The first leg
You know that you have been staying in some pretty dodgy places if you find yourself looking forward to the ‘normality’ of Bogotá. The city has a bit of a reputation….for drug crime, violence, murder and kidnapping, but the FTs view is that the reality rarely lives up to the reputation (mostly……. though Trump really is as big a cockwomble as people thought he would be), so we like to try these places.
We arrived in Bogotá at 4am after a long journey from Amman which took us via Istanbul and London, with long stopovers in both. The joy of flying on points. In Istanbul, after a bad start in a very busy lounge, J managed to nab us two ‘suites’, small rooms with comfortable beds, tvs and showers just across the corridor. It turned a potentially bad experience into a very good one. If you do get stuck in the Turkish Airlines lounge in Istanbul, don’t fret; it is probably the best I have been in, with loads of sitting options, things to do, like pool, and a great range of food and booze (though no Worcestershire sauce for Bloody Mary’s (#firstworldproblems))
London was a little more fun as, we zoomed into Notting Hill to pick up some new UK bank cards (our current ones run out in Jan) then met Guy and Thomas in our old local, the Sun in Splendour at the top of Portobello Road. There, we (or I) drank too much Guinness, talked a lot of rubbish then headed back to Heathrow, nearly leaving it too late…..
The upshot is that we arrived in Bogotá feeling dirty both inside and out.
We got a good deal on a good hotel, the B.O.G Hotel, and had booked in for the previous night so that we could get straight into the room, followed by a shower, then breakfast (that included champagne………..Always get straight back on the horse), then a kip.
My first venture out on the streets took me out into an area that had all the characteristics of a wealthy modern city, full of well known shops, good restaurants and garages selling expensive cars. The only difference was the visibly high security. The signs of poverty (beggars and street performers) were just a variation of the stuff we see in every city we have been too.
Decades of violent crime has had a marked impact on security firms over here though. When I see the teams moving money around in Oz and the UK I am often glad that the threat level is low and they are not moving my money. Old/overweight men, looking like they are auditioning for Dad’s Army. Here it is very very different. The low level skills, tactics and alertness is quite inspiring. Any platoon commander in any operational theatre would be proud to see their troops behaving the same way. Think Special Forces rather than Dad’s Army.
The other slightly disturbing thing was that even in this very wealthy area, very few people spoke any English. Our Spanish will be tested!
The B.O.G Hotel
One thing that was particularly noticeable was how colourful and green everything was after a long period spent mostly looking at desert. It was almost overwhelming. It reminded me a bit of returning to Germany from Iraq after 5 months of staring at sand. Back in 2003 the Army was beginning to understand the importance of decompression even if they didn’t do a good job. For me it meant a drive to a staging area near the Iraq/Kuwaiti border, where we were expected to spend 24 hours decompressing with others on the flight out, sitting with your kit, in a taped off area of desert, with a couple of cam nets and tents for shade. I arrived rather early for my flight so after 30 minutes of ‘decompression’ it was decided to put me on that days flight. The result was that about 12 hours after leaving Basra, I was back in Herford, looking at green stuff in awe, with a smile from ear to ear but feeling rather out of place.
It’s odd, the things that stay with you. Arriving in Bogotá felt a bit like that.
Around the hotel