Since this is supposed to be a blog about my travels and experiences abroad – currently in Colombia – it would make sense for me to write a bit about what I’ve been up to in the last few weeks.
Let me start today with a recount of last Friday: An unofficial cultural study on partying in Bogota. I took the bus to La Zona T with one of my cousins and we met up with one of his friends at a cigarreria. For those of you not familiar with cigarrerias (I wasn’t), they are these wonderful little hole-in-the wall type places that sell cigarettes, sodas and other snack items during the day and turn into bars at night. There’s usually at least one every few blocks, and they can be identified by the large number of construction workers gathered around and enjoying a few beers between 5 and 6pm. Unbeknownst to me, this is where the less-than-rich-and-famous go to get drunk before heading to a dance club, where half a bottle of aguardiente can cost you up to COL$60,000. So by 10 or 11pm, everyone is all liquored up and ready to party, usually for less than COL$10,000 a person.
Bogotanos appear to believe that there is no liquor worth ordering other than aguardiente, and it seems they even believe it tastes good. I believe differently and fought hard for rum, but when in Rome, one must do as the Romans. Shots are poured into tiny plastic shot glasses and drunk in quick succession so that half a bottle lasts about 10 minutes in groups of three or more. Aguardient is one of those rare liquors that can’t be mixed with anything; it’s not the kind of drink you can sip slowly and enjoy on the rocks. Very few things go well with black liquorish-flavored liquor, so you’re only option is to drink it straight and fast.
So by 11pm, we are all three feeling pretty good and decide to head to Maria Mulatto, a popular Zona T dance club. Because I’m a lady, I get in free but my cousin and his friend have to pay COL$15,000. Being a man can be expensive and sometimes it’s nice to be a lady. The typical Bogota going out uniform is as follows:
Women: Tight, fancy jeans, boots (or high heels) and a swanky – usually purple – long blouse. Cleavage is rarely present, but hair and make up is always perfect.
Men: Dress shirt and pants. Basically, men look like they’ve just come back from work but have taken off their ties and jackets. Luckily, the practice of gelling back hair to mafia-eque proportions isn’t overly present.
You usually stick with your group at clubs, not like D.C. where random guys come up and try to dance without you. All clubs and bars in Bogota unfortunately close at 3am due to worries over drunk driving, so there’s about a four hour window to party like it’s 1999. However, if you’re lucky, the party will continue at someone’s apartment, where you’re likely to encounter their angry, sleepy mother, wearing a bathrobe and telling everyone to keep it down for God’s sake.
One of the main differences I’ve noticed between partying in Colombia versus partying in the United States – or really, anywhere else I’ve partied – is that young and old party together. There were plenty of groups of 20 and 30 year-olds, but there were also 50 and 60 year-old couples dancing just as vigorously. A lot of people might think the presence of these old folks dampens the party spirit, but this isn’t the case at all. A lot of those grandmas and grandpas are more energetic and nimble than any young person. I saw once such couple that didn’t stop dancing till the lights came on.
Can you imagine a 60 year-old couple getting down at CLUB LOVE or one of those other big, four-story D.C clubs? It’s not a pleasant thing to imagine, especially if it’s Beyonce or T.I playing in the background. However, because the common American practice of “grinding” doesn’t happen in upscale Colombian clubs, one doesn’t have to worry about seeing these unpleasantries. Another noteworthy difference is that nobody really goes out alone. In D.C., it’s common for a single person to head to a bar on their own; here, if I headed to a bar on my own, people would just feel sorry for me. Or think I’m a prostitute on the lookout for clients.
Anyway, like most Colombian clubs, Maria Mulatto played a healthy mix of Salsa, Merengue, techno, Cumbia, and of course, Vallenato, Colombia’s much-loved and slightly overplayed coastal accordion music.At about 1am, a man wearing sunglasses and a flannel shirts got on the bar and started playing the drums. To spice things up, he poured alcohol all over the drum set and lit each part with a match, creating an impressive visual effect that would be considered a serious fire hazard in the U.S. Those of us who started our night early were thoroughly impressed by his musical and pyrotechnic abilities.
At 1:30am, Cumbia dancers in fancy dresses and white suits came out and performed, later taking turns dancing with festive club patrons. Around 2 am, I attempted an aguardiente-inspired Cumbia with a very disappointed costumed dancer who abandoned me in search of a more agile and competent partner within 30 seconds. Undeterred, I joined the Conga line instead.