Tuesday, 29 April 2014

'Early Morning Run In... From The Past... Bogota (part 1)

First light: 0604 hrs
Time start: 0600 hrs
Time finish: in Part 2
Weather: 12C
Altitude 8,300 ft

Something quite different today. The runs have been mostly from Africa to-date. Life in the army, and having worked for an international oil company, have taken me around the world. Those who've followed the blog from the beginning know the idea was first hatched in Monrovia. January this year. Future posts will continue to focus primarily on Africa. Senegal next. I also plan to intersperse the odd run from the past. Today, or should it be yesterday, is Colombia. Vamos.

The last visit to Bogota was my 15th. Final one before beginning work in Sierra Leone Oct 2011. I was a frequent visitor to Colombia between 2007 & 2011. Of all countries worked in, I'm often asked my favourite. A few contenders; Sierra Leone is close to my heart, same for Kenya, Nigeria is pretty special, Vietnam is a wonderful country, but there can only be one favourite. It's Colombia. This post in 2 parts...plenty to get through...

Tomorrow return to Freetown after a break in UK for Easter. Two weeks in the Lake District. In the words of a well known local poet, 'wandering lonely as a cloud'. Great to see close family, relatives, and many nieces and nephews. I embrace the challenge to insert 3 of their random words.

Before the run, let me take this opportunity to wish Sierra Leone happy birthday. 53 years old yesterday. Divas, look busy I'm on my way back. Forget about Black Mamba's. That was the old house.

Bogota. This run was my standard early morning workout. Can still visualise like yesterday. Start point outside the JW Marriott. Calle 73. Weather (the Hemingway thing). Cool. It's always cool. Temperate all year round. High 60s. Never changes. Ideal for running. Well, apart from altitude over 8,000 ft. Steady start required. Move downhill to warm-up. Mountains behind me. Head towards the Zona Rosa. A classic box run. Just keep turing right. Memories in some of these restaurants. Happy days. 'Cigar Bar'. Special memories. At some point turn uphill. Mountains now in front. A little more about the host city perhaps?

Bogota sits on a mountain plateau in the centre of the country, eastern part of the Andes mountains. The city is breathless in more ways than one. Many countries have a certain reputation. Difficult to shake off. Sierra Leone has one. Colombia has one. Ask people 2 words to describe Colombia. They usually reply...drugs. They say...kidnapping. Throughout the 80s & 90s and into the early millennium Colombia was top of the charts for both. Today only number 10 for kidnapping. Furthermore, Peru (land of the alpacas) has number one spot for cocaine production. However, Colombia still remains a healthy number two on the drugs front.

Is Colombia really dangerous today? Is Bogota safe? First of all there's two Colombia's. Most foreign workers, tourists and short term visitors only ever see one. This one includes nearly all the main cities and a huge swathe of the country. The other is to the south and east. Towards the borders with Venezuela and Ecuador. This one isn't under control of the government and remains challenging from a security perspective. The main rebel group, FARC, know a thing or two about asymmetric warfare, having waged war on the government since 1964. Bogota is largely safe by South American standards, but like most capital cities edgy in parts. Further one ventures from the centre the edgier it becomes. It's not Butlins. Theft, sometimes violent, is the biggest problem. Distraction techniques are second to none. Funny story coming up later...

Bogota is not a particularly beautiful city. Some detractors harshly call it a high-altitude polluted city-in-a-bowl. However, and as the guide books point out, it's the fourth largest city in South America, and home to seven million. It has amazing restaurants (particularly Usaquen), a nightlife second to none (Zona Rosa), world-class museums and a vibrant colonial quarter. It's exciting. It's thrilling. It's alive. People really know how to embrace life and enjoy themselves. I haven't even mentioned some of the most beautiful ladies on the planet, or salsa yet. Part 2...

Any run in Bogota you're always struggling for breath. It's an uphill drag up to Carrera Siete. Thin air. Better after a week or so. Make it up, very slow. Club El Nogal in front of me. Used to stay there 2007. More memories. Turn right...ah, the famous junction ahead. Close to the office I worked at. JA, get your face paint on...

At many junctions there's entertainers. Juggling. Mime. Comedy. Dancing. Musicians. They time their acts to the lights. One such junction is off Carrera Siete. A funny story involving my old shipmate JA. He was waiting at these same lights on a Sunday morning. Beside him his expensive Trek mountain bike. He had ridden in the Ciclovia. 75 miles of the city is closed off every Sunday to traffic for about 7 hours. People cycle, run, skate around the streets. Some estimates say about 2 million people participate. The people have taken their city back. It's about families. Numerous cities around the world have copied it. Many more should. It began in the late 70s.

Anyway. There's my old shipmate JA. He talks to a couple of hombres at the lights. They admire his bike. JA speaks good Spanish. JA is a gringo. JA has ginger hair. Sometimes described as Autumn Sunset. Conversation is struck up. One hombre says he's a trick cyclist. Asks to show JA what he can do. JA passes him the Trek. The trick cyclist is good. Up on one wheel. Then the other. Headstands on the saddle. He is good. Really good. Amazing tricks. For his final trick, when the other fellow distracts Ginge, is to whiz down the street with the aforementioned Trek bicycle. JA, slightly miffed, gives chase. In vain of course. Runs back to the scene of the laugh. I mean crime. Hombre number two has disappeared. I'm now officially dropping lawyer jokes and inserting Johnny Admin stories instead. There's so many... and far more entertaining.

In fact, a LinkedIn notification has appeared at the top of my screen. 'Does Johnny Admin know anything about security?' Very timely. Where's the NO button on these alerts?

Back to the run. Trying to recover past comedy junction for the big push back to the hotel. I'll have to finish the run in Part 2 of this post.

Another 1,000 words will make this too long. Part 2, I'll revisit risk, talk more about dusky senoritas, take you to the other Colombia, also a meal at my favourite restaurant - Andres Carnes de Res, there's more from JA, and other stuff...

As they say, where there's a will... I want to be in it. Nieces 0 - Uncle M 3...

P.S. Happy Birthday WW. Hey, Escargot, I need you extremely fit for this altitude...