Settling in to Bogotá

I’ve spent the past few weeks settling into Bogotá, my new job and our apartment. After seven months living with la suegra, I’ve been busy creating a home with mi novio. The shopping and nesting has been aided somewhat by three long weekends in the space of a month.

Apartment hunting in Bogotá isn’t as straight-forward as I thought it would be, and we ran into one huge obstacle, the aseguradora. It seems the majority of apartments for rent send the applications off to an insurance company who scrutinise your income and debts and those of your guarantor (in Spanish it’s called a co-deudor). Your guarantor needs to not only own property, but have an income higher than your monthly rent as well. They also must be Colombian, or here in Colombia to sign the paperwork, a difficult requirement to meet if you are a foreigner. All this is just to RENT an apartment.

When our application for our favourite apartment failed because our co-deudor didn’t have one document they were asking for and we refused to pay a deposit of COP$9,000,000 (US$4,680) we had to start all over again and about COP$100,000 (US$52) poorer with the application processing fee of COP$80,000 and the zillions of phone calls that were made over it.

We were more than a little disheartened, but thankfully mi novio spent a day traipsing around the neighbourhood where we wanted to live and set up four inspections. We loved the first one. It was very similar to the previous favourite, but had three bedrooms plus a servant’s quarters (something that I’ve never seen in Australia except heritage properties) and was a little bit more expensive. We loved the apartment so much that we called the owner and managed to arrange a contract where in lieu of going through the aseguradora, we drew up a contract with the owner and agreed to pay one month in advance so we will always be a month ahead of our rent payments. We cancelled the rest of the appointments and started jumping around with joy.

Because we were dealing directly with the owner – who conveniently is a lawyer – we were able to move in three days later. Woohoo! No more hostel!

After the early morning handover with the owner, we hit the shops to start buying homewares. We happened upon a great bargain on a TV at 25% off the regular price, and although it wasn’t the highest priority, it found its way to the register along with a fridge, washing machine, crockery set and a few other bits and pieces. When I went to pay for everything with my Australian credit card it came back rejected. Uh-oh! It turns out my credit card had been blocked after withdrawing cash from the ATM (which I never do) and in three transactions in order to get the amount we needed to pay our landlord that morning. We then had to reprioritise our purchases as I couldn’t pay for all of them with my Australian debit card either and mi novio had nothing left in his account. So we took the TV home as that was on sale for one day only and I wasn’t prepared to lose the COP$300,000 discount.

Despite the stretched daily finances, we went to another store where we bought an inflatable couch that flips into a mattress so we had something to sleep on. Realising that we hardly had any cash, I went to the ATM to withdraw enough to get us back to the hostel and then a taxi with all our bags to the apartment. I had insufficient funds. Slightly preoccupied, we went back to our new apartment, complete with big screen TV, and counted every last coin to come to a grand total of COP$14,000 (US$7.30). We needed COP$3,000 for the bus to the hostel, and then we only had COP$9,000 for the taxi back, which was going to be a stretch. We were also starving because we had hardly eaten all day.

First night in our apartment with just the essentials.
First night in our apartment with just the essentials.

I thought mi novio had a few thousand pesos in his account so I said we should go to the supermarket to get some food. Unfortunately his card was rejected. So I tried my credit card again. No go. I then handed over my debit card praying the purchase of COP$12,000 would go through, and it did. We had similar pure luck in flagging down a taxi and negotiating with the driver to peg the fare at all we had, COP$9,000. So rather than celebrating our first night in our own place in a grand style, we sat on our inflatable couch/bed in front of the TV on the floor eating bread rolls and sharing a bottle of Coca-Cola.

The next two weeks were filled with the arrival of our furniture and belongings from Santa Marta, shopping for more homewares and four deliveries of white goods (although I should call them silver-goods since the fridge and washing machine aren’t white) and furniture. Delivery by delivery, our apartment transformed from a shell into a home.

I love the process of setting up home – must be my Taurean traits shining through – and this is the second time in two years that I’ve furnished a place pretty much from scratch. This apartment of our own has been such a long time coming that I’ve been reluctant to leave it at the weekend, which I’m sure has caused my housebound novio some frustrations. I’ve been baking and although the oven isn’t perfect (the temperature dial requires the use of pliers and the temperature range doesn’t have precision markings) it is holding up to my needs and placating mi novio somewhat with sweet treats.

The best part is that we live a short walk from my work so not only do I avoid the gridlocked commute,

I can come home for lunch. If that’s not luxury in Bogotá, I don’t know what is.

First random act of kindness in Bogota

It’s  been a big and exhausting week filled with adjusting to Bogotá’s altitude, wrapping up in warm clothes, being in the big city, finding my way on local buses, starting my new job and apartment hunting.

We spent a full day on Monday going to various inspections we had lined up and also traipsing around the general area we are looking to live in looking for Se Arriendo signs that indicate a vacant apartment. Renting an apartment in Bogotá is not easy because of all the requirements you need to meet, and I’m sure I’ll write a post about the house-hunting process sometime soon. We had a couple more inspections on Tuesday and Wednesday and currently have our application in for a fabulous apartment very close to my work. We have our fingers crossed everything goes through fine and that we can move in next week!

On Tuesday I started my new job and I already love it. It’s going to be interesting, challenging and I get to work with a great bunch of professionals in a bilingual office environment. I also have an office window that looks out over Bogotá with a most incredible view, so you can be sure I’ll be taking regular ‘rest your eyes and look into the distance away from the computer screen’ exercises.

Last night on the bus back to the hostel where I’m staying until we get an apartment I was on the receiving end of lovely piece of Bogotano kindness. Buses are notoriously jam-packed and if you end up standing in the aisle, you have to hold on with two hands firmly gripping the rails in a white knuckle embrace so as not to be flung around like a bowling ball as the driver brakes and swerves at high speeds. The girl standing next to me, who wasn’t tall enough to reach the ceiling rails, slipped into the newly vacated seat directly in front of her (but not before hovering over the seat for just a minute in a Bogotá idiosyncrasy I had read about on Banana Skin Flip Flops and Sarepa). I moved a step down the bus to where she had been standing and she obviously saw that my oversized shoulder bag was heavy, awkward and in serious danger of smacking her in the head, so she said “Te ayudo?” (can I help you?) motioning to take my bag for me. So I handed over my bag which she nursed on her knee until I got off. I had seen the exact same kindness the day before by a girl sitting next to me taking the unwieldy backpack of a guy standing in the aisle and resting it on her knee and the day before that when a man gave up his seat for a pregnant woman and she returned the favour by minding his bag for him.

This small gesture is surprising because it is where famous Colombian hospitality and Bogotano politeness meets an ingrained mistrust of others and wins. Mi novio keeps telling me to be careful on the buses because they have a reputation for thefts, and here I am handing over my bag with all my important papers and valuables to a perfect stranger to mind for me. I have seen and heard of many examples of Colombian’s mistrust in others, right up to not trusting family members, although I think that is mostly about not trusting anyone with your money. But I love that regardless, people are lovely and helpful and kind. It makes me love this city a little bit more.

This week has passed by in such a blur that I’ve had to pinch myself that yes, I am in Bogotá and yes, life is great.