Bogotá Diaries

“Be Safe!”, “Watch out for the Militia!”, “Stay clear of the Cartels!”, “Go easy on the Cocaine!”, “Better not get kidnapped!!” Just some of the reactions I got when I told people I was headed to Colombia!

It’s interesting – and sort of funny – the kind of pre-conceived notions people have about places. Going by all that it was built up to be, I have to say I was a little disappointed – all I got was a single instance of a totally lame peddler trying half heartedly to palm off some hashish to me!

The first thing that hits you – and quite literally at that – is the rare and cool mountain air! Bogotá sits 8661 ft (2640 mtrs) above sea level, making it the 3rd highest capital city in the world (the top 2 also happen to be in S.America)! So my gallant stride up several flights of stairs was quickly reduced to a slow crawl by the time I reached my friend’s 4th floor apartment!

Within 12 hours of having arrived there, my nasal passage was clear again and the cold symptoms I had – a distant New York memory! It’s not that the city is completely devoid of pollution – far from it in fact – just that being in the mountains definitely helps! Not only does the city enjoy the benefits of elevation but also a beautiful natural setting – surrounded as it is by the Andean Mountains, some of them over 10000 ft in height.

The weather is perfect to – never too cold or too hot – and it remains so throughout the year! You’re unlikely to find a heater, air conditioner or even a fan in anyone’s house! Great savings right there!! Being high up in the mountains also means constantly changing light conditions – plenty of variety for a day and always a photographer’s delight 😉

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Stumptown

There are three kinds of responses you get when you tell someone your headed to Portland. The confused one: ‘Portland, in Maine?’; the dismissive one: ‘Why Portland? Never heard of anyone who goes there’; and finally the favourable one: ‘Oh, Portland – great city, you’ll love it’. I had a good enough hunch about the place to begin with, and, thanks in no small measure to the NY Times, there were New Yorkers a plenty who gave me a thumbs up for my decision to head ‘all the way west’.

Admittedly, and for the uninitiated, Portland (in the state of Oregon!) is best known for being home to two of the most popular brands in the world – Nike and Intel! The Intel part of my trip was somewhat taken care of by hanging out with a friend who works with them, while the Nike part involved an actual visit to their campus in Beaverton – first stop on day 1!

Needless to say, the campus was everything I could have imagined and more – the kind that makes you instantly want to be employed by them! A sprawling campus – 200 beautifully landscaped acres of it no less – including a man made lake, a protected wetland and a running trail that encircles it all. 17 well designed buildings – each named after a Nike athlete – dot the lush campus and include 2 state of the art (hate that term!) recreational centres, one of which – aptly, the Lance Armstrong centre – I swam in!

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Tee Dot

They say that grass is always greener on the other side. Earlier this month, I set out to find out exactly how. The other side being Canada (since Swine Flu had ruled out Mexico!) and the city visited – Toronto – in the state of Ontario, abbreviated as T.O., and referred to locally by a much cooler name – the Tee Dot!

The French influence, I’m told, wears thin as you drive away from the state of Quebec but that didn’t seem to deter Toronto’s Pearson International Airport from having signs in French! That’s probably the first thing that hits you as you step of the plane. The second, and more impressive thing, is a snag free passage through immigration. There are no separate lines for Canadians – therefore your not likely to find signs marked ‘aliens’; the wait time is minimal; you’re greeted with a smile; the questions asked are not in the least bit offensive and before you know it your already at Baggage Claim!!

They also say that comparisons are odious and I couldn’t agree more. Prior to my departure for Canada, a handful of sources insisted that Toronto was nothing but ‘a smaller version of NYC’ or worse still, ‘a poor wannabe cousin of the Big Apple’. Trying to keep these biases at bay, I decided that a weekend in the Tee Dot should be enough for me to arrive at my own verdict.

First stop on a heavily overcast Saturday morning was St.Lawrence Market, where we managed to duck for cover seconds before a Bombay style rain shower pelted the street outside!

A mid 19th century building which once housed the City Hall and Jail House, St.Lawrence Market is today home to over 100 vendors spread across 2 levels, specialising in everything from fine cheeses to exotic meats, from coffee beans sourced across the globe to varieties of mustard that you never even dreamt of!!!

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