Sometime during this past summer, our glacier dogsledding camp was drinking beers together in a tent. That was pretty standard affair, living on a large chunk of ice for months at a time leads even the strictest teetotaler to Banquet Beers. At some point during the chatter, Renae, a musher and good friend, mentioned she was going to Colombia after the season with her family. I gasped, choking slightly on my Banquet. Colombia, I sputtered, that’s so cool. I would love to go someday. Why not meet us down there, Renae replied. I thought for a moment, and couldn’t think of a valid reason not to. Then, Renae smashed her can onto the ground, punched me in the chest and told me I better get my ass down to Colombia or else there’ll be hell to pay you son of a bitch.
That last part is slightly exaggerated, but the spirit of the exchange is about right. This trip to Colombia came about totally by chance, happenstance over a round of beers on a glacier. We were incredibly excited, more at the prospect of warm weather and beaches than anything else. It had been a long, cold, rainy summer, and the thought of the Caribbean twinkling in the South American sun made us giddy to the point of annoyance. And six weeks later, it finally happened.
Renae Counter is a Montana girl through and through. That means she likes the outdoors and is generally uncomfortable with human interaction, much preferring the company of sled dogs and swaths of trees. We’ve worked together in Alaska for three years now, living on a glacier and partaking in an immense amount of shenanigans that hopefully will get put on this website at some point.
We met up in Bogota my third night. I was still somewhat hungover from the night before at Teatron, and was nursing my Colombian Club beer at Rampage, a barbershop/tattoo parlor/clothing store/bar that was located near our hostel. My Irish buddy Sam, a barber by profession and a professional drinker in his spare time, was getting his third tattoo of the night, a bottle of moonshine nestled amongst his other tattoos on his arm. He was in high spirits, unlike Harley, our British friend, who was still smarting from his swallow tattoo.
Renae appeared out of the darkness and into the foyer, trailed by her brother Max and their friend Willa. We left Sam and Harley to their new tattoos and went to drink some craft beers at El Mono Bandido, a hipstery joint near Fulanos. Renae and I caught up on glacier gossip over pitchers of IPA’s while a traditional Colombian band played flute based music upstairs. Sitting outside on the gravel patio in the autumn coolness was a fantastic flipside from the night before, which consisted more of sloppily consumed vodka tonics. After a few more we parted ways and planned to meet in La Candelaria the next day.
And we did, managing to pick each other out of a crowd of hundreds. I’m beginning to worry that I look so gringo-y that its immediately obvious I’m not from here. Nonetheless, Renae and crew were joined today by her mother Mary, the whole family there to visit Max as he works on his graduate school work. Max has lived in Colombia for some years now and speaks excellent Spanish. He also seems to just about everything there is to know about anything, making him the default tour guide for the day.
We sat for a moment in the square and soaked in the chaos of a Sunday morning. People were busy building murals made out of bottle caps to promote environmentally friendly practices, and an impromptu dog show was running laps next to the Presidential Palace. Renae and I discussed each and every dog in vivid detail, feeling more at home now that we were surrounded by canines.
After our fill of dog antics, we left the square and headed towards the Botero Museum, a free museum located very close to the square. Fernando Botero is one of Colombia’s most famous artists, known for his enlarged portraits of humans and animals. According to Max, Botero didn’t consider his paintings of people “fat,” he described them “voluminous.” Some artists play with color, some with shape, Botero played with volume. As Max continued to quietly take in the art, I couldn’t help but think that voluminous is just a slightly nicer way to describe what is essentially fat people. I’m not fat, I’m just voluminous might not work in the real world, but that’s art for you I suppose.
We left the museum and filled up on Colombian tamales, a delicious meal of chicken, corn meal, and vegetables boiled inside banana leaves. In terms of Colombian food, this was so far the best, beating out my empanadas I had the day before and my McDonalds Cheeseburger after the club. Colombian food is quite hearty and filling, with lots of corn and potatoes, meaning that one meal might have you covered for a good portion of the day.
Even though I’d been there before, I strolled along La Candelaria with Renae and Co., taking in new sights now that I had Max around. For example, there are small green statues placed throughout the entire neighborhood, children playing on roofs, men on unicycles, an incredible amount of green figurines hidden amongst the tiles and walls. It was almost a game to try and find them all, like a Colombian Pokemon.
Eventually we found ourselves in Chorro de Quevado, a small square in La Candelaria that is assumed to be where the city of Bogota began, way back in 1538. These days, the square has become a bit more touristy, with shops selling wool sweaters and shot glasses lining the streets instead of Spanish conquistadors. Narrow cobblestoned streets shoot out in numerous directions, the walls covered in street art depicting native Columbians alongside modern figures. It’s a hectic little place, and with our time running out, our crew slid our way down the streets and emerged back near the square.
Reane and Company left, heading to Cartagena that evening. Today I head there myself, to the blessed beaches of the Caribbean and the warmth I’ve been craving since I left Alaska. Colombians, get ready for a pasty Midwesterner to start strutting the sands.
P.S. I couldn’t find the milkshake store, and it was incredibly heartbreaking.