Sunday, 7 December 2008

How do you spell home comforts? C-o-l-d.

I arrived in Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, yesterday afternoon. I came straight from Cartagena on a bus trip that was supposed to last a casual 20 hours but due to standard delays (traffic, guerillas) was actually 25 hours long.

The journey doesn't make it into my top 5 all'time worst bus trips list. That list is dominated by north Indian buses in 2003. Peter and Gergely, if they are reading, will know what I mean. However, at times the bus's "entertainment" did threaten to push it up into the hall of fame of worst bus journeys. There were Spanish-dubbed DVDs: Rush Hour 3 (astonishingly, the second time I have half-watched this on a bus in the past two weeks), I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (few laughs in English, very few laughs in Spanish), and Die Hard 4.0 (I was asleep). Throughout all these movies and all night long the driver played his music at the front of the bus. It ranged from Latin pop, to salsa, to merengue, to vallenato, to Latin rock. I didn't enjoy this - particularly at 3am when all I had brought with me on the bus in terms of music was The Stroke's Is This It? (I listened to it approximately 5 times). What I appreciated even less, though, was the bunch of Colombians near the back of the bus who had brought their own instruments and spent most of the journey looking for any excuse to start playing and singing. They played an impromptu concert at first light at 5.30am - over the sound of the driver's tunes. I was not amused.

It reminded me of a line I read in the Lonely Planet last week:

How do you spell "life" in South America? M-u-s-i-c. Without it, life would grind to a halt.

To which my immediate thought was: How do you spell lazy, stupid cliché...?

Anyway, what did I think of to take my mind off the constant blairing away of "South American life"? The old continent. E-u-r-o-p-e.

I thought a little of winter Saturday mornings in London and Edinburgh. (Something I have consciously missed in recent weeks. Bacon sandwiches; grey skies; long coats; Saturday Guardian or Sun; the Premier League, the FA Cup or even the Six Nations on the TV.) But for some reason, on that bus journey up into the Colombian mountains, I thought mostly of other parts of the old world that exist in my memory. September in Vienna. April in Hamburg. February in Turin. Summer in Budapest. A late August morning in Munich. Autumn in Warsaw. June in Paris, and November in Paris, and January in Paris.

I don't know why this was in my head. Maybe it was partly because I was finishing off Vassily Grossman's Life and Fate. But mainly my theory is that - 86 days away from home - I'm not exactly homesick but I would enjoy something a bit nearer to home. Streets that don't smell of sewage or trash (Santa Marta and Getsemani, Cartagena - stand up). Reliable pavements. Reliable pastries ("Oh that looks nice and sweet. It'll go perfectly with a cup of coffee! ... Oh, it's full of cheese, you say. And that's salt, not sugar, on the top. Never mind.") Good food. (Something I have been severly disappointed by since Mexico. Apparently it won't get better until Argentina. Hard times.) And some European weather.

So I am loving what I have seen of Bogotá so far. Driving into the centre from the north and west it actually looks like Eastern Europe! I never thought I'd be so pleased to see concrete tower blocks and grey and red pavements.

And the cold. How I love the cold. Last night I was wearing a T-shirt, sweater and scarf just sitting in the hostel (having my first proper English conversation in a good week and a half too. Home comforts.) I went to bed under two blankets and a sheet, inside my sleeping bag, wearing a T-shirt and boxers and slept like a baby after my musical mystery tour from Cartagena. Admittedly, my first hot shower in over a month this morning was a 90-second let-down, but after a long time without experiencing anything below 25 degrees centigrade, the weather here is great.

It's a lovely, grey, chilly Sunday; I've already managed to get hold of a bowl of cornflakes and I'm wearing my jacket. Time to stop blogging and go explore my "home" of the next few days.

1 comment:

Richard Smith said...

You'll remember that bus journey all your life, and once you've experienced that degree of discomfort you'll be fine with most of what Europe can throw at you. At least that's the benefit I've experienced from 40 hours in a corridor in a train across Turkey in 1973.