As I write this I am sitting at the Cali Airport waiting for my journey to Vermont to start. My dear friend Kate from UCSF is getting married and I have the luck to have the time off to go be with her for her celebration. It will be a quick trip home followed by a weekend in Bogota to get visa issues in order.
As excited as I am for the trip (things I’m looking forward to: Friends, Duty Free Tequila, downloading What’s App onto my phone so I can text from Colombia, and bringing back some good hot sauce) I am also feeling sad about missing out on two full weekends in Cali. Cali and I are in the honeymoon stage of our relationship right now. I am falling in love and adoring every moment I have to get to know her. Exploring new neighborhoods, finding my regular hangouts, cementing new friendships, still enjoying the sweaty humid days and the cool breezy nights. I will feel her absence and look forward to being in her arms again soon.
Last Friday Elena and I ventured out into the city. We didn’t really have a plan, but after enjoying some humorously mediocre singing at the “Festival Romantico” in the artists neighborhood of La Loma de la Cruz, we ended up meeting a group of new friends- 3 guys, 3 girls, all around 30, professionals, out for a drink on a Friday night and eager to share their city with us. They were like a dream come true for me and I hope to stay in touch with them. In previous travel experiences I have had a hard time connecting with locals- partly because I move around too much and of course because I have had a travel partner which immediately puts up walls. But also because it’s not as common in Latin America to be a single 29 year old professional woman without a house to clean and a baby to take care of. So I was thrilled to meet fun, kind people my own age who have interesting lives and who wanted to take me dancing! It was the first time I had been salsa dancing since 2006 when I threw my back out (being dipped into someone’s behind at a salsa club in San Francisco) and paid the consequences for years. Literally. I wasn’t sure I would remember anything beyond the basic step. Maybe it was the wine and aguadiente (Aguadiente, or “fire water” is the local alcohol of choice- a sugarcane alcohol with the flavor of anise. Unlike Nicaragua where Aguadiente was generally distilled in backyards, sold in reused coke bottles, and known for occasionally coming out with a “bad batch” that leaves hundreds in the hospital, Aguadiente in Colombia is a legitimate bottled alcohol) or maybe it was the amazing leads who manage to command my movements with just the flick of a wrist, but I very quickly (after only one reprimand for looking at my feet) found myself on a Salsa-High. Salsa-High is when you are gracefully spinning around the dance floor, your hips and your feet doing exactly what they should, and you realize that you have lost all sense of the room around you and that you are completely dependent on the arms holding you to tell you where to go and what to do. It’s a delicious feeling. It was my first time out dancing, and I went home at 1 am, waaaaay before even La Hora Zanahora. 3 am is official closing time for clubs within city limits. This is called La Hora Zanahoria (carrot hour) because anyone who heads home at this time is a lame as a carrot…or something like that. The cool kids head up to Menga, a neighborhood filled with nightclubs and strategically placed just outside city limits. The party in Menga usually lasts until 5 or 6 am and then it may be acceptable to head home. Ha! I will let you know if anyone convinces me to stay out past La Hora Zanahora!
But none of that is what I meant to write about today. What I want to share is the beginning of my understanding of Colombian Time. Latinos are notorious for being late- and that is true in every single Latin American country I have been in. I have always chocked it up to cultural concepts of time and priorities. For example, if you have a meeting at 3 pm, but on the way to the meeting you run into your neighbor on the street, it isn’t really acceptable to pass your neighbor by with a brief wave. So you stop and chat and move through all the cheek kissing and hand shaking and formalities of asking about their family etc…and by the time you get to your meeting you may very well be 30 minutes “late.” And chances are that even if you rush, the meeting will start late anyway because the person you are meeting with won’t even be there yet. But lately I have started to understand this constant lateness in another context. Beyond the socializing, life in Colombia is just plain unpredictable. Traffic has a mind of it’s own. There seems to be very little sense in trying to predict how long it will take you to get somewhere. The buses are even less predictable. Today I had to wait 15 minutes for my bus to arrive and then THREE buses passed, completely packed before I found one with room for me, And when I say packed, I need you to imagine packed and then double the number of people you are imagining. I’m talking literally smashed up against the door of the bus. Or if it rains, for example. There is very little point in trying to get anything done in the tropical rain. Much smarter to just take a pause, sit for 15 minutes, let it pass, and then go about your business. This week, one of my errands was to get my blood type tested at the Red Cross. (It’s a Colombian thing- they are actually dismayed that we Americans and Europeans often don’t know our blood type. Here everyone carries a blood type identification card.) This is an example of the Colombian time thing. What you would expect to be a simple in and out, 60 minute max appointment, turns into 2 hours on the bus, 2 hours in the Red Cross, and then repeat 2 days later for the results. O+ by the way.
The constant lateness and waiting used to drive me nuts. It still does sometimes. But I have learned to always have a book or a newspaper and never ever plan two events back to back. Also, I have just accepted it and decided to allow myself to be late. And not to worry about it. Joining in the fun of keeping a Colombian style clock is fun…and if someone has to wait for me, well Que Pena, that’s just how it turned out today.