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Ramblings on the Road

People make the memories: "No man is an island"

USA | Wednesday, 12 November 2014 | Views [67]

I have fair-weather Spanish- I can ask the questions that I want to ask and understand the answer I expect, but if something goes awry, it all goes downhill from there.  This is what I came to realise after arriving in Bogota, Colombia.

Arriving in Bogota, was a mixed bag.  I loved the vibe to the city and the cleanness of the air from the beginning, which I admit was all relative to La Paz.  On the other hand, I had my most complex, convoluted and time-consuming transfer from an airport to my accommodation ever.  I put this down to my Spanish ability, or lack thereof, predominantly.  It took me two hours from clearing security to arriving at my hostel, including two buses, one lost taxi driver and close to 10 people all giving me different directions.  But I got there in the end on my own two legs! 

While in Bogota, I visited a few museums and galleries, realising that I was more struck by the images of places than people, and enjoyed strolling around the streets, especially on the weekend when Carrere 7 comes alive with street performers and vendors of mysterious exotic-looking fruit.  But my most vivid memories of Bogota will always be the people who awakened parts of me that had been lying dormant.  They included locals, a new friend who ‘bookended’ my travels as we had met at the beginning of my summer travels back in Canada as well, and a stranger of authority. 

Keen to go out given that it was a weekend and I still was yet to dance in South America, but wanting to avoid the clubs which people surely go to for other reasons than dance, I stumbled upon a place that offered a language exchange after which they opened up the floor for dancing.  My Spanish practice was short lived due mainly to its rudimentary level and two fire engine red words: English teacher.  Once word got round that there was an exotic Aussie fresh off the plane with this job, I attracted new ‘friends’ like flies to honey.  Not that I minded, mind you, as teaching for me is like riding a bike: even after not doing it for a long time, the skills of it are never really forgotten and the enjoyment I get from it is rekindled with each new experience.  Three locals, in particular, who I got talking to had each been learning English for a different period of time but shared a steely determination and dedication to self-study.  I’m not sure if this was due to the cost of lessons, time constraints or other factors, but I was captivated listening to their experiences and realisations about language learning; they had insights that I hope all students have but oftentimes are absent and have formed a barrier to progress for many of my past students.

  As an example of networking in action, they invited me to go hiking the next day in the mountains on the outskirts of the city.  This seem like the perfect trade- I get local knowledge in my newest foreign city to help me understand where I am and hopefully prevent me from getting into trouble, and they get free and unlimited English practice, correction and access to a walking, talking, up-to-date grammar guide who also offers a friendly smile.  It was a pity, therefore, that I was unable to take them up on their offer on account of a prior commitment.

Through the web of friendship and curiosity that is Facebook, I was able to meet up with a fellow traveller who I first met right at the beginning of the summer in Ottawa. Still, after all these years of travelling and after meeting so many people, I find it difficult to explain how travellers manage to connect on a deeper level, feeling like they have known each other for years even though they have only just met. Is it just being opportunistic?  Is it the fulfilment of Freud’s definition of happiness: the satisfaction of pent up needs?  Or is it just human nature that is intensified by travelling due to the vice that puts a squeeze on time and capitalizes on one’s already awakened senses?  As fleeting as these relationships can be, they are cherished as much as a 20 year friendship but with the obligation for detachment more than ever before.  It’s a lesson in presence, really: appreciate what you have now and you will always find happiness.

While I was waiting for my flight from Bogota back to Canada, I had found a quiet spot among the many empty seats a little ways back from the boarding gate.  Within 10 minutes these seats were filled by the cabin crew for the flight who had all arrived together.  I decided I would prefer to walk around anyway, but as I stood to leave, the pilot addressed me.  He apologised for the noise that their chatter had brought and inquired about my own journey.  We chatted for a short time, he told me about his time in my country many moons ago and then as I picked up my bag to leave, wished me a safe journey.   “Hmmmm...” I thought, “how does one reply to that?” “You too”, “Well, that’s in your hands, I guess” ??? Feeling the warmth of human spirit, I settled for a simple “Thank you”. 

Tags: bogota, columbia

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