The Passion?

bogota colombia efficiency

I’ve been having an internal battle lately about whether I need to be more “positive” in my writing. And so I have been more positive, and I think my writing’s been OK, but I also think it’s been a bit…boring. 

This morning I was looking through my old blog A Finnish Summer! to see if there was something I could recycle, and I came across a post I wrote while in Bogota, Colombia, in 2014. It was a rant about the inefficiency in Bogota, a city of nine million people where (according to me at the time) efficiency doesn’t exist. 

I read the whole article and was mildly entertained. And then I tried to look for a something else because I feared this article was too “negative.” With each subsequent post I stopped reading after the first or second paragraph. And then I thought: Wait a minute, I just read that whole article about Bogota. And I didn’t have to force myself to read it. I wanted to read it. Maybe it was a bit negative, but at least it was engaging. It least it was honest. 

So maybe my writing needs to be more polarizing. A lot of times I filter myself because I don’t want to sound ignorant or offend people. But it’s OK to say how you feel, as long as you’re respectful and articulate.   Am I really only going to ever play it safe? Am I playing it safe? I don’t know the answers to these questions, and would love to know what you, the readers, the think. So if you’ve never left a comment, today might be a day to do so.

For now, here’s that post about Bogota, written February 21, 2014. 

The “B” in Bogota

(Ed’s note: I have no idea why I titled it this)

It’s been a long time since I’ve written for Finnish Summer.  I wish I was in Finland right now.  I wish I was anywhere but in Bogota.  I need a vacation.  I’m sick of the lack of eficiency here.  If you’re going to be on the beach drinking coconut water and surfing, inefficiency is the name of the game (though actually not with surfing, as that would probably involved trying to paddle your board with floaties on your arms or dragging a parachute behind you or something ridiculous like that).  But when you’re in a city of 9 million people, you expect there to be some form of efficiency, somewhere.  And yet there’s not.  Everything is ridiculous in this country.  Today I officially quit my job.  Normally when you end a contract I imagine it might be customary to get a form signed by your boss or some kind of person in charge saying that the contract is over.  And I had to do that.  I also had to get another formed signed by about 10 other people saying that they were “at peace” with me and that I didn’t owe them anything and that as far as they were concerned I could leave.  How ridiculous is this?  Is this not the very reason hierarchy exists, to avoid situations like this, so that a person in charge can make important decisions without having to consult with every person who works at the company?  There was a spot on the form for the cafeteria staff to sign.  The cafeteria staff!  In other words, there was a spot on the form for the lovely lady who gave us tea and coffee and poundcake at 430pm everyday to sign saying that I didn’t owe her any napkins or that I didn’t accidentally take seconds of the coffee.  Riculous.  Insane.  Welcome to Colombia.

This country seems to pride itself on paperwork and appearances.  For anything official there must be myriad documents to sign.  It must be a process.  It must be difficult.  Because “that’s how things are supposed to be”.  Or at least people think that’s how things are supposed to be.  When you go to the park you see people working out with personal trainers doing ridiculously easy and ineffectual exercises with all kinds of equipment like medicine balls and surgical tubing that maybe target one to two muscles to 4% of their capacity, and yet that’s how it’s supposed to be.  You’re not supposed to work out.  You’re supposed to look like you’re working out.  You’re not supposed to be a businessman.  You’re supposed to wear a suit and a tie and shiny black shoes and look like a businessman.  The work is completely independent.  Appearances are everything here.

Should I come here just to bash the culture?  Probably not.  However, I think it’s natural to compare your culture to that of the culture you’re living in.  Obviously you’re not going to be OK with everything.  And you might even be a little unreasonably judgmental at times.  I do not dislike Colombia.  I really like Colombia.  And for the most part, I really like Colombians.  This is a beautiful country with beautiful people, it just has a ton of problems.  What country doesn’t?  There are some things I will get used to,but there are some things to which I probably won’t.  I don’t need to go to Finland, but I do need to go on vacation, which is why my friend Steve and I are going to Villavicencio next weekend, a place where (apparently) the air is warm and the rumba and steak flows like wine.  I don’t want to become jaded, because no one likes a jaded person.  And no one likes a person who criticizes things only to be guilty of the same things themselves.  And I realize that many times when we hate something we are really hating something that exists inside of us.  I realize this.  I am fully aware.

But the cafeteria lady?  Give me a break….

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Yeah, but How Does a Commoner like Me Fly Business Class?

emirates business class

Note: I receive no kickbacks or have any kind of affiliation with the credit card(s) touted in this article. This is purely to help you get radass flights for (almost) free.

I realized something this morning. I can’t remember what it was, but I know I realized something. I was walking along Calle Libertad, and I thought, “That’s it! That’s the secret to life!” I think it might’ve been something about eating more tamales. I’ve found some delectable ones by the neo-gothic church sometimes referred to as El Expiatorio. I get at least one everyday now. They have corn tamales, acelga (I think this might either be seaweed or cheese), rojos, verdes, pollo, and a few others. They cost 17 pesos.

Ah, I remember what I realized now. That this blog needs to be more useful. That I need to talk about myself less. So that’s why today’s post is about how you can fly business class for free within the next few months.

Some of you might remember this dynamite post from two weeks ago about the pleasures of business class. Bu some of you might have also wondered, “Yeah, but how do I fly business class? I don’t have the cash for that.”

But you don’t need cash. You need MILES. Lots of them. Fortunately, when you sign up for new credit cards, airline companies rain miles upon your person.

For example, the kind folks at Delta just emailed me this promotion the other day about 50,000 bonus miles when I sign up for their Amex card. Will I do this? Probably not right now. Because honestly with the way things are going I don’t know if I could spend the $1,000USD in the first three months that’s required to get the bonus miles. But you people, I know you people have good jobs, and live in economies where this kind of spending is not only regular, but required. If you live in the United States of America and don’t live in a hut in southeast Utah with 16 wives and a pet raccoon named Jake, it’s easy to spend $1,000 in three months. It would be hard not to.

So, you spend the $1,000 in the first three months, and then what happens? Well, once you pay off those miles — and this is critical, because they will not send you your miles until you’ve not only spent $1,000 on your C-card but also paid it off with money from your savings or checking account — they send you the miles. They SAY it takes up to six weeks or so for this to happen. But in my experience it’s usually within a week, two at the most.

Also, for this Delta card, and for a lot of cards offering promotions, there’s no annual fee for the first year. Which means you get your miles, you fly your free business class flight, and then you cancel the card. Please don’t think that this canceling of your card will destroy your credit score. It won’t. Doing it ten times a month might, but as long as you always pay your cards off, your credit score will be fine. I’ve churned many a credit card, and my score is still somewhere in the 700’s.

Once you’ve got your miles, you go to the website and look for flights. You have 50,000 miles to burn, and you want to go somewhere exotic. How about Bogota, Colombia? You have a girlfriend who went there and she said it was, like, totally awesome. And oh my God, it’s not dangerous at all. She, like, never felt unsafe. And there’s such cute cafes and bakeries.

Well that’s wonderful. I think that’s wonderful. You SHOULD go to Bogota. And you should fly business class. Unfortunately, you’re only going to be able to fly business class one way. Because flying business class to Bogota costs 40,000 miles + around $40 cash. But come on, who wants to fly roundtrip when they go to Bogota, anyway? I mean, when you fly to Hawaii, do you fly roundtrip? No, you fly one way, stay for 20 years, forget your “mainland name,” and start eating pineapple all day and saying the word “Brah.” Same thing with Bogota. You don’t fly roundtrip. You fly one way, get a job teaching English, start taking bachata lessons, and stay forever. And using miles encourages this, because you won’t have enough to get back.

Once you’ve booked your flight, get prepared for the business class experience. DO NOT wait in the main line going through security. That’s for the plebs. Go through the priority line. DO NOT wait in line getting on the plane. Also for the plebs. Get in the priority line. And once you get on the plane kick back and relax, put your feet up and rest your weary head. Because, men: 50 of you going to Bogota today. And 25 of ya ain’t comin’ back!


A special thanks to Lauren Colton for supporting this “blagh.”

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Sex and Coffee in Bogota

It looks like a sex shop.  It has a bright red facade with the words “Amor perfecto” (“Perfect Love”) in white lettering and a little sign on top that depicts only a heart.  Indeed, if I hadn’t been told explicitly on several occasions that it wasn’t a sex shop, I’d probably still think it was.

I go there for the first time with my Swiss computer programmer roommate Victor.  Victor gets a latte and I an aeropress. We sit in one of the booths, which is the color of a bouquet of roses.  The seats are a little too close together.  It’s a little too intimate.  I don’t remember exactly what we talked about.  I think we might’ve talked about Africa.

The coffee looks exquisite.  It’s served in a glass carafe and has an opaque quality, as if Monet accidentally spilled the contents of his palette into a jar and mixed them until they were brown.  It tastes exquisite, too — it has that plant-like, almost tea-like flavor that I associate with good coffee.  It’s not even in the same league as the tinto (drip) that’s usually served in Colombia.  I would argue that tinto shouldn’t even be called coffee.  It’s like piling a mound of snow in your backyard and calling it a ski resort.  No, this cup of coffee is the real deal. Finally, Colombia.  Finally.

Victor and I continue to talk about Lord-knows-what.  I remember saying at least three times, “Dude, this place looks like a sex shop.  They need to change the entry.”  I like Victor — he’s a real snake in the grass.  He’s smart and modest and insightful.  Plus he has a ponytail.  And not a ponytail to be cool — he just likes having a ponytail.

On the way out I ask the guy working if the differences between the different methods of coffee preparation — V60, chemex, syphon, aeropress, French press — are really that noticeable.

“If you were blindfolded,” I say, “could you tell the difference?”

“What do you know about blindfolds?” he says, winking, while the female employee produces a short leather whip and what appear to be wrist cuffs.

Actually, this doesn’t happen.  The guy says, “Oh, absolutely.  For instance, the difference between an aeropress and a French press? Massive.”

Sure, buddy, I want to say, but instead just nod my head and say, “Oh.”

Outside, Victor starts down the street toting his ponytail.  I stop again to admire the heinous facade and think again, They really need to change that.  At least include the word coffee somewhere. As we’re walking away I think I hear the crack of a whip and the shrill call of female laughter, but it might just be the screech of brakes on Carrera 4.  I trot to catch up with Victor, leaving Bogota’s best sex — coffee shop behind.

Mexico City vs. Bogota: The battle of the high-altitude Latin American metropoles

Bogota and Mexico City are two of the biggest, most important cites in Latin America.  Bogota has 10 million inhabitants (depending on which source you consult), and Mexico City 20 million (depending on which source you consult).  When you factor in food, people and quality of life, the two cities are fairly evenly matched (of course, one city might be better in one category and worse in another).  But as we will see, there is an X-factor that tips the scales.

In terms of cuisine, Mexico City wins.  Not to say that the food in Bogota is bad; the lunches are delicious, but the dinners are lacking.  For whatever reason, the cheap delicious meals available at midday disappear once the sun sets.

In Mexico City, the food is delicious 24 hours a day.  This is due to to the Mexican mastery of one particular crop: corn.  Mexicans are wizards with corn, from tortilla soup to tacos to chilaquiles to tamales.  And that’s not even touching on foods like mole, the mysterious (usually) chocolate-y dish of Oaxaca.

In contrast, Bogotanos have the arepa, a thick tortilla that, on the inside, tastes like cardboard.  Arepa con huevo is delicious, but that’s about it.

When it comes to ethnic food, both cities are garbage.

la candelaria

Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico DF.

The people are wonderful in both of these great metropoles.  They’re hardworking, they’re professional, they dress well.  If you ask for guidance in the street you’ll get it.  It’s easy to make friends.  It’s easy to find shows and events and parties and things to do.

Bogota girls are prettier.

The overall quality of life is similar in both cities.  Both cities treat pedestrians like dog shit.  Both cities have tons of traffic.  Both cities have smog.  Both cities have luxurious neighborhoods, and both have sketchy neighborhoods.  In both cities, unsweetened yogurt is hard to find.

Transportation is better in Mexico City, simply because of the metro.  Bogota has the MetroBus, which is fine if you don’t mind getting cozy with 60,000 sweaty people in a space the size of a broom closet.

Lastly, there’s the question of beauty.  Which city is more beautiful?  When it comes to architecture, Mexico City takes the cake with its zocalo and Palacio de Bellas Artes and cobblestoned streets of Coyoacan and San Angel.  But when it comes to green spaces and an overall mood, the nod goes to Bogota.  Bogota has better air.  On its eastern edge, Bogota is corralled by a mountain ridge that provides a fetching forested backdrop .  In one part of Bogota you can be more or less in the heart of the city, but on a leafy trail at the base of the hills, listening to the murmur of a stream.  Granted, wander too far from the stream and you’re likely to get robbed at knife point, but the murmur is still there.

If it only came to the categories previously listed — food, people, quality of life, and beauty — the match between Bogota and Mexico City would be a tie.  But there is an X-factor, and that X-factor is the proximity to the US.  In Mexico City, the US feels like it’s lurking in the backyard (because it is); in Bogota the US feels far away. Bogota is on a completely different continent — being there feels like you’ve actually gotten away from the long arm of Uncle Sam (to an extent). Like you’re exploring distant lands and have all of South America at your feet.  In contrast, Mexico City is basically a dingier, more fun version of LA, but without the ocean.

In the end, because of this X-factor, the nod goes to Colombian capital.  Mexico City comes in a close second, but Bogota is the best city in Latin America.



50 Shades of Earl Grey

“Hardwood floors! Tasteful lighting! A garden! Cool trinkets! A beautiful ivy plant I thought was fake but is actually totally real!”

I’m imagining a torture situation in which I have to yell out true statements about Taller de Te, Bogota’s number one specialty tea shop. Every time I yell out something false Adriana, one of the owners, clad in hip-high leather boots, cracks me across the stomach with a sock full of quarters.

“Name our four most exquisite specialty teas,” she says in her lilting Colombian accent.

I think about it. “Coca leaf tea.”

“I can’t hear you.”

“Coca leaf tea!”

The quarters stay steady.

“Sencha rose?”

She whips me across the abdomen. “Sencha Rose is not specialty!”

I frantically search my memory banks.  There is one tea.  It’s from China and of the particular variety they stock only 300 bricks were ever produced.  But what is it called?  Pearl?  Po-Er?  It’s some kind of Chinese name.  

“Pearl?” I venture.

“What did you say?” 

“Pearl,” I say again.

She throws back her head and laughs.  “There is no ‘Pearl’ tea here, my dear.  There is only Pu-erh.  It is the most exquisite tea we have.”

I was so close. “Pu-erh! Pu-erh!  Pu-errrrrrrr!” I scream, but it’s too late. There’s a grunt and the sock whizzes through the air. I gasp for breath and look up at Adriana. She’s smiling and stroking the sock of quarters as if it were a Shar Pei. I groan with delicious pain and slip into unconsciousness…

Located in the leafy Chapinero Alto district, Taller de Te is the best tea shop in Bogota.  In a country known for its coffee, Taller de Te has distinguished itself in the world of tea.  The shop boasts exotic teas from around the world: coca leaf tea, high-grade matcha tea, and an exotic Pu-erh of which only 300 bricks were produced. Sometimes when I go into the shop I just sit and there and mutter the words Pu-erh to myself. I’m not quite sure how to pronounce it, but I love how it rolls off the tongue. Pu-erh. Pu-erh. Pu-errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrh.

Today Taller de Te is crowded. This is usually not the case. Usually I’m the only customer. But today is Saturday and the Bogotanos are out in force. They need their tea, they need it loose-leaf, and they need it now. The shop is buzzing. It smells like cheap glue because Carla, one of other owners, is making crafts. I feel 70% happy and 30% like I might pass out. I’ve just ordered a “Bollywood Chai Tea” for the horrendous price of 10,000 COP (3.40 USD). The music that’s playing is tasteful. For some reason the fact that it’s so tasteful is irritating. What standard of perfection! I shall never live up to it. I am flesh and bone. I experience primitive emotions like lust and envy. I do not deserve to drink this tea. I deserve to be flogged by Adriana. Pu-erh! Pu-erh!

My chai latte comes. It smells like a gingerbread house. It smells like Christmas. I feel like I’m Hansel of Hansel and Gretel, being led toward the house of a witch. Except instead of breadcrumbs dotting the path there are tiny cups of steaming-hot chai. And instead of being in the forest I’m in a South American metropolis. And instead of being led toward the house of a witch I’m being led towards Adriana, who in real life is polite and helpful, with cute bangs and skin like the soft glow of a sunrise. She might be the most beautiful tea shop worker in northeastern Bogota. She places the chai latte in front me. I say “Thank you.” She says, “OK.”

The chai is delicious. It’s perfectly sweetened with panela (sugarcane). Not too sweet, though — Adriana would never allow that. I sip it and gaze into the garden. Night falls around us in this garden of chai and evil. The spices are exquisite. I detect cardamom. I slip into a kind of reverie and soon the tea is gone. I’m not satisfied; I want more. But more what? More milk? More spices? More tasteful decoration?

I look over at Adriana.  In my mind she hikes up her skirt to show off her hip-length boots and reaches for a sock of quarters. She knows what I want more of. Pu-erh. Pu-erh! Pu-errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrh.