Saturday, August 30, 2008

Spurious Helmets

So it´s official, bicycle rental is not something that´s commonly (or cheaply) offered in Bogotá. Despite the numerous ciclorutas. Despite the ciclovía. No bikes for us! In a way I´m relieved, cause I didn´t want to be on red alert regarding bike theft while enjoying the city, and the colectivos and Transmilenio do an excellent job of moving us around.
I´m exhausted. We started the day with a lovely breakfast prepared by our new host in Salitre, consisting of the usual chocolate, pan, and some arepas that actually didn´t taste like wood. The many stray dogs in this very modern part of the city didn´t manage to keep me awake last night with their rhythmic howling, but I´m still feeling the need to sleep like ten hours a night, so I went back to sleep after breakfast.
About Salitre: we saw an exhibit at the Biblioteca Virgilio Barco in the Parque Simon Bolívar yesterday that showed aerial photographs of Bogotá from 1947 to the present. We saw that Salitre was just a bunch of green fields until the city made plans to develop it in the style of Le Corbusier, with tall blocks of apartment buildings surrounded by park spaces. The district is fairly pleasant for the pedestrian, although I find the numerous indoor malls (Gran Estación, Plaza Salitre) to be antisocial. We also found confirmation that the Ciudad Universitaria is indeed in the shape of an owl, as we´d been told. One of the stadiums that formed the eyes of the owl has been destroyed, but the shape is still quite clear. Another feature we noticed at the exhibit was a large, third story plaza adjoining the Bancafé building. Today we found the plaza, it´s impressive, and we took some pictures that are imprisoned in the camera for now, till we go to an internet café that has USB capabilities.
We visited the Museo Nacional after we gave up on bikes, and watched a bit of a documentary about Colombia´s Pacific coast region. Then we paid 11,000 mil pesos (ouch) for coffee, chocolate, and a teensy pecan pie in the museum café.
Now we´re back in Salitre, having jumped onto a colectivo around sunset. I feel rather ill, and we need to eat dinner, and I´m stressed out about visiting this ecovillage outside the city called Aldeafeliz. It seems from their webpage that they´re accustomed only to camping visitors, and we certainly aren´t backpackers. I´ve been putting off calling them for days because I dread the scene I´ve concocted in my mind of my poor Spanish confusing the hell out of whoever answers the phone. Fortunately Bobby has volunteered (with much encouragement from me) to call.
Tomorrow we go to a town called Usaquen to visit a renowned market and to enjoy the ciclovía.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Alienation and la ciudad universitaria

Monday had its problems, since I got so frustrated with my continued money misunderstandings (it is remarkably difficult to tell 1000 from 10000 when you´re trying to pay for something quickly) that I burst into tears in a Transmilenio station. We had lunch at a bourgie but charming place here called Crepes & Waffles, an upscale chain with locations all over the city. The waitress was really nice, and the food was very good, so I gradually let the heat of my latte warm my heart to Bogotá once more.
This is a city unaccustomed to tourists, at least English-speaking ones. We get funny looks on the Transmilenio when Bobby and I chat and point at things out the window, and clerks usually look completely bewildered when I fail to understand what they said. In Southern California, many things are explained in English and in Spanish. Bogotá is much less international than Los Angeles. There don´t appear to be any ethnic enclaves, and though there are international restaurants, there´s no string of cheap Korean BBQ, Vietnamese soup and sandwiches, or Indian buffets to be found. Colombian food is delicious, mainly we´ve had platos corrientes (daily plates) of chicken and rice, with stewed vegetables and fried yuca. Crepes are big here (hence Crepes & Waffles), and they remind me of quesadillas. We´ve made our own juice out of maracuyá fruits, a tangy, starchy drink, but we have been avoiding all the delicious jugos naturales available absolutely everywhere.
On Tuesday we visited the ciudad universitaria, the campus of la Universidad Nacional de Colombia. There are campuses all over the country, but Bogotá has the largest, with 25,000 students according to our host´s friend. We spoke at length with our host and his friend about the historic and revolutionary legacy of the school. Once again I felt sheepish, having attended a tiny private college that looked admiringly to more politically revolutionary countries without suffering through disappearances, massacres, total shutdown of the school, and continuing battles with police. The campus has many interesting buildings, most decorated with graffiti urging arms and rejection of the state. The most architecturally interesting one is the social sciences library for graduate students. Bobby took some pictures, look here.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bogotá is soaking wet

This is a bus in the famed transmilenio system, as seen from the upstairs of a shawarma restaurant on this drizzly, then soaking, Saturday afternoon. Today we got up late, drugged by the altitude, and made our way toward the city center and Parque de la Independencia, passing by a swanky university and a commercial district. We toured around the apparently closed plaza de toros Santamaria, and then went to the Museo del Arte Moderno de Bogotá (MAMBO). And what to our wondering eyes should appear, but four floors dedicated to artistic interpretations of los desaparecidos de Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Colombia (forgive me if I´ve forgotten any). It was, as Bobby described it, a real tear-jerker, as well as super depressing. Many of the pieces incorporated photos of gente desaparecido, bringing the human scale right into your face. I think the most moving piece was one organized from the archives of las Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo, the Argentine group that tries to find the children of desaparecidos who were born in captivity. Picture:

The installation was organized so that for each couple who would have had a child while in captivity, there was a series of their photos and one mirror to illustrate the missing child. We were blown away.
Then we wandered the city in a daze, ending up on a seedy street where a maniacal teenager followed us for a few blocks past brothels and trash heaps. It took us a while to find our way back to the areas the city government would probably prefer for tourists to frequent. Then we took refuge in the shawarma shop, and after eating a big plate of meat and fries covered in tahini, we got soaked coming back to the hostel. Now my pants are dry and I´m hoping the rain has let up so we can go ride the transmilenio.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

PDX to LAX to MEX to BOG

we made it to bogotá! it only took three flights and four airports. ciudad de mexico was confusing, because we didn´t understand that we were, in fact, supposed to officially enter (via paperwork) mexico before we could go through customs and get on our connecting flight to colombia. we almost missed the connection, but made it at the last minute, leaving a trail of half-understood airport workers behind us in our wake. lesson #1: not everybody outside the us speaks english, contrary to what i´d fooled myself into thinking. lesson #2: the academic spanish i whisper in my head at times is not sufficient for the challenges of international travel! i´m sure i´ll get more comfortable as we´re here longer, but right now i feel like a big, dumb american.
the city is beautiful, nestled against dramatic andean cliffs, and possessing a very oregonian climate. i´m in an internet café with a different keyboard than i´ve ever used, which makes adding accents to words very easy, but using the shift key more difficult.
now we need to go figure out if we can stay more cheaply at a different branch of our hostel for the next few nights. we got stuck in the honeymooners´casa, which has rooms that are too nice for our purposes. and too rich for our blood!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Portland Traffic School ROCKS

Last night I had the privilege of sitting in and observing a "Share the Road Safety Class" in North Portland. This class, which was started a year and a half ago, was developed by Trauma Nurses Talk Tough, the Portland Police, the BTA, and the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition. It covers traffic interactions between drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians. Folks who have been issued citations for certain traffic violations can take this class, and it is really a great opportunity. I felt so proud that Portland includes a bicycle safety presentation in a traffic class! The room was filled mainly with people who had been issued citations while driving, and I do not know that some of these people had ever ridden bicycles in traffic before. What an amazing opportunity to educate drivers about the increasing numbers of cyclists in Portland, and how to behave around bikes and on them! This is the best example of mobility education currently offered that I have seen since I started studying this stuff.
If I were studying sustainable transportation in Portland, I would be all set to start a dissertation project this year. People up here are so willing to share knowledge and contacts about making the city more accessible to bicyclists and pedestrians. Even though drivers have honked and shouted at me for no good reason while I've been here, I firmly believe that local (and now national) media coverage of this trumped-up "bikes vs. cars" controversy only makes people feel more divided and indignant. My guess is that the guy who yelled at me the other day, who was an older man, might have read some inflammatory remarks in The Oregonian that morning before getting into the car, and the sight of me and Bobby (in a bike lane, out of his way) filled him with so much rage that he spat "get off the road!" at us. I'd never had that happen before all those articles were published this summer. I think they're leading to more self-righteous factionalism, and I'm glad that different people I've heard speaking publicly on behalf of the BTA dismiss this as the crap it is.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Preparing to Depart Country

My month in Portland is drawing to a close. It's a damn good thing for my bank account, which will barely survive my time in this café-infested city.

I have done lots of lovely things this month, including:
- riding bikes to Sauvie Island to pick marionberries and eat bbq
- riding bikes to Oregon City to see the municipal elevator and the Willamette Falls Locks
- meeting with an education coordinator at the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and finding out that Oregon's schoolchildren are already experiencing bicyclist and pedestrian education in elementary schools! Hooray!
- finding out about the Restorative Listening Project, an effort to build ties between the historically black population of N and NE Portland and the many new white residents and businesses. They're trying to be constructively open about the usually quiet, if devastating, processes of gentrification in those parts of the city. Hooray!
- spending scads of time in Opposable Thumb on Belmont and in Crema on Ankeny. Truly making the city's coffee shops my living room rather than sitting in a private home has been very enjoyable. The countless iced americanos and occasional pastry helped.
- reveling in the giant bins of fabric and clothes I left in Bobby's parents' basement. Soon they will be mother's garage. Hi Mom!
- visited a great travel clinic with a most friendly and charming doctor, the Portland Industrial and Travel Clinic. I'm now considered (mostly) immune to hep A, yellow fever, and typhoid.
- spent lots of time with good friends, people I missed tremendously in LA this past year
- volunteered at Bridge Pedal, and watched 17,000 cyclists ride by my post in downtown Portland. They liked my gold velour jumpsuit and green marching band jacket with gold accents, and also the loose goose. Quite a few Dahons, Bike Fridays, and Bromptons were in the stream of wheeled ones.

This weekend I'm visiting friends in the Seattle area, and we're leaving for Bogotá a week from today. I've made contact with some folks at Aldeafeliz, an ecovillage outside of Bogotá, and I'm looking forward to finding out about sustainability there.

Ooh, and last night I viewed 400 Blows at the Clinton Street Theater, and met a nice bartender who happened to be from Tustin. He recognized my OCTFCU card, since he's also a member. The speakers at that theater are hell on the ears, sadly, so the opening of the movie, with the lovely score, was almost ruined for me and Bobby. But I guess our ears adjusted to the static, or they fixed something, cause most of the soundtrack came through well. Such a sad movie, though not nearly as depressing as Rossellini's Germany, Year Zero or Buñuel's Los olvidados, other movies about boys lost in the shuffle of urban survival.