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.

Back in Colombia

We’d kept it a surprise. No one in Colombia knew we were coming back earlier. They were all awaiting our arrival on the 21st of October.

The decision to come back sooner came from an intersection of a few thoughts and feelings. Mi novio missed his family. He’d been away from them for 4 months and he was keen to see them again. The travels we were doing in Argentina and Chile just exacerbated his desire to go  get back on home soil. We also realised we were spending far more than we had budgeted. I had underestimated how expensive it was for two people to travel.

Unfortunately to change our flights was also super expensive. We virtually had to forfeit our flight and buy new ones. So we looked at travelling to Colombia by bus. Money can be a strong motivator and in a move away from my normal logic, mi novio convinced me that taking the bus was a sensible financial option and that it wouldn’t be the nightmare of my imagination.

After 11 days en route from Argentina, 4 border crossings and 7 nights sleeping in buses, we arrived to the tropical heat of Santa Marta.

Loading bags in Chile
Loading bags in Santiago. Even an excess baggage charge doesn’t compel people to travel lightly.

Laden with 2 suitcases, 2 large backpacks, 2 small backpacks and a carry-on bag we walked the narrow street to mi novio‘s house and opened the gate. From inside the house there the was a flurry of excitement and shouts as the realisation of our early arrival dawned.

Almost two weeks after arriving and with the flights we have booked set to fly tomorrow, I can look back and say it was a good decision to come back earlier than planned. What we’ve accomplished in this time here and the money we’ve saved are just two small benefits when compared alongside the reunion of family and the happiness I saw on his son and mother’s faces.

Although the 11 days of travel and 7 nights in buses faded into a distant memory as soon as we left the bus terminal in Santa Marta, it is an experience I am not keen to repeat and I still think we are slightly crazy for giving up the airfares that would have got us here in 8 hours.

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Are you also looking to do an international bus trip in South America?

Here’s some details of our trip to help you out.

Buenos Aires, Argentina to Santiago, Chile > approx 19 hours. Most companies offering this route stop in Mendoza. Cata Internacional has a daily direct bus. We took Pullman Bus which leaves Sundays and Wednesdays and was $450 Argentinian Pesos each (other companies quoted $500 pesos). This was probably the most attentive service we received on the buses. We were plied with coffee and soft drink, given a snack sack, dinner was provided in a restaurant and a ham and cheese sandwich provided for breakfast and there were good, new release movies shown. The seats weren’t as comfortable as some of the others but we were provided with a pillow and blanket. Our tickets said we could take 20kg of luggage each, but this was not weighed. Note: We went to Santiago to pick up luggage we’d stored and there are direct buses to Lima from Buenos Aires.

Cruz del Sur bus
Crossing the Chile/Peru border.

Santiago, Chile to Lima, Peru > approx 52 hours. There are a few companies (Cruz del Sur, Ormeno, Andesmar and more) that offer this service, although they all operate on different days. We went with Cruz del Sur and paid $40,000 Chilean Pesos each. We chose Cruz del Sur for the departure day and also because they provided service on board the bus and most meals and also for the baggage allowance of 30kg. The bus companies seemed to be stricter on overweight baggage than airlines, and we had to pay 800 Chilean pesos for each kilo overweight. I would definitely recommend Cruz del Sur as we received very good service from the dedicated waiter who always advised us 10 minutes before we were to stop and told us how long we were stopping for. He also kept the movies going back to back during the trip and showed a good variety of new-release films (ie not just action films!) and he was also helpful at putting on the English sub-titles when I asked. Blankets were provided. Cruz del Sur have a connecting service to Guayaquil, Ecuador if you are heading further north.

Onboard Ormeno
Enjoying the space on the bus after most passengers got off in Cali.

Lima, Peru to Bogota, Colombia > approx 76 hours. There weren’t as many operators as we had expected, and since Lima doesn’t have a central bus terminal, it’s even harder to find them. In the end we had to go with Ormeno despite having read bad reviews online and hearing that it is just a bus trip, there is no service included. We paid US$180 each (you can withdraw US dollars from ATMs in Lima and there is an ATM inside the terminal. This did not include any meals. The bus stops at various places for you get off, go to the toilet for number 2’s and eat. Two drivers completed the entire distance and they were drivers only. They didn’t advise anything about how long each stop was for and were rather surly when asked anything. The seats were the most comfortable of all the trip with a pillow top cushion. However there are no blankets or pillows provided for a journey of 3 nights (this bus also stops in Guayquil and Quito, Ecuador and Cali in Colombia and some days has an onwards service to Venezuela). We were also only allowed 20kg of stowed luggage and 6kg hand luggage. Each extra kilo was charged at US$1, however they were slightly less precise about the weighing process and didn’t charge us for the full overweight baggage we had. Ormeno definitely wasn’t as good as other companies and the movies were sporadic and seemingly of the one genre, but also it wasn’t completely horrible.

A night of firsts

On the yellow bus
Excited to be on the yellow school bus

Kansas City got really exciting tonight as I filled the evening with a number of firsts, starting with my first visit to Chipotle to pick up a burrito for dinner.

Chipotle is a chain of Subway-like Mexican that has taken America by storm. I’ve heard so many people ooh over it, but had never ventured in until Hiker Buddy Brian and I popped in for a quick bite before heading to another first, a professional soccer game.

We then drove to the game in Hiker Buddy Brian’s black Mustang convertible, my first ride in a convertible. That was quite exciting and I felt super cool as we drove at 70 miles an hour on the freeway with the wind blowing wisps of hair around my face and with me playing my fingers in the wind.

The brand new Sporting Kansas City soccer stadium is right next door to Kansas Speedway, so we ended up parking in the speedway parking lot fairly far away from the stadium. I started to get giggles of excitement as I saw those iconic yellow school buses in the lot and I predicted that they would shuttle us to the stadium. I could scarcely contain my excitement as that prediction came true and I was soon climbing aboard one with the awe and wonder of a small child. Whilst they cannot hold a candle to the school buses kids in Australia travel on, and are historic relics that somehow keep plying the bus routes with the bare minimum of fittings, I was completely enthralled in the experience and emerged hot and perspiring but jubilant.

According to Hiker Buddy Brian, scalping is de rigour and an accepted practice in America. As we didn’t have tickets for the game, which had already started, I was looking forward to that first experience too, but there were no scalpers and we had to do a lap around the stadium to get to the box office.

Watching Sporting Kansas City
Excited to be at my first professional soccer match

Inside, we found vacant seats close enough to our allocated seats down the end closest to the Sporting Kansas City supporters who were cheering loudly and bringing a crazy, festive atmosphere to the ground. I couldn’t help but smile and be in a good mood.

Shortly after sitting down, we saw Kansas City score the very first goal in the newly built stadium. They’d only played one previous game in the venue which was a draw at nil all.  Confetti burst out from behind the goals, the crowd jumped to their feet and cheered as loud as their voices would allow them. It was so much fun.

I bought a bag of peanuts in their shells at half time, because the cashier had a little sticker on front of the register saying “Would you like peanuts with that?”. I wasn’t sure what to do with the shells as it is a messy process and I’d never eaten them at a special event. Hiker Buddy Brian told me to throw them on the ground. My littering sensibilities struggled with this. I looked at him and said “Really?” and he was like “Yeah, of course, they come through and clean everything up afterwards.” I was still hesitant. If I didn’t throw the shells on the ground, it would be easier for them to clean up, but the only other place I could put them was back in the bag with the ones I still had to shell and eat. I tentatively tossed one on the ground under the seat in front of me and felt desperately naughty. I then countered with the argument “why would you want to throw them on the ground and make a mess at your feet”. But with little other choice and hankering for salty peanuts, I threw the shells on the ground, kicking them under the seat in front of me so as to avoid getting the shells and skins between my toes.

It was so much fun. A night of calculating firsts and then to top it all off, from the safety of the apartment, we watched an amazing thunderstorm sweep across the city with flashes of light, cracking lightning bolts and some claps of thunder that made you feel as if you’d been cuffed behind the ear.