I didn’t like Bogotá. I almost loved her. I loved how rundown she was, how she looked like she should stink of piss but didn’t. But I felt a certain hate then.
After another thirty minutes the traffic loosened and we were MOVING, moving, only stopping at lights. We drove through the barrios. We drove past love motels and strip joints on the way out, right on the edges of the city where it didn’t look too safe.
I was out of the city. I closed my eyes.

 

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The Man on the Corner

Bret was having a BBQ and we took some meat and six packs of beer to his place in La Candelaria. It was a cool place. An old art gallery but the roof had fallen in and now six people were living in it. One of Bret’s housemates was an artist and her paintings covered most of the walls. Some of them were very good. The others went on a tour of the place. I didn’t go because I was busy chopping onions in the dirty kitchen.
We spent some time on the roof trying to get the BBQ going and listening to music. The BBQ just wouldn’t get hot. It must have been about two hours before the meat was put on the grill. Meanwhile we talked and laughed and drank. I was starving. The grill was giving off almost no heat at all. We decided to finish the burgers in a frying pan.
We ate downstairs. Another housemate had hooked a laptop up to some speakers on the roof and the music could be heard throughout the building. I bit into a burger and it was pink. I wasn’t so hungry anymore. I finished it anyway and hoped that it was the paprika. Then Boxhead came over to me
“Is it supposed to look like this?”
“I don’t know…”
Some more of Bret’s housemates walked in and the man had a tiny kitten in his hood. He took it out and it ran around the floor meowing while the girls fussed over it. There was also a dog. The dog had been born with a hip disfigurement and couldn’t walk properly. Her front paws had overgrown to compensate. She spent most of the time lying on her side. I gently stroked her head and for a time I didn’t speak. She was a little brown dog and she looked at me, and those eyes, there was no treachery there. It was so sad, so very sad. I told her it was going to be all right. I wanted to help.
Giovanni said she was getting better, but then Delmy said that her dog had been born with the same thing and instead of getting better, it will only get worse until eventually she will be unable to walk. I sat up and took a drink of my beer. Well, the night was over for me.
Delmy had to work so we left soon after anyway. The six of us started walking the four blocks back to the hostel. The girls walked on ahead. We took a right and started going uphill.
At the end of the street, a man poked his head around the corner of the block, then disappeared back behind it. Seeing this, the girls slowed and stepped into the road. They looked around at us. The man walked around the corner toward us with his hand in his coat pocket. He wore black clothing and wasn’t very old. He continued on past. A police van happened to be coming up the hill then.
The man stopped halfway down the block and looked back at us. By this time, we had reached the corner, made a left and begun walking past the university building. The street was brighter and there were some people around. We walked on, more quickly than before. When I turned around again, the man was back at the corner.
We got to the hostel and it was so sad. I had already forgotten about the little brown dog.
Wouldn’t you have?

 

We got on a plane to South America

It was about three years ago and I had just arrived in Lima, Peru. I was terrified. It was late and we almost got into the only unmarked taxi outside the airport, but another driver rushed over to rescue us just as we were putting our bags in the back. We got into his cab instead and drove through the nighttime streets, along the coast, aggressively, accelerating hard then braking even harder until I wasn’t just scared but sick too. He didn’t stop talking. Then he couldn’t find the hostel. We crawled along dark streets and stopped to ask other drivers. I wasn’t so scared anymore, I just wanted to get to the hostel. Eventually we found it.

We put our things into the room and headed down to the pool table because we didn’t quite know what else to do. There was one other person there, a French guy, who seemed friendly enough, but we didn’t stay long. It had been a LONG day and my fear had refocused itself. I got undressed, into bed and lay under the covers, trembling, begging and twitching, hoping not to die. When I woke up in the morning, I felt shame.
YOU DAMN PANSY! I thought

I’m not terrified this time round. Only EXCITED. As far as visits to Colombia are concerned, I’m about to bust my cherry.

Lima was just the beginning of a 12 month trip around the world that ended in Hong Kong. I returned home in October 2011. It was nice to be home, to walk into my room and see those familiar objects all around me. First, I found a gym membership, then I thought I’d better find a job. I put in dozens of applications but I couldn’t find one. I couldn’t believe they weren’t choosing me. Meanwhile, I babysat the dog and the kitten. It took up a lot of my time, persuading the cat to come out of the dishwasher, stop hanging upside down from the kitchen blind, to come down from the Christmas tree. The dog was always there, shouting at the little baby with me, as if she’s never crapped on the carpet.

Times were hard. I listened to Skid Row ‘Wasted Time’ on repeat, sang it along softly to myself. I couldn’t see the road ahead of me. I wanted to go away again, just didn’t know for sure that I would because it all depended on SO MUCH.

Eventually, after eight months I found a job. It was local. It wasn’t what I was looking for but I took it because I was desperate. Well, I thought, that’s it then. In two years I’m GONE. I’ll save some money then I’ll quit. I hadn’t gotten the career I wanted, so fuck it, right?

So I went to work every day, and made plans the odd Saturday and life was simple and without much pain. I was contented (because I knew it was temporary?) I could see the road ahead.
The only time I really doubted it was in bed at night, lying there like a frightened little girl (there were other times)
WHAT’S WRONG WITH LIVING COMFORTABLE AND DULL? I’d think
Then I’d think about the future and having something to look back on and I’d decide, “I HAVE TO GO!”
Back to the jungles, beaches, mountains, danger, INSPIRATION. It beats throwing away my salary on drink and rent, always miserable and ignoring it. Somehow, throwing it away on cheaper drink and lower rent thousands of miles from home in a foreign country makes it more meaningful (whatever that means).

I quit my job after 18 months, packed my bag and got on a plane to South America.

We’re at the gate, Boxhead and me, in Miami airport, waiting for our connection to Bogota. It’s been 15 hours. Last night, we failed the first test of our mettle. We planned to sleep on the airport floor, but there was very much noise – people, announcements, the damned elevator music, and it went on and on and on, and then there were the lights, and the floor was cold and hard. After many hours we decided to get a hotel room instead, an EXPENSIVE hotel room for six hours because we figured SOME sleep was worth it. When I awakened this morning it was beautiful (it would have been more beautiful at half the price). I showered and shaved and we had a complimentary breakfast.
We’re almost there.