Monday, 24 June 2013

Bogotá's simple pleasures II; 'Up the hill', 'Nazi' and free beer

We’ve written before about the simple pleasures that we enjoy here in Bogotá.* In the last half year or so there have been two important additions to that ‘list’ which we must give due mention to. Indeed considering the time and money we’ve spent (well spent that is, most of the time) in both locations it would be remiss of us not to pay them homage.

They both fall into the ‘tienda bar’ category – that is cheap and cheerful, rough and ready, places to consume a few beers. Now perhaps it’s an Irish trait, but no matter where we are in the world we always like to find a place (or two) we can call our local.
The camera shy Lucio in 'Nazi'
Elusive Lucio – keeping the beer flowing

Initially here in Bogotá’s ‘La Candelaría’ district we stumbled upon the popular, fairly reasonably priced Doña Ceci’s. It fulfilled its purpose for a while, but after devoting a nice chunk of time to the place, it became a little disappointing that we remained just another number, another ‘foreigner with money’ to the rather cold, ‘tacaña’ owner (tight that is; see http://bit.ly/18eEfhd). We don’t demand a lot, but a little appreciation and recognition from time to time that we’re good customers wouldn’t go astray – what a local should, at the very least, be about. Alas with Doña Ceci, this was never forthcoming.

However, the tiendas where we now like to ‘relax’ at the weekends (and the odd weekday) score high on those points and more. Both places are such bog standard, Colombian drink holes that they don’t even have a name – at least not an obvious one that we’ve noticed. Thus we’ve had to christen them ourselves (and regularly continue to ‘wet the baby’s head’ at that).

So there’s ‘Up the hill’ due to its location which is, predictably enough, at a bit of a higher altitude than where we live, on the borders of the supposedly ‘not that safe’ barrios of Egipto and Belén in the city’s south. Then there’s ‘Nazi bar’ which, perhaps not so predictably, has nothing to do with – in any meaningful sense anyway, as far as we’re aware or concerned – the fascist movement that found its home in Germany in the 1930s and 40s. It’s been dubbed that because the very affable twenty-something year old owner, Lucio, has for some reason that we’ve yet to ask him, a faint swastika tattoo on his hand. Considering he doesn’t exactly resemble nor have the ethnic background of a typical Nazi, we like to think that the symbol for him represents one of its non-violent meanings – ‘to be good’.

In any case, actions speak louder than words (or symbols) and Lucio has only ever been a complete gentleman to us. Indeed of late he has adopted the Irish custom of the ‘lock-in’ after hours. A free ‘grande’ (that’s a 750ml bottle of beer, 'Poker' being our preferred option) on our birthday was also very much appreciated. Small things, but they make a difference. Now while ‘Nazi’s’ ‘grandes’ are a tad more expensive than our other local (3,000 pesos versus 2,500 pesos or €1.20 compared to €1 if you like – every little helps) Lucio’s friendly demeanour and appreciation to have us as patrons (how privileged he is) more than makes up for that. It also must be said he does benefit from a location advantage – he’s just a stone’s throw away from our residence.
Enjoying the crack 'Up the hill' - the way it should be...
Fun & games 'Up the hill'; is there anybody serving though?

As for ‘Up the hill’, while the cheaper beer may have been the initial strongest pulling point, the treatment we receive, not just from the extremely friendly Paisa** blooded owners and staff but the other Bogotáno regulars that drink there too, means that we feel bad if we don’t make a visit at least once a week.

Indeed the chief owner is almost like a mother figure to us – in a good sense that is. Not only was there free beer for our birthday, but a cake to boot. As for the other revellers that frequent the place, it’s rare we leave without getting at least one free drink landed on our table; all this from one of the city’s ‘poorer’ regions, especially so when compared to the exclusive north.

So much have these places become what you might call our ‘home from home’, the constant salsa and vallenato music that’s played in them is almost becoming likeable for us. We’ve even been known to do a spot of ‘salsa-ing’ once we’re merry enough (for a greater discussion about our Colombian dancing exploits, see http://bit.ly/S7A8eS).

All that’s missing in both places are a few prettier ‘chicas’ from time to time – perhaps the ones that generally frequent the plush north could visit, just leave the attitude and arrogance at home. We can dream, can’t we?

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*'Bogotá's simple pleasures' http://bit.ly/Uzc3lk

**Paisa is the name given to a person hailing from north-west Colombia, specifically the departments of Antioquia, Caldas, Quindío and Risaralda. 

Thursday, 13 June 2013

All that you can't leave behind

Every now and again it’s a good idea to cut the crap from your life. To undergo a necessary pruning you might call it. This can be done in a number of ways and in different areas. For example, you can ‘streamline’ your friend database – these days that might involve deleting from your mobile phone and/or Facebook the numbers and contact details of old acquaintances who might now be a source of negativity.* There are also the material things we build up over time – in some contexts, these could be seen as no more than clutter or rubbish but they can be hard to let go of all the same.
All that we can't leave behind..?
All that we can't leave behind?
It’s in that latter area where we often struggle – our penchant for holding on to various bits and pieces plays against us. Now if you’re a ‘settled’ person (whatever that means) with your own house or at least long-term accommodation, such a hoarding trait isn’t that big of a deal really. However, if you still have somewhat of a backpacker lifestyle and mentality, as we generally do, then keeping hold of what are, objectively speaking, non-important things, is far from a convenient practice.

What we’re on about here is the ability to extend the ‘travel light’ approach to ‘living light’. After almost two years of being based in Bogotá but with a necessary break (for how long, we’re not sure) from the city on the horizon, the dreaded time of gathering up our things is fast approaching.

At first glance and without really getting ‘down and dirty’ in it yet, it appears that we haven’t done too bad in terms of a large accumulation of stuff compared to other places we’ve stayed in over the years. For one, we don’t own any big electrical equipment or cumbersome furniture – in any case, if we did, they’d have to stay put unless they were of incredible emotional value. As for everything else, the question is; can we put what we want to bring with us into one bag that weighs no more than 20kg? That’s the goal.
Unnecessary extravagance...
Many of us are guilty of having more than we need.

In theory, it shouldn’t be a problem. What more does one really need to travel with other than some basic clothes? Added to that, it’s not like we’ve got any real expensive outfits in our wardrobe – a nice, not-that-heavy suit apart – that we can’t leave behind.

Indeed price-wise, the ‘Wrong Way’ set of clothes these days is very much in the value-for-money, practical department.

This is, however, where what might be described as emotion comes into play. What we do have is an assortment of ‘sentimental’ football and rugby shirts. An ever-growing collection we like to have recourse to at any given moment. Individually, of course, these tops weigh next to nothing; collectively, though, is a different story while they also occupy some valuable room in a backpack tight on space.

Alongside the shirts, but perhaps slightly more acceptable in terms of emotional attachment, we’ve the various little mementos that we’ve built up over the last couple of years. ‘Important’ paper cuttings, various correspondence, thought-provoking books that we like to keep hard copies of for reference, stuff like that.

But if we’re being tough on ourselves, coupled with a potentially bulging bag, a lot of these things can be scrapped. Sometimes it’s best just to live with the memories – no more, no less. What’s going to be required is a German-style efficiency and precision when we’re eventually packing things up.
For some, living light isn't a lifestyle choice ...
Living light, the extreme way.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that being in a position to have this as a ‘problem’ shows the privileged place we’re coming from. There are plenty of people on this planet who are not and never will be able to accumulate a stash of material stuff. For them, it’s just about finding sufficient food to survive on from one day to the next. We don’t need to look too far for examples of this – here in Colombia the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ is as wide and apparent as anywhere.

So while it’s a good idea to ‘cut the crap’ from your life, when doing so it’s also wise to put things into an appropriate context. However, both can be quite difficult to do.

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*For more on some of the ‘evils’ of facebook and its ilk, see http://bit.ly/Rbh9lc. Also, for how some Colombian ladies deal with 'friend clearing' see http://bit.ly/NsJyB5.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The 'extranjero-files' – that is, not a xenophobe

Right, we’re admitting defeat. Or, to put it more correctly perhaps, we’re changing our angle of ‘attack’. It’s all to do with the word ‘gringo’ and our sometimes laborious attempts to ‘correct’ numerous Colombians and other Latinos who refer to us as such. You see, for us the word has always referred to English speaking North Americans only (which we obviously are not) and to be honest most locals in these parts go along with that.
'Wrong Way' with some fellow Colombian outcasts...
A bunch of foreigners
However, at first glance some people here automatically think we’re from the US and hence call us gringo. We generally get a little uptight and politely tell them that we’re not gringos but Irish, so the word ‘extranjero’ (foreigner) is a more accurate label. Yet, the ‘g-word’ is theirs (Latinos) and some do use it to describe any foreigner. So in fairness, they can apply it as they see fit.

However, in terms of accuracy and to avoid, heaven forbid, being mistaken as a Yank, if we are called a gringo in the future we will respond by saying that if you’re using it in its broader ‘all foreigners’ sense, fine, but if not, then we must clarify.

Then of course, many of the people here that do call us gringo or extranjero or whatever are not that far removed from ‘the Old Continent’; that's Europe if you will, or more specifically Spain. So perhaps the only people here that have a real right to call us any of the above are the true indigenous – they could also call many of the Latinos they now share this land with the same.

In any case, they are just words, so should we really give them as much thought as we’re doing right now? Heck Colombia is a country where the inhabitants regularly call their friends ‘gay’ (‘marica’ that is; for more on that see http://bit.ly/18eEfhd) and have no problem referring directly to people by their distinctive features: ‘gordo/gorda’ for a fat person; ‘negro’ for blacks; ‘mono’ for fair haired/skinned people and such like.

Supporting the forgotten - Laos lads standing up for Dublin
Supporting minorities
As a good Dutch friend mused, because of many other, real ‘life or death’ problems this country has recently faced (and still does), what might be seen as offensive/racist words in some other places cause little fuss here (for more on not getting too worked up about words, read http://bit.ly/NNg2E8).

What is important in the above though – and is the case the world over – is how those words are delivered and the actions that thus follow. That is to say, is there real meaning to what is uttered? Are they just throwaway, jovial remarks or is there more of, in the case of referring to people’s skin colour and the like, a racist element to it?

It will come as no surprise that we’ve witnessed racism here – you’ll find it in every corner of the globe. Very often it’s directed at the Afro-Colombians and/or the indigenous. That is, those on the peripheries, not generally part of the ruling class. They don’t quite fit in. Of course, for different reasons, you’ll also find some anti-US sentiment here which could be considered racist too – even though politically speaking Colombia is the most pro-US country in South America.

What might be seen as ironic is that many Latinos, when they depart for the ‘Western’ world, will encounter discrimination, suspicion and racism aimed at them for no real logical reasons other than that they’re different*. Yet, surrounded in the comfort blanket of ‘their own’, they do the same to the minorities in their midst.

Together in death; as perhaps we should be in life...
At the end of it all, this is our lot...
This of course is a global phenomenon, far from restricted to this region. Many Irish see no problem hurling, at the very least, generalisations at immigrants who seek refuge on the island – a practice that often influences government policy – while at the same time expect right of passage wherever they go in the world. Okay, some will argue this isn’t a racist tendency and more to do with protecting a small, bungling economy but that’s not always the case.

You see at certain times and in certain contexts, we can all be part of the minority, the outsider. We found it interesting to read in a newspaper in Malaysia that they referred to the West as the ‘minority world’ – the ‘haves’ versus the ‘have nots’ that is.

It can be a good practice to think outside your ‘group’ – try to place yourself with the outcasts from time-to-time. We all have prejudices – it’s part of being human. The trick is trying not to let them unduly and irrationally influence us – easier written than done of course.

As the saying goes, ‘before you criticise someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticise them you’ll be a mile away and you’ll have their shoes.’ And if you’re lucky, they might be the right fit.

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*Things may be changing on this front. Check out Latinos on the rise http://bit.ly/1784NCY for more on that.

You may also want to check out Phantom freedom at http://bit.ly/SOQUl0.