How to have a happy day in Bogotá

I don’t drink much alcohol and that causes me two problems. The first is that I rarely have hangovers and have never developed a good method for coping with a hangover. The second is that I have developed a low tolerance for alcohol and it doesn’t take much, apparently, for me to wake up with a hangover.

I drank a large cocktail in a Bogotá bar and then I helped a friend finish a bottle of wine, and then I woke up with a thumping headache and a dry mouth and no desire to throw myself into the fray, and no choice but to do exactly that. I was in a terrible temper too. “It’s so unfair,” I fumed. “I hardly drink and then when I do, I get punished… twice!”

I missed my TransMilenio because I felt unable to run and hurdle all those people who never have their cards ready, and never have any credit anyway, and when I did board my bus there was just one seat free, right at the front, in the corner. I asked the woman next to it if I could climb over her and claim the seat. She thrust a two thousand-peso note in my face. She thought I was the man selling pens.

I made it to a coffee shop. I talked a lot, I worked a little, I nursed a cup of Huila’s finest. An enormous blue and green hummingbird made it to the tree outside the coffee shop. He hovered a lot, procrastinated a little and nursed the tubular flowers beyond my reach.

The bird hung around until lunch time, when I went to forage for my own lunch. The woman in front of me in the sandwich queue gave me a very odd look.

“Hi,” she said.

“Hi,” I said.

She said nothing more.

“Are you okay?” I said, “Do you need help with something?”

The woman laughed. “I was going to ask you that,” she said.

“Oh, no,” I said, “I’m fine. But, thank you.”

I took a bus. An oldish, elegant man in jeans and a blazer boarded too. He was selling pens. He looked like the kind of man who used to have another life entirely.

He didn’t explain himself but his presentation was polished, and it was professional, and he stood tall, and he spoke with confidence and grace. And he said, “Did you say something Sir?” to a soldier in uniform and when the soldier looked startled, he laughed and said, “Oh, I am sorry Sir. I thought you were going to ask about the pens.”

I gave the man four thousand pesos. “You want two then?” he grinned. “Oh, no,” I whispered, “One is fine, the rest is for you.” “Oh, no,” he whispered back, “Take this,” and he slipped me a yellow highlighter he had hidden in his sleeve. “Danke,” he said. “I’m English,” I said. He laughed. “Thank you so very much.

I got off the bus. The sky was pink. The sun was in the midst of her last desperate fight to try and keep us warm for the night. I walked past six men sitting on a bench. Each of them held a bunch of flowers. Each of them was laughing.

“Hey lady,” the youngest and smallest called. “You going to buy a flower?”

“Oh, no,” I said. “But thank you.”

“That’s alright,” the man replied. “You having a happy day?”

“Yes,” I groaned. “I don’t know how, and don’t know why, and I certainly didn’t intend to but… yes. I am having a happy day.”

Like this? You’ll love Colombia a comedy of errors.


  1. Michael

    I’ve enjoyed your writing since I first discovered you a couple of years ago. Maybe it is because I am spending more time in Colombia these days, but I found your last two posts particularly moving. So much so that I FINALLY broke down and bought the book. It will be waiting for me when I return to the US on Monday.
    Have another happy day!

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