We had a coffee (probably the only coffee I’ll ever drink 180m underground), then Lily’s parents bought us a little salt sphere in the museum shop. After that it was back to the car, and we left to go to Cogua, where I could try my first properly traditional Colombian cuisine.
We were all getting on fairly well. Lily translating everything felt natural, and I was managing to make her parents smile now and again. They were having fun showing me around, seeing Bogotá through the eyes of a gringo. Still, I’d not yet given them my “I intend to make an honest woman out of your daughter” speech. I wasn’t even sure if they were expecting one, and yet it hung in the air between us.
We passed a car that had somehow flipped onto its roof. Otherwise, I was massively impressed with Bogotá’s streets. The graffiti. The Transmilenio bus. The roads shut for bicycles on Sundays. And “no car day”, where once a year you’re not allowed to drive a car within the city limits. I’m not talking about the centre of town, I’m talking about the entire city (imagine no cars in London out to the M25).
Their most controversial policy is the traffic rationing system. Private cars are limited during rush hours on alternate days of the week, based on the last number of the license plate. Odd and even numbers determine when each car is allowed to be on the road. Wealthy people buy two cars so they can drive regardless of the day. We were just talking about this when all of a sudden our car alarm started going off in the middle of the motorway. We pulled over, turned the engine off, and started again.
Back underway, Lily told me that one of the giant buildings we passed was a mall. “Colombians love malls”. You can forget when talking about Bogotá’s insane recent history that it’s the commercial centre of Colombia, with fancy people (and not-so-fancy people) spending lots of money on clothing. Bogotá has the two biggest malls in South America, Santafé (above) and Mayor. It is not just the rest of the world that obsesses over Colombian beauty.
But what beauty! Lily aside, Colombia officially has the most beautiful woman in the world, after winning the Miss Universe contest. This isn’t too surprising considering the country’s fascination with beauty pageants. Indeed, their controversial but worryingly popular teenage beauty contests create the most beautiful teens in the world. Well, the most beautiful teenage girls. Men in Colombia aren’t afforded the same…opportunities.
We finally got to Cogua. The restaurant was staffed by waiters carrying around large metal plates covered in a traditional Colombian dish called fritanga. Tiny criolla (miniature potatoes), fried plantains, succulent cubes of salted beef, spicy sausages, fried arepa-style bread with Colombian cheese in the middle, white embuelto (a kind of sweet, dense corn bread), and pork scratchings, like giant, extra thick, hardened, pork-flavoured Chinese crackers. The highlight for me was the morcilla, a sausage filled with rice, blood and seasoning.
We ordered a side of gelatinous pig feet covered in tasteless cartilage (not so bad, but not so good either), and “Cola & Pola”, which is a mix of Colombiana (a sweet orange soda) and beer.