Saturday, October 22, 2005

Over the Hump

11:00 p.m.

Hotel del Parque, Bogota, Colombia

During the night, except for security and cleaning crews, I was the only passenger to be seen in this part of the terminal. I searched up and down for a place to sleep. The only chairs were low-backed, intentionally-designed to discourage camping out. I did find numerous airport personnel doing their best to catch a few winks in these seats. Around 2:00 a.m., I finally pulled a coffee table up to one of these chairs and stretched out, while the cleaning woman worked around me. Dozed off for an hour or two.

The "Avianca" counter didn't open until 9:45. I was the first person in line at 9:30, though a "bossy" woman leading a tour group had placed a bag there, which she felt reserved the spot for the entire group. I asked her if I might go ahead since I had been in the airport twenty hours. She took pity and let me go. I was now familiar with the entire "Avianca" staff. They all looked refreshed. ("Bastards!" )(Just kidding.) This time I had boarding pass in hand as I went through security! (It's odd that they let me through yesterday without a pass.)

With over two hours before boarding, my first stop was for some strong coffee. Then I took advantage of the wireless service inside the terminal to check e-mail. Inside the passenger waiting lounges, there are comfortable high-backed chairs. I wish I had one of these last night!

Not real thrilled with "Avianca". This flight was also late in leaving, over half an hour, (not that it mattered much to me.) An old Boeing 727. It has been a while since I've flown one of these, but with seat #9K forward in the plane, it was remarkably smooth and quiet. Only an hour and fifteen minute flight to Bogota, yet they served a small lunch and beverages. Overcast and raining in Panama, it took most of the flight to break free from the thick layers of cloud. When we emerged, the land below was strikingly green and lush, though much of it appeared to be under cultivation (cultivating what?) Many clusters of green houses in rows could be seen, and a wide, muddy river (I assume the Rio Maddalena.) Muddy roads too! Cumulus clouds rose above mountain ranges to the east and west.

No problems with immigration or customs; the agents were quite cordial and in each case welcomed me to Colombia.

Outside the terminal, I walked over to the line of taxis and took the first one. Shortly after, the driver asked if I wasn't afraid of the "monkeys"?

"Monkeys?"

"Guerillas."

I asked if it's a problem here. He said more of a problem towards Cali. (The threat is always down the road, not "here.") Only drive in the daytime, he warned.

The taxi was a Russian Lada, circa 1993, with over 900,000 kilometers according to its owner. Riding along the streets of Bogota, rocking from side to side, it felt uncertain whether it would last another block.

He pointed out the "Girag" building as we passed. Andreas at "Girag" recommended the "Capital Hotel", but the driver said "muy caro", very expensive, $120 per night.

"Cuantos estrellas?" (How many stars?)

"Cinco" (Five)

I didn't entirely trust him yet, so I told him to take me there nonetheless. But, he was right; it was indeed too rich for my budget. Not $120, but over $90.

"Sabe usted un hotel de tres estrellas?" I asked if he knew of a three star hotel.

Of course he did.

He brought me downtown to the "Hotel del Parque", a well-aged establishment that has seen much better days (probably in the early 70s.) But the price was $43, breakfast included, and I was too tired to take the search any further.

The bellman helped me with my one small bag, officially welcoming me to the "Hotel del Parque", showing me how to turn lights on, how the TV works, the proper procedure for turning on hot water (you have to let it run 3 to 5 minutes!)

Freshened up with a shower, then crawled into bed for a nap. Slept about three hours.

I ordered dinner in their dark, quiet restaurant, asking for a "typical" dish. (I admit of being a bit wary about the food in the hotel, since there didn't seem to be much business!) I received a large plate including rice, beans, chorizo, a quarter avocado, a big hunk of pork fat (what am I supposed to do with this?!), some kind of weird tortilla, fried bananas and a fried egg on top! It will take some getting used to the food.

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