My brother-in-law, the one with two little girls close to Mustard Seed’s age, lives about 10 minutes away by taxi. We frequently go over in the afternoons so the girls can play. I’m so glad Mustard Seed has cousins her age. I’m just now getting to know my cousins, and until a few years ago, I didn’t have any primos hermanos, brother cousins, as first cousins are called here. For her to have one just 5 months older than her is really special.
They live right next to a mall, so Husband Man and I left the girls with my brother-in-law’s wife and went on a mall date by ourselves. Husband Man looked for clothes at Arturo Calle, which is similar in style to Express for Men, but instead of paying $80 for your pants, you can get them for $30 and the service is light years better. In fact, almost anywhere you go here, the customer service is extremely attentive, and the shop people know absolutely everything about all their products. Ask the girl at the Colombian equivalent of Wal-Mart where the tights were imported from and what the composition of the fabric is and…well, first of all you’ll actually be able to find her! Second, she’ll know.
We also looked around for shoes and boots. A lot of the women just wear boots and leggings here because it’s more of a cold weather place due to the altitude. It’s a lot like fall in the states, varying from sunny and nice to just barely needing a coat at night time. Anyhow, this boot thing jibes nicely with my plan to have 10 different pairs for the winter.
We hit Oma, which could possibly be called the Starbuck’s of Colombia (that or Juan Valdez), for some hot chocolate. Lesson #2: They don’t always put sugar in the chocolate, so unless you like yours bitter, you may have to add some. McDonald’s, which they do have here, though it’s more upscale than in the U.S., had a free-standing dessert stand. I thought this very Colombian take on a sundae was eye-catching. Lulo is a green tropical fruit, and the juice is widely available, as are a number of other fresh juices.
On the way out, across the street from the mall, we went to our favorite vendor and picked up…you guessed it, big, fat arepas, almost collapsing under their own weight, to take home for a light dinner for everyone. It seems everyone eats a light dinner, frequently consisting of some type of bread product, soup, or a few leftovers from lunch. We like this particular vendor because it’s him and his brothers or cousins. They’re what you might call “at-risk youth,” but they’re out there working hard for an honest peso every day. The youngest is maybe 10. He’s the one who recites the menu for you when you walk up. You can get them with just cheese or stuff with chicken, jam, beef, or sausage. The local wisdom is “Stick with the cheese unless you want a stomach ache.” We do, and it works out very well.
Nearby the arepa stand was some sort of a breaker box covered in posters and advertisements. You see this a lot: walls plastered from one end to the other with the same repeated poster, announcing some concert or other event. Depending on the design, the effect can be interesting sometimes, if “urban.”
There’s a lot of graffiti as well. Some of it is “spontaneous,” but a lot of it is commissioned by the city to fill empty walls (since they know people will do it anyway). That’s controversial because, according to a lot of people’s thinking, graffiti looks like graffiti, commissioned or not.
The landscape of Bogota is full of odd juxtapositions. Beautiful Spanish tile roofs on stucco houses with bougainvillea climbing the façades right next to uber-modern glass low-rise buildings and a horse and cart being pulled down the neighborhood street by the recyclers, some of the poorest of the poor. Almost new Chevrolets next to 1970s-model Renaults, interspersed with a million and one buses. The fanciest mall in the city where a purse could cost $250 and oranges for sale strung from the trees across the street. Everyday life isn’t all postcard material, manicured landscaping, and 16th-century buildings–things here happen too much on the fly for it all to be like that–but it is always busy and colorful.