This is not the first time I’ve been lost in another country. Nor will it be the last. It’s not even the worst time I’ve been lost. I have, after all, been lost in a jungle in Taiwan. However, being drunk and cold, leaving the bar at 4am and trying to navigate Colombian transit to the countryside outside of Bogota is horse of a different color. It may not even be a horse.
I’m glad I at least have a Bogota native by my side. Cesar: cook, DJ, lover of music, and friend to the owner of the hostel I work at, had a DJ gig in Bogota, 1.5 hours from Guatavita. Ready for the excitement that seemed stale in the Colombian countryside, I tag along. In the center of Bogota, we walk briskly and I hiss at Cesar, “Adonde vamos?” Noting my barely concealed wariness, Cesar responds, “Tranquila.” This is after he tells me that the area is known for theft and prostitution. On the bus he points out ‘women of the street’ offering their wares on the sidewalk.
The club is a dance hall club, a kind of music not dissimilar from reggeaton, but Cesar makes a face when I tell him this. To him, reggeaton is the worst, but dance hall is life. I jokingly shout “Pitbull, worldwide!” and watch his face crumple into an expression of disgust behind the DJ booth.
I dance the whole night under a haze of beer and straight whiskey shots, green lazer lights, and marijuana smoke. I’m wearing loose-fitting pants from India and I see that I am clearly underprepared for nightlife in the modern metropolis of Bogota where the girls are wearing tight-fitting jeans and short skirts. When we leave the club at 4am, I see that my choice was ill-fitting for the weather as well. It’s freezing in the wee hours as we wait for the first bus of the morning to take us back to Guatavita. Tonight we won’t sleep, except for snatches caught on a parade of buses out to the countryside as the 1.5 hour trip to Guatavita slowly, discreetly spools out into five hours.
We wait an hour while we sit in the relative warmth of the open-air sandwich shop; Cesar somehow managing to sleep on a metal stool, me devouring mainly what is a loaf of bread with some ham and cheese thrown in as an afterthought. It’s the only dinner I’ve had all night. Afterward, huddled on the curb, I will wonder whether or not my travel insurance covers pneumonia.
When we finally, gratefully enter the warmth of the bus, we both fall asleep in the predawn darkness. I open my eyes, two hours later, to golden sunlight drifting through the windows and spreading over landscapes vibrantly green and quietly quaint. I have to shake my head to remember where I am. I’m in Colombia. But where? I shake Cesar awake. “Donde estamos?” We’ve wandered too far, fallen asleep for too long. Through my simple Spanish whining (tengo que dormir!!) I am taken aback by the serene beauty of our lost destination.
We get off the bus and walk about a kilometer down the open country road between wide plots of striking green land, cows, sheep, horses, little stucco houses, and the occasional café. There are far too many people out riding bikes on this sunny Saturday morning. Still in my party clothes, makeup smeared from sleeping on the bus, and hair forming the first signs of dreds from whipping my head around on the dance floor, I must be a sight to see for these early-risers. This country road provides the most interesting setting for a walk of shame I’ve ever had. A sheep whines nearby as I avoid raccoon-eyed eye contact with the bicyclists. This sheep is my hangover spirit animal.
We later find ourselves in an old mountain town with dusty streets, a magnificent cathedral, and cool purple shadows covering the cobblestones, making me shiver wholeheartedly. We wait for another bus as the sleepy town yawns, begins to stir. Shop owners come out to sweep the sidewalk and cafes waft the scent of coffee. My thoughts oscillate between the cold and overwhelming sleepiness that I feel and the awe of this strange, after-party adventure in the Colombian countryside.
We catch another bus to Guasca and then another that takes us back to that same sleepy mountain town. On the fourth bus, we fall asleep again, but when we open our eyes, it’s to the most beautiful vision: the looming church tower that marks the town of Guatavita. It’s 9am. Time to sleep at last.