The lonely planet guide, consulted by cheap semi-hoboes, students, and other itinerants, has discovered some of the hostels in Colombia. It recommends the Platypus in Bogota as one of the most unusual hotels. (It is doubtful that any hostel is more unusual than the one you just departed, especially if it is regularly patronized by Anglophones.) If you don’t mind staying in a hostel, they’re cheap and full of awkward travelers, experienced travelers, helpful conversations, notices for other hostels within traveling distance and misleading advice. There are always stupid people sitting around drinking beer in a hostel, but there always seem to be people working there who know their way around the block and if you can convince them that you are not one of the stupid people sitting around drinking beer, these employees can be helpful since they know their way around, as I have said, at least the block.
It was dark when we got to our destination, like I said. Our room was damp & chilly and I was afraid, needlessly, that we would be cold. The Colombian measures for keeping warm may not be our measures, and they are certainly a bit startling if one is coming out of Minnesota where the houses are sealed and in January we emphatically keep out of the open air. The contrast is the contrast that you obtain between a coat and a ruana—wool blanket with a hole cut in the middle for the head which people to this day sit around wearing in the highlands of the Andes. In Colombia all of life is lived in the open air in one way or another, and you would be hard put to find any room that is not in some way vulnerable to the open air. The old style of architecture builds in a square around an open courtyard so that there really are few if any rooms not giving immediately into a space open to the sky. Our hotel was in an old building and was on this scheme. The hotel room was so damp I put a receipt on the table and picked it up two hours later all limp. The lights there are dimmer, or of a sleepier quality it seems, and I noticed it, and perhaps that added to the perception of the damp & chilly, since there was no bright flood. (Perhaps that I why I am not fond of bright overhead artificial lighting.) The blanket that seemed inadequate was wonderful right away, and we did not require the consolation of any more. The other consolation is the coffee, and, if you want to be precise, the ruana is probably a third, but we did not have one.
In the night the rain fell in the courtyard and I heard it splashing, watering the plants. In the morning all the birds were carrying on and it was not cold, but fine weather for coffee nonetheless. Perhaps the problem with the room is that it was not much inhabited, or it might not have been as damp as it was when we first walked into it. It continued to be dank, but we were hardly in it for more than 12 hours altogether and that was not continuous.
But before we retired, I had talked to the dark chap who spent the night watching at the desk in front room, which was a sort of lobby with orange sofas and a non-functional refrigerator full of bottled water and bottled beer (thinking over it, it seems to me most of those things I thought were refrigerators were just display cases for bottled water—con o sin gas—juice, soda and the like, which is fine). He knew very little English and had three English customers who did not appear to speak any Spanish. Two of them tried to complain and be outraged at him for expecting complete payment all at once. He did not understand the outrage or the complicated reasoning behind it (they appeared to have a limitation on their ATM withdrawals, which I think was due to using it in English and not in Spanish—I found the ATM uncooperative when I tried to use it in English but very cooperative when I opted for communicating with it in Spanish, oddly), but he still insisted that they had to pay the full amount. They thought it was outrageous, but I am not sure that word was in his English vocabulary or why exactly the idea should have been outrageous, even to natives of the British Isles. The third one was sick, very sick, apparently and needed extra blankets, which she was able to obtain.
He let us use the internet, he let me get a bottle of water, he showed us pictures that he googled of the shopping malls in Bogota which were very modern, he tried to google hotels in Tunja with confidence but without success, he explained to me what hours he worked and the difficulties of having to work during the day on Saturdays (his usual shift was 6PM to 6AM three or four days a week, and then the bit on Saturdays), and I should have had more conversation with him except that I couldn’t think of more things to ask without being impertinent, though I thought he was very interesting and would have liked to know what aspirations he had in life if any.
We did not have hot water there, but we had a good location in the oldest part of town. We walked in the fog of early morning, had some breakfast in a respectable place that was not too small (all the shops and restaurants, to the unaccustomed, are so small that one draws back), and then went back to rest. The woman in the morning gave us all kinds of advice about riding the Transmilenio—a kind of aboveground subway involving double-long buses—but there was a protest against the mayor and the Transmilenio was shut down, oh well. Really, if you wanted to write a Hitchhikers Guide to Colombia it could be as weird as the Guide to the Galaxy, and perhaps I’ll try my hand at that as well.
Altitude is a real consideration; you want to take it easy and drink your water and refrain from pushing yourself. I thought of it when I saw my first lunatic, you see, and knew that I was not hallucinating but might soon well start. I’d seen this form of lunacy before: dress shoes and then instead of socks two rags knotted above the ankle and pants of length not entirely adequate, though perhaps they were pulled high—not sure where I had seen it formerly (though when simulating a lunatic I also like to pull my pants high, like people from the WWII generation do even though they are not simulating lunatics, though perhaps it is a sign of madness), but I am very sure I had. This lunatic also had a sort of cape, and was, of course, very dirty since he lives on the streets of Bogota. He was one of the purposeful type of lunatics, you know? Went like he was in the middle of something important and was unusually cheerful, with a bounce in his step that drew attention to the inevitable ankles.
When we got back the woman was commiserating with a Scottish chap about his friend who apparently was drinking herself to death on aguardiente and would not listen to his appeals—what sort of hostel would be complete without somebody on the premises in the middle of drinking himself to death on the local liquor? Then she commiserated with us about the Transmilenio. We had gone to find some replacement things for the wife, but the wife was only able to find suitable the things she needed absolutely and it was not as successful a shopping expedition as might be expected—which I do not think it would be fair to blame on the store. Ah, well, the sympathetic woman said, or something to that effect, and she did not in the end charge us for the use of the internet and personally flagged down a taxi for us so that we’d be sure to have a good one to get us to the Terminal.