We met Geoff Birchenall, an English traveller in La Candelaria, Downtown Bogota where he was shopping for Colombian football shirts…
UC: Tell us a bit about yourself
GB: I work part time as an IT teacher for primary school children and am Staff Writer for an extreme music magazine – Zero Tolerance. I love music, football, reading, looking around flea markets and cinema as well as exploring new places.
UC: What brings you to Colombia?
GB: Well, we arrived in Colombia for my friend’s wedding and have taken full advantage of being here to travel around a little.
UC: That’s cool. Weddings in Colombia are always a vibrant affair! So, what were your first impressions of the country when you arrived?
GB: My first impression of Colombia, based on arriving in Bogota was ‘how on earth do people drive around at night with such big pot-holes in the road?’ Ha, joking aside I have found it to be a delight. I immediately noticed that the people were über friendly. As a Spanish speaker I found the way the Colombian people use the language to be incredibly polite and my wife (who’s Spanish) and I especially loved the well-used phrase –“a la orden.” Of course the congestion on the roads and on the public transport was immediately noticeable too.
UC: Yes, ¡A la orden! is a common phrase used throughout Colombia. It can mean “Can I help you?” and “You’re welcome” and it is also used in place of “gracias” – so you hear it a lot here. How long have you been in Colombia and what else is on your itinerary?
GB: We will have had around 3 weeks in Colombia. We have spent a lot of time in Bogotá (our base) and visited Cartagena and San Andres Island.
UC: Very nice – all picturesque destinations. Have you had any unusual travel experiences here?
GB: I suppose that walking a long way to find a restaurant in Bogota only to discover that there was a riot at the bottom of the street and access to the restaurant was impossible counts as a strange experience for someone who lives in an English village, but is seemingly quite normal for Bogota!
UC: Bogota is unquestionably a lively city and there’s always something going on! What has been your favourite place or part of the trip?
GB: That’s a tough question. For me, spending time with my old friend who I’d not seen in a long time, playing (and winning) Tejo (dynamite, sport and beer – what’s not to love) and discovering some of Colombia’s typical foods were all great. I am now officially a fan of arepas! In terms of places, Cartagena takes some beating. It’s a beautiful little walled city with a nice atmosphere and some interesting areas like Getsemani, with its vivid, colourful street art.
UC: You already mentioned arepas. They are hard to find back in the UK so make the most of them here! What has been the tastiest food on your trip?
GB: Ah, I got ahead of myself there. Most definitely one particular Bogota street vendor’s arepa con queso (cheese-filled corn flatbread); we sampled many but kept coming back as he achieved the perfect balance between the saltiness of the cheese and the softness of the corn flour. I also love the home-cooked Colombian soup, ajiaco, that we had and especially the delicious herb that flavoured it – guascas – I’d not come across that before and the subtle smokiness of it is intoxicating in a similar way to chargrilled artichokes.
UC: Have you got any recommendations for people thinking of coming to Colombia?
GB: I think that it is dangerous to slip into clichés when giving travel advice. Many people would advise extra caution when visiting Colombia (especially Bogota) and then you’d spend your trip anxious and worried about what might happen. The whole world is a dangerous place, not just Bogota and all that is needed is common sense. My recommendation would be to explore the great food, sights and get to know the friendly people.
UC: That’s sound advice. Will you be coming back to Colombia and if so, which new places would you like to visit?
GB: If I was to come back to Colombia I’d like to do some fishing and maybe see Inquisition live in their homeland.
UC: And lastly, what Colombian souvenirs are you taking home with you?
GB: Some dried guascas thanks to the family of my friend’s wife and some records found in a little shop called Black Store in a shopping centre that is home to several record stores in downtown Bogota. Perhaps my best purchase is a classic of old school Colombian black metal: Typhon – Unholy Trilogy. I enjoyed haggling for a unique handcrafted box with a dragon sitting atop it at the Sunday market in Usaquen. And of course, this Colombian football shirt that I’m about to buy!
UC: Thanks for talking to us and enjoy the rest of your stay in Colombia.
The Uncover Colombia Team.