Monday, September 13, 2010

Simple Lessons in Bogota

View of Bogota from top of Monserrate Mountain

The lungs draw shorter amounts of air in every breath. Half way up the mountain of Monserrate, which peaks over Bogota at nearly 11,000ft high to the east of the city, our legs weaken with every step. To our side is Hector (Dora's padre) who has been made a weekly Sunday routine of this climb. He stands about 5'5 and is 73 years young. Hector's stride is pushing the pace and making the mid-20's Gringos look rather weak in our ascent to the top of Monseratte. Bogota itself is nestled in a valley at 8,500 feet. We were drawing for deeper breaths just on our walk to the bottom of the mountain. As we near the top, beads of sweat slide down the cheek with every step in the high Colombian air with the sound of Church bells in the distance. Sunday morning church music greets us as we arrive to the top of Monseratte. The rising sun feels much warmer at the top as we can now see much more to the east at approximately 7:15am. Gasping for air and soaking up the moment with my companions, I'm amazed to see Hector calmly smiling at all of us. Is this guy for real?
Hector (not tired) & I (tired)

At 73, he just gave us lesson number #1 in this blog post: Age is only a number. Hector gracefully ascended this mountain with a 'cruise-control' pace and showed us young guns that some get better with age.
We begin to follow his lead as he shows us a place to do some abdominal workouts on rock seats. The church music complemented by the morning bird's song is just better than 'Eye of the Tiger' at this time. We explore the top of Monseratte for a good hour or so before we make the quick descent down to Bogota. Hector's amazing factor goes up on our charts as quickly as he leads us down the mountain. He begins running down with us, bouncing from step to step with plenty of spring and pep. I catch up with him as we wait for the others. "Are you really 73 years old Hector?" I ask him in Spanish. He laughs and responds that he is with a big smile on his face. He then proceeds to explain how his body has yet to deteriorate at this age, living a very active lifestyle. But at 73? really? Well, Hector just became another mentor as he gladly tells me of how great he feels. He's never even taken a pill, all natural medicines for colds and the flu, leaving fruit and vegetable shakes as the remedy of choice. Gracias Hector for making us feel your age but at the same time showing us age is only a number.
The crew on the top of Monserrate with Sunday morning church in background

On to lesson #2... Driving in Bogota Colombia!

BJ has been our Chauffeur through the streets of Bogota until the question hit me somewhat unexpectedly, "Robin you wanna drive this time?" Hmm, driving in Bogota, Colombia. I feel pretty comfortable driving manual cars and after watching BJ maneuver his way through these streets, I feel hestitant, yet so tempted. "Sure, lets do this, " I say. Two blocks in, I feel the difference in the pace of traffic and obstructions. The rules of the road here are simple... No rules. Who needs lanes? Who cares for pedestrians? Nadie, just step on the gas and keep up with traffic. One must maintain aggressive on these roads or you're causing an accident. Fortunately, BJ is co-captain and giving me tips as far as how to most efficiently navigate through these streets. Several times we come within inches of being side swiped or side swiping another vehicle. The urban jungle of Bogota was my first lesson in driving internationally. If Los Angeles traffic isn't enough fun for you, come to South America for some excitement behind the wheel!

Lesson #3: The US has more influence than I even imagined...

After 30 minutes of receiving my international drivers lesson, Dora, BJ and I end up at her parents' house (Hector y Nelly). We are greeted by passion fruit licuados (shakes). The taste of the fresh pulp is simply perfect as we begin to pick Hector's brain some more. Dora had told me that he is fascinated with our country, the US of America. So I open the can of worms and ask where this fascination comes from. The history lesson begins. From Thomas Jefferson to Abraham Lincoln to Theodore Roosevelt, Hector gives me the background on each of them and what made them so great as leaders and as people in general. Jefferson's brilliance, Lincoln's resilience and Roosevelt's work ethic. The world would not be what it was today without Benjamin Franklin, the Wright Brothers and Martin Luther King Jr.'s innovative and revolutionary vision. After 45 minutes, I again look at Hector in amazement and ask myself who is this guru? It just goes to show that you need not be citizen of a country to know its history inside and out, one day Hector may make his way to the country adores so much to see what the American Dream is all about. What really is the American dream all about anyways? It might just be based in the principles and hard work of the aforementioned people, those who have not only changed one country but also one world.
The rest of the day was consumed by more love from Aunt Tita as she decided to treat us to an after-dinner drink of 20 year old Colombian Brandy. She had been waiting for a special occasion for... well... 20 years I suppose. We felt very fortunate and almost undeserving of such a nice gesture. I've never been a fan of Brandy, but 20 year old Colombian Brandy from the hands of one of the nicest ladies one could know. Perfecto... Salud! Now off to the coast, we start in Cartagena....

Dora y Auntie Tita pouring the Brandy, Salud!

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