Felipe’s family had already given me a lot of information on places to visit in Colombia and I was starting to get a clearer view on my next steps but I needed a few more days to get properly organized. Also, Milton, a couch-surfer whom I had hosted in Brussels more than a year ago, would be in Bogotá two days later. So it was a good opportunity to meet before I’d pay him a visit in Cali. I didn’t want to abuse Lorenza and Luís Carlos’ hospitality though and therefore went to Eliana’s place.
My new host worked in her family’s business, which commercializes all kinds of professional uniforms. On my second day with her, Eli asked me if I wanted to join her for a visit to one of her customers, in a small town an hour from Bogotá called Facatativa. Where she took me was actually a military school. As I was sitting there, watching the training and politely answering the salutations of the soldiers passing by, I was also wondering how I got there. A military school is not exactly the kind of place you expect to find yourself in when visiting Colombia. Though it sure was interesting.
Eli had offered for me to stay at her mother’s place for the week-end, in San Antonio de Tequemenda but, although that did appeal to me, my plan was to go to Villa de Leyva, to the kite festival. Instead, she therefore offered to pay her mother a visit on our way back from Facatativa and to stay there for the night. And that’s what we did. It was a nice house, in a nice quiet village, with a lot of fruit trees all around, which provided delicious fresh food at breakfast.
On the next day, I got invited to a family gathering. One of Eliana’s cousins, who had emigrated to Canada, was back in town for a few days. 14 years ago, he and his mother, brothers and sisters, had to flee from the country to the North of the continent as political refugees. In all this time, he hadn’t been able to come back. Therefore, it was quite an intense moment, with a lot of souvenir pictures being taken. In 10 years time, I guess they will wonder what this tall lady with freckles is doing in the family albums. A subtle way to leave a trace of my visit.
On my way to the family gathering, I was able to experience how big Bogotá actually is. Seeing it from Montserrate is one thing. Being in it when you need to go from North to South is another story. It took me two hours, as I got caught in the middle of the rush hour. Not only is Bogotá a gigantic city. It is also one with an acute mobility issue, which is one of the favourite discussion topics of the city inhabitants. The “Transmilenio”, a kind of bus service but with fully dedicated lanes, was supposed to offer an answer to this problem. But it failed to grow with the city and is unable to absorb the daily amount of passengers who need to get to work or to school. The construction of a metro line has been under discussion for years but it has been delayed due to political reasons.
In order to resorb the car traffic, Bogotá and other Colombian cities have also established a system called “pico y placa”. Cars with a certain plate number are not allowed in some of the city areas at a certain time of day. On the next day, it applies to other plate numbers. Although the system is useful, many families have at least two cars and just use the one that is not affected by the “pico y placa” when they need to move around.
Anyway, after the family gathering, it was late and there was no mobility issue. Another of Eliana’s cousins drove us back home and I got invited by his wife, Angelica, to pay them a visit in Vélez, in the province of Santander. The kind of invitation you don’t need to repeat twice. Especially when Santander is precisely the place I had planned to visit next.