"Take me home...Bogota roads...to the place...I belong..."
I really, truly, honestly didn't know what to expect from Bogota. My friends and acquaintances had supplied me with a smorgasbord of horror stories mixed with a side order of negative anecdotes so I assumed that I would be gravely disappointed. Maybe that's why the city made such an impact on me - I was expecting nothing and received an enormous packet of juicy loveliness. The cold weather did get my hump up at first but by the time I had slept off my LAST EVER (woop woop!) bus journey from Salento, the mist had burnt off and a blue sky was left hanging in its' place. According to locals and travellers in-the-know we were incredibly lucky with the weather - it was stunningly clear almost every day during our week there, whereas it had been rainy and cold just before we arrived. Finally, my prayers had been answered by the Weather Gods! We reunited with Sohail once we had settled into our hostel and I commenced on my last week of my trip. I was ready to throw my all into these final hours!
Bogata impressed me endlessly...the friendly folk on every corner; a hustle and bustle that can only be acquired by a capital; the polarisation of colonial and nouveau riche architecture; the delicious al muerzo's for a fraction cost....and as for the dodgy dangerous bits? Yes they exist...every city has them, but they are inescapable and in my view they simply add to the character. Plus, at this point in my journey I, perhaps foolishly, felt comfortable in my surroundings wherever I found myself (I did, however, have the bodyguard that is Sohail Rostam-Shirazi with me at all times. I suppose that helped a little!). Our impressive gaggle now returned to seven people with Sohail back in the game. We also gained a few more peeps, particularly a beautiful Colombian contigent - Laura's friend Sabina, and Sohail and Dom's friends Alejo and Felippe. We were a force to be reckoned with!
The days and nights spent in Bogota were culture-fuelled and party-packed. Well, after all, the culture in Colombia is party time. Two birds, one stone and all that! We were soaking up the last specs of our time together as a group and witnessed many a last weekend/last night/last meal celebration with our little Colombia fam. We were staying in La Candelaria, the colonial, tourist-based area of Bogota, brimming with character, blanketed in street art and with plenty of interesting folk wandering the cobbled lanes. Colombian flags swirled proudly on their poles as the city scape could be glimpsed through the grid-like alleys, the sun setting tenderly down each evening with a beautiful glow. We spent one dusky evening sitting atop a hill looking over the city, soaking up the view without hindrance and I truly absorbed every drop, every exotic fluff of strewn cloud, every glimmer on towering building windows. It was beautiful and strangely familiar in its' foreignness. The South American reality that had now become mine. I was melancholy in my knowledge that this would be one of the last far-flown sunsets that I would view...for a little while at least But I was simultaneously eager to see what my little isle had to offer me in these days of 2010.
On one of our days in Bogota, Sohail, Harry and I were treated to a tour from Alejo, one of Sohail's Colombian friends. He took us to the very north and to a restaurant called Andreas Carne de Res; famous for being the most incredible place to party in the whole of South America. And I have to say, this restaurant/club/bar/all-round winner of an establishment blew my tiny little mind! There were queues coming out of the door for miles when we went in at 6 in the evening. We were simply looking around so just walked in. And it was like walking into a carnival (hence the name) but one where people are being served succulent, steaming steaks in every direction and a conga line of fancy dressed characters are prancing round the tables, playing tricks on the kids and stealing cutlery! Thought had been put into every last minute detail and apparently everything is handmade on the premises, from the twinkling heart lights hanging in the trees outside, to the intricately designed mirrors, picture frames and banisters that run around the maze-like restaurant. The atmosphere was alive and brimming with joviality and exuberance...the music pumped, the laughter rolled through the air, tumbling along with the heavenly aromas of the impressive fodder. I wished more than anything that I could've spent one night eating, supping and partying in that magical building, but my time was up. Next time - I am there!
And so, as I packed my trusty backpack for the last time on my nine-month journey...as I left my last hostel room...as I hugged my last goodbyes to my fellow travellers....as I took my last taxi to the airport and participated in my last broken-Spanish conversation with the taxi driver (for now, at least!), I truly absorbed the emotions, fears and anticipation that I felt about returning to little old England. I reflected on what I had learnt, the people I had learnt from, the magical times and events that had shaped my time away. I had not "found myself" in some astounding, clichéd, dramatised way. I did not discover myself hiding under a bus in India or roaming the top of a Peruvian mountain...but those Indian buses, those Peruvian mountains, the magical bonds, the weathered and telling faces, the sickness, heartaches and loves, they had alI assisted in my growth, supported my development from a sapling into an oak. Strong enough to stand alone, without the dependency on someone or something else. I was fearful of losing this addictive feeling of independence...scared it would seep from me as my plane landed, oozing from my body and onto the Heathrow runway only to be cleared quickly away by efficient English airport staff. But that beautiful, grimy, autonomous glow that incrementally filled my cheeks and my heart in the months I was away has remained. It remains in my every day demeanour and the spring in my step, it lies within my voice and emanates from my arms as I hug those special people who were so sorely missed and are now back in my grasp. Even the cold winter months will be that bit warmer thanks to this tender, travelling glow.
The ability to travel is the ability to see, to experience, to reach outside of your own bubble and realise what world lies just beyond the horizon. It is enriching, fulfilling and exhilarating to me, this small-town Brit, and be sure that I am bursting to spread my wings again. Now they have been spread once, they refuse to shut, they refuse to be forgotten or pushed to the top shelf in my bedroom. They want to fly to all corners of the globe. So, I suppose I should let them....
Thank you for reading. x