Saturday, September 27, 2008

Harbor Transitway = sort of like TransMilenio

The dust is settling from the stampede of tasks that have dominated the lives of the Bobs and I since we got back to LA. We have a studio in Koreatown now! No chairs or drinking glasses, though. Fortunately my Fire King mug collection comes in handy.
Last week we took an interesting trip to a most uninteresting part of Torrance. This city is home to lots of industrial and corporate parks, but Bobby once visited a charming downtown section. On this boring excursion, I waited for Bobby at a Starbucks while he visited a prospective job site.
We took our bikes on a bus from Miracle Mile that went along the Harbor Transitway, which is a bus-only lane along the 110 freeway. This lane exits on the left into stations along the way, connecting to other bus lines and to the Metro Green Line. It was reminiscent of the TransMilenio we'd come to know so well in Bogotá, though without the crowds. It was midday, so maybe it's used more at rush hour.
Then we rode our bikes along 190th from Vermont to Prairie Avenue. This street had bike route signage, though in typical LA fashion it was not by any means a street I would label "bike friendly." But it worked. Since that is an industrial area, all the trucks barreling past made for a noisy ride, but I didn't get honked at or menaced by car bullies.
Another note: the Starbucks where I waited for Bobby sat in a large big box strip mall, on the edge of the parking lot by a wide sidewalk. Yet, humorously, the strip lot was surrounded by thick hedges that made pedestrian access from the sidewalk impossible; even those on foot had to access the stores by turning in at a driveway. In the case of the Starbucks, this meant walking many yards past the café and then doubling back through the parking lot. There wasn't any bike parking.
Now we're going to buy tickets to see Kenneth Anger speak about his films in November. See, there are many wonderful things about living in Los Angeles, and access to commentary and discussion about film is a big plus for me.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Cheapest way to get from South Orange County to LA

Step 1: Ride from my mother's house in San Juan to PCH, using that handy creek trail (about 20 minutes).

Step 2: Pay $1.25 each to ride the OCTA 1 up PCH to Long Beach (about 1.5 hours).

Step 3: Ride from 7th and PCH in Long Beach to any Blue Line Station (I can't estimate the time here cause we stopped at La Palapa Michoacana for the best tacos in Long Beach, and then at Portfolio for coffee).

Step 4: Pay $1.25 each to take the Blue Line to Pico station (50 minutes).

Step 5: Ride to Bobby's cousin's house in Miracle Mile. Olympic is not busy on Sundays, it turns out, so we had a lovely ride along that thoroughfare. It's a bike route, too (50 minutes).

That's quite a long time (about three hours) to travel about 76 miles, but we only paid $5 for the privilege. On Amtrak we would have paid upwards of $16 each.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bike Ride: Beach and Frozen Yogurt

On Saturday we rode our bikes to Salt Creek Beach from my mom's house in San Juan Capistrano. There's a bike path along Trabuco and San Juan Creeks that goes to PCH from San Juan, and then we took PCH up a few miles to Selva Road, where Salt Creek is. Since there's a bike lane along the length of PCH, and since it was Saturday, the ride was actually pleasant. No SUVs honked at me for being on the road.
When we got to Salt Creek, a really nice beach that one accesses by hiking down a bunch of steps on a cliffside, I noticed several things that struck me as odd.
1. A young woman driving a large black SUV through the parking lot with the windows rolled up, hunched over the steering wheel wearing iPod headphones. What happened to the image of the beach girl in the Volkswagen convertible, top down, hair flowing in the wind? F-ed up. It wasn't even a warm day.
2. This was the first time I'd ever reached this beach outside of a car. There wasn't any bike parking in the parking lot, so we locked up to a sign post.
3. Unfortunately the cliff that overlooks the beach has been finally surrendered to the evil scions of development. What was a plateau that held an abandoned beach club has been graded down to fit more McMansions and will probably degrade the quality of the beach considerably.
Way to go, Dana Point city fathers! Nice to know that your fat pockets matter more than the future of our coastline.
Bitterness and rage aside, we splashed in the beautiful waves for a while and felt very warmed by the sun. There's a phenomenon here where once school starts the beaches empty, even if the weather hasn't turned cool yet. So we had the beach mostly to ourselves, with the usual scattering of preteen surfers and shoreline walkers.
After a good dose of beach, we headed back down PCH to Capistrano Beach. The only frozen yogurt I'll deign to eat is sold at this café there called the Kultured Kitchen. They also serve delicious sandwiches featuring sprouts, avocado, and squaw bread. Plus meats and whatnot. We feasted on a turbocado sandwich and a mix of raspberry and chocolate yogurt! The yogurt there has a texture I've not encountered elsewhere. It isn't creamy, it's chunky and icy, but smooth. The fruit flavors are tangy, and the chocolate's not too sweet.
Then we rode back to San Juan, exploring the neighborhood where I grew up, the Villas, and the bike paths beyond there. We found a bike tunnel under the 5 that was so long your eyes didn't adjust to the darkness at first and that made it spoooky.
Oh yeah, and that night we went to a free concert at the Irvine Great Park with my family. Some development interest or other has apparently decided that a large orange hot air balloon will draw enough people to this fantasy park (almost none of it is built, but there are extensive plans for a bloated sports park) that they can shift the burden of the cost of park development to the public at some point. I'm imagining the measure will say something like, "remember that awesome huge orange hot air balloon? well, if you want more of the fantasy park we promised you, sign off on a 4 billion tax break for us, Whoever the Hell Developers, Inc.!"
Ugh. Orange County makes everything beautiful sordid and dirty with development capitalism.
But at least we had a nice bike ride.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


We made it back to LA last night! Then my mom chauffeured us down to the OC, where we slept on our own dusty futon mattress, and where I reveled in the company of cats. Cats cats cats cats cats! I might as well get it out there, I don't think I've ever gone three weeks without petting any cats before (well, I pet one cat at the ecoaldea, but he didn't really appreciate human company. And I definitely didn't come into contact with any in Bogota).
I'm not really "into" flying, so I'm very happy to be home and not on an airplane. The rumors are true, we discovered on the last leg of our trip: drinks are free on international flights. So with a little help from stiff drinks, I actually managed to relax on the trip between Mexico City and LA. I even managed to follow the in-flight movie, a reprehensibly awful piece featuring Kevin Spacey as a gambling sociopath who is also a charming professor at MIT. Bobby commented that the movie renewed his belief in the simple beauty of bangs, as the lead female character had a horrific, severe part in her hair.
The important thing is, though, that I'm very happy to be home in California, for once.
Back to cats!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Urban Explorer´s Guide to Bogotá

A certain redhaired colleague of mine arrives in Bogotá the day after Bobby and I leave. I´ve been meaning to put together some information we have discovered about how to enjoy the city.
So, here comes the URBAN EXPLORER´S GUIDE TO BOGOTÁ. (co-written by Bobby)
Chapter 1: Money
The exchange rate at this time makes $1 equivalent to about 2,000 pesos. And here they write it "$2.000", so the zeros can be confusing. 1,000 is called a ¨mil¨, so ¨dos mil¨is about a dollar.
Chapter 2: Papel higienico
Many bathrooms, such as all the ones I visited at the Universidad Nacional, do not offer toilet paper. One might consider carrying a small amount when traveling around the city. Sometimes it´s available for sale, other times there is one large roll in the bathroom from which you must gather some prior to entering a stall. Used toilet paper goes into the little bin provided for this reason in each stall, rather than into the plumbing system. There are some fine ass bathrooms in the international center, at Parque Central Bavaria (where Séptima and Décima come together, near Tequendama), but my favorite is at the Centro Comercial San Martín, which is on Séptima at Calle 32. This bathroom features paper in the stall (only place I´ve seen this in Bogotá) and constant cleaning. Not that any bathrooms I´ve visited have been particularly messy. This bathroom just really goes the extra mile to make your stay there a pleasant one.
Chapter 3: Almuerzos corrientes
Perhaps my favorite part of staying in Bogotá has been the large, inexpensive lunches available absolutely everywhere. If you see a sign outside a cafeteria that advertises "almuerzos," you can just step inside, sit down, and say "un almuerzo, por favor." Soon after an array of foods will arrive, usually including soup, a plate of rice, chicken, bananos, and salad, and fresh juice. This costs between $4.000 and $6.000 (about $2-3). I stayed away from the uncooked parts of the meals at first, but now I´m digging into salsas and jugos de mora (raspberry) with gusto. And only one bout of stomach pain!
Chapter 4: Panaderias and other food notes
Colombians have a fine tradition of sweet breads. One can breakfast on a variety of roscones (kind of like donuts but not fried, with arequipe [sort of like caramel] or guayaba [yum] inside) and lots of other kinds. We´ve found that you can just point at what you´d like to try and say "uno de estos," and usually the clerk will supply the name of the bread. Another snack that´s actually meal-sized are the tamales available in most panaderias. Unlike Mexican tamales, which I find too dry, these tamales are soft and delicious. Each region in Colombia prepares them differently, we´ve had very good ones from Tolima. The best panaderias are in Teusaquillo, the neighborhood between Séptima and Avenida El Dorado and between the ciudad universitaria and the international center.
Chapter 5: Bebidas
Chocolate is prepared everywhere here. Thick, rich, not too sweet chocolate. I usually order a tinto (small black coffee) while Bobby orders chocolate. My estadounidense desire for lots of coffee has been best satisfied at Juan Valdez, the national equivalent of Starbucks, which has locations all over the city. The tinto grande is about the size of a small coffee in the EEUU, and it does the trick for this caffeine addict. Coffee in general can be found in every establishment, and many places do specialty drinks as well. Crepes y Waffles, another chain, offers many fancy coffee drinks in addition to the titular plates. Sodas are called gaseosas here, and if you want a sparkling water (which we do all the time), order an "agua con gas." And then there´s the jugos naturales. As I´ve mentioned earlier on this blog, Bogotá has a great variety of fresh juices available from a variety of native and foreign fruits. I´ve tried raspberry juice, guanabana juice, mango juice, pitaya juice (it was like sweet snot), maracuyá juice, and probably some others. Fortunately the water here is excellent for drinking, so I don´t think I´ve had any stomach upset from the juices. Also the quality of the water makes it easy to avoid purchasing bottled water all the time, something I avoid religiously in the states.
Chapter 6: Safety
It´s better to avoid streets that are empty. The beggars we´ve encountered in Bogotá have been young men who appear out of their minds on drugs or with mental illness. I´ve been told that it´s a good idea to just give them some money if they bother you in a deserted area to avoid aggression. Weekdays it´s fine to walk all over town, because so many people are out that it´s easy to stay in a crowd. Even in the evenings, up until like 10 pm, we´ve felt fine walking between buses and hosts´apartments. Saturdays are also boisterous evenings, but Sunday evenings get really quiet, since most people stay at home. I´ve felt a little uncomfortable walking after 9 pm on Sunday nights. It´s a good rule of thumb to just consider any of the things you´d usually be aware of in a large city. Bogotá does not feel any more threatening to me than Los Angeles.
Chapter 7: Transit
The transmilenio system (big red buses) is super easy to use, just look for the elevated bus platforms. They have maps that explain where the buses go just like in a metro system, so it is very convenient. However, the transmilenio certainly doesn´t go everywhere, so you will need to use the busetas, or colectivos, which are small buses that go all over town. They have signs in the front window that explain their route, which is confusing if you aren´t familiar with the city. If you´re not sure it´s best to ask a local which colectivo to take, as some places have the same name. You just flag them down at the side of the road to get on, and press a button by the door to get off. The taxis are also cheap, but we didn´t use them much.
Chapter 8: Ciclovía
Every sunday from 7:00 AM to 2:00 PM many streets in the city are closed to cars and you can walk or ride a bike on them, which is very nice. Unfortunately, there aren´t really places to rent bikes here, which was dissapointing for us. We found one bike shop that claimed to rent, by the Heroés transmilenio station, but it was too expensive for our limited budget (30,000 pesos per day).
Chapter 9: Bibliotecas
There are some excellent public libraries in Bogotá, our favorites are Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango (BLAA, haha), and Biblioteca Virgilio Barco in the Parque Nacional. The latter is a very sublime Rogelio Salmona building, who is a very influential architect here. These are good places to find out about...
Chapter 10: Free stuff!
Bogotá is host to an amazing amount of free (or cheap as free) cultural events. Clicking around on the excellent official website of Bogotá can reveal some of them. The Universidad Nacional also often has free concerts and events. Adonia and I have seen the philharmonic of Bogotá, some modern chamber ensembles, a harp recital, and an Antonioni movie for free (or not more than $1 each). Tomorrow, if we have time, we´re going to see Lost in Translation for free at Teatro Jorge Eliecer Gaitan (named after a national hero presidential candidate who was assasinated in 1948, his name comes up all the time). Not to mention all of the museums that are also very cheap or free.

Here we are on top of Monseratte, which is the one really touristy thing we did. You can take a Teleferico (tram) up there that is pretty fun, with a superb view of the city.

In summation, Bogotá is a pretty amazing metropolitan city, with lots of interesting architecture, food, art, museums, and concerts. enjoy!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Bogotá Birthday!

So on Friday we went to Aldeafeliz, the ecovillage (ecoaldea) outside of Bogotá. It took a Transmilenio ride, a colectivo ride, and two taxis to get there. Since the city is at such an altitude (2700 meters), as soon as you leave you descend rapidly. Aldeafeliz was tropical, humid, and warm, and at least 1,000 meters below Bogotá. We spent a really lovely day there talking to the ecoaldeanas. They´ve been living there for two years. There are a few communal buildings, for the kitchen, library, and computer stuff, but right now the four residents live in tents scattered over the seven acre property.
On Saturday we came back to Bogotá to meet our friends for drinks. There is a drink here called guaya that consists of a liter of fruit juice and liquor. A liter. Strong liquor! It costs 25.000 pesos, which is about $13. The place we went, Chamois, is a hotspot in the international hipster bar district called the Zona Rosa. By the time we left around midnight, the place was packed with people starting to dance to the live tropical band. Then I went to sleep.
Today we visited Usaquén, an old town in northern Bogotá that has been absorbed over the years into the city. It was very chi-chi, with artisan markets and street performers. Too rich for my blood, but my friends searched around till they found a cheap(er) restaurant for lunch. They wanted Bobby and I to try ahiaco, a popular soup here. It has chicken, vegetables, and capers. It´s somewhat thick like a stew. We also had delicious raspberry juice. Fortunately, I´ve discovered, I can eat fruit and drink the water here with little to no indigestive issues. This is good because the Colombians drink jugos naturales (fresh juices) all day long. Osterizers are ubiquitous here, you can even buy parts for them from street vendors. People chop up fruit, then throw it, skin and all, into the blender. Then they strain the chopped fruit and add water and sugar. Yum!
I should go and stop abusing the hospitality of my friend, who has had us over for a movie and let us use his computer. Our time here is winding down, and I am very happy in this city.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Going to Aldeafeliz

Today we´re going to the ecovillage that´s about an hour outside Bogotá, Aldeafeliz. We´ll be renting a tent and sleeping bags from them, and Bobby is super excited to leave the city. It should be very interesting to see the place and talk to the people there. I believe Aldeafeliz was cofounded by a woman who studied in the United States and lived at the LA ecovillage for some time. I´m meeting her next week for coffee.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

More concerts and exploring

Now we´re staying in Teusaquillo, the district west of the international center of Bogotá. Since it´s conveniently located to the cementario central (central cemetery), we finally visited on Tuesday, and even snuck some pictures. However, like the others, the pictures remain imprisoned in the camera or on a thumb drive.
This apartment is very French, at least according to what I´ve seen in my nouvelle vague films, with high ceilings, white walls, a central courtyard with windows facing each other, and cold ass floors. We´ve been having a great time with our host, a language scholar who teaches French and English and sometimes Spanish, though the three at once make his head spin, he said. There have been many conversations about the, um, odd relationship between the United States and Colombia, and our opinions about social justice. And conversations about how the Transmilenio maintains a monopoly on bus service on the routes it serves, so that people can no longer get late night buses on those roads. This is a problem for people who cannot afford taxis, and who used to rely on a colectivo to get them home at 12 am or later. Transmilenio stations stop admitting people at 11 pm, and service ends around that time. Also, there appears to be an issue with corruption regarding the quality of the streets on which they are building Transmilenio lines. Businesses get contracts to repair the streets, and consequently they are not as well constructed as they could be.
If I never explained Transmilenio, it is a system of rapid transit that has bus-only lanes that stop at raised stations (paradas) in the middle of the street. You enter with a ticket (1.500 pesos, about 75 cents, which is higher than the price of a colectivo bus, 1.150), so it has many features of a metro system but without the massively expensive infrastructure. Since the buses run on the surface, the ride is much more interesting than a subway ride. The whole system is very easy to use, and runs extensively throughout the city. They are in the process of planning new lines, like ones on two major streets that are not yet covered by the system, and there are similar systems in other cities in Colombia. I am fully convinced that a system like this is more amenable to the needs of Southern California than underground rail.
We´ve been enjoying a music festival this week at the Universidad Nacional called the Semana Colombo-Catalán, which brings together musicians and composers from Cataluña and Colombia. On Monday we went to a contemporary chamber music concert that was far too intellectual to be entertaining musically, but yesterday we heard a wonderful recital by a Spanish harpist. It took place in the Capilla (chapel) of the school, a mid-century building much to our liking. I think Bobby plans to write a post about the architecture we´ve seen in Bogotá, and it´s really a nice city to look at.
Today maybe we´ll go to a botanical garden in the parque central. Bogotá´s central park is the biggest in a Latin American city. We visited the park last week, and saw many kite-eating trees. Charlie Brown´s worst nightmare!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Trotting all over town

That's what we've been doing, walking to the point of exhaustion. Yesterday, since our plans to visit Usaquén (a small town that has been engulfed by the city and is the site of a great flea market, or las pulgas) have been postponed till next week, we left the house rather late to enjoy the ciclovía. As it turns out, the last Sunday in August is a holiday here, when they celebrate national solidarity with a big, noisy caminata (parade). We hit the parade route when our bus got to the city center, and walked along Carrera 7 following the route for a few hours. There were lots of school bands, with nice musical arrangements and a very chime-like instrument that kept the melodies going.
We meant to take the funicular up to Monserrate (the beautiful white church that hangs over the city on a mountain, the view is unparalleled in Bogotá), but dilly-dallied for too long to make it up there on Sunday, when it stops running at 5 pm. The parade was definitely very neat though. We were both reminded of Renn Fayre because of the rain and the crowds and the festive music and mood.
Having consumed many a tinto (black coffee), I led us on another expedition through the international plazas of the city center. Tequendama and Parque Central Bavaria are two big centers near the museo nacional. We walked through them and then explored a neighborhood of smaller buildings just beyond the city center, Teusaquillo. I expected this to be a prosperous neighborhood when we'd passed by it on the bus, but up close it was mostly deserted. Perhaps the people thought better than to display their money through flashy upkeep, but it seemed odd to me that a neighborhood of single family homes in this city of apartments would not be more upscale. Also, since it was after 5 pm on a Sunday, most people were probably indoors having dinner. The city mostly shuts down on Sunday.
Did I mention that we saw a perfomance of the Orquesta Filarmónica de Bogotá on Friday night? It was at the Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano, one of the many universities (around 45) in the city. What a beautiful performance! They played pieces by Haydn, Weber, Beethoven, and some English guy whose name I've forgotten. He composed ¨Pomp and Circumstance," there's a clue. The auditorio was all honey-colored wood and harmonized upholstery, and we got super great seats for only 2.500 pesos, which is about $1.75.
Today we're figuring out our next couchsurfing destination and riding the Transmilenio to Portal del Sur, which may give us a glimpse of the southern part of Bogotá, home to four million desplazados, according to a friend.