It had already been a month. On land. No flights. Which, for the past half year or so, is something of a record.
Steve: Are you sure it leaves from the downtown airport and not Rio Negro?
Me: Yeah, of course. Positive.
Steve: You double-checked on the website?
Me (looking around the website, unable to find anything): Yeah, definitely.
Sunday afternoon we arrive to Medellín’s downtown airport – somehow hidden right in the middle of the city. Once inside it looks like a roller-skating rink turned into an airforce bunker. Or maybe vise-versa. The only thing that we culd be sure of was that we were in the wrong airport.
“No señor, AeroRepública flies out of Rio Negro.”
And, so, another taxi ride. This time up the steep winding road, through a jungle of exclusive condo buildings which give way to an equally dense forest of brightly lit billboards with eight-year-olds wearing lip-gloss and 18-year-olds wearing thongs. Eventually, pine trees. And the quasi-campesino life of Santa Elena.
At three o’clock every morning except for Sunday the mothers and daughters and aunts and grandmas of Santa Elena board a run-down shuttle-sized bus with their bunches and bunches of freshly cut flowers and deposit 800 hard-earned pesos into the rough hands of the bus driver. With the lights of all of Medellín shimmering below, it must be the most fragrant of journeys known to public transportation. They arrive to the mercado de las flores where they silently arrange their merchandise and await the young romantics and demanding housewives.
In all, the taxi ride to Rio Negro took longer than the flight itself to Bogotá. Upon arrival to Colombia’s most populous city (7 million), Steve seemed especially enthusiastic. It was time to compare and to contrast. Medellin versus Bogota. Girls? Food? Eye contact? Style? How much could we observe, how much could we absorb in just two days? We would try our best. It was not only a comparison of Medellin versus Bogota, but also of our expectations versus our experiences.
We had no hotel, no reservations, no plans. So, obviously, we look for the cutest girl and ask for help. This one turned out to be a hipster. With cute tapered jeans and cute hipster earrings. Her taste in hotels, however, turned out to be somewhat suspect. But so it goes.
Then the taxi. Pimped out. “Es que sí, mi coche es mi oficina,” says the taxista after Steve complements him on his racing steering wheel, in-dash DVD player, and the little fire extinguisher assuring his identity as Bogota’s speed racer. On the in-dash 5-inch screen was a DVD of an ostentatious rave. It must have been the UK – all the girls had love-handles and all the guys had bad teeth.
After the double-espresso at the airport and now the ponchis ponchis techno music bumping through the taxi’s sub-woofer, Bogotá seemed like the epitome of cosmopolis.
Of course, that façade would soon fade away. Bogota is bohemian. But it is also full of beggars, of inequality, of empty restaurants with telenovelas blaring on TV’s hanging in every corner.
One of the highlights of the trip for me was getting to meet up with Carolina and Álvaro. The last (and only) time I had seen Carolina was at iSummit ’06 in Rio de Janeiro. She was almost always accompanied by Ariel, Jorge, and Eduardo. The four of them together was a symphony of wit and comedy that I couldn’t even get close to keeping up with.
Carolina has a way of speaking, of holding on to your forearm with both hands as she looks up at you, not dreamy-eyed, but with excited anticipation as if she is about tell you a secret that she can no longer bear to keep to herself. It is hard not to pay attention to everything she says.
After lunch, which included the most delicious juice (pineapple + mint) that I’ve ever had, Carolina took us on a tour of the city. Although Álvaro lived in Bogotá for two years when he was working in television, there were still hidden gems of the city that he hadn’t discovered.
And there was much of Álvaro’s past that I had never discovered from his weblog. He told me how a documentary film he once made was nominated for a prize at a Cuban film festival but no one ever told him because they didn’t have enough money to send him there. So instead he paid for his own trip and it was there that he met colleagues from the University of Bergen where he is now a professor.
I have no idea how old Álvaro is. My guess would be 50 – 55. But everything about him is youthful: how he walks, talks, laughs, sings along to teenagers playing the guitar. He has somehow managed to accomplish so much throughout his life and yet has maintained a carefreeness that most of us start to lose at adulthood. I can only hope that I follow his example.
On the half-hour flight back to Medellín there was so much turbulence that I couldn’t even finish my coffee. Steve, who heads back to Canada tomorrow, was still jovial and we joked around while waiting for my baggage. There was a taxi, though without the DVD player and without the ponchis ponchis techno music. Instead it was Phil Collins and Boyz II Men as we descended down down down to the valley floor of Medellin, breaking through the fragrant pines, the billboards of 8-year-olds with lip gloss and 18-year-olds with g-strings, the exclusive condos with English names.
As we arrived to our own almost-exclusive condo building, named after an artist who one day decided to cut off his ear, it started to rain. A drop here, a drop there. I fell asleep at 1 a.m. after the usual workflows of photographs, videos and rss feeds. The world was muted by the sheets and sheets of rain falling onto the lamplit sepia-tinged pavement.