How to party like a Colombian? Chiva!

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One needn’t go far to find a good time in Colombia, but there is one thing that has become synonymous with a party in this country: the chiva bus.

A couple of things every gringo should know about the chiva experience:

  1. Don’t wear nice shoes, because as you bump over and around the ubiquitous potholes that mark the roads of Bogotá, you’ll be sprinkled with more sloshing beer and spilled aguardiente than you’d like.
  2. You won’t think you’re drinking a lot, but you are. Even though the 100 tiny plastic cups of aguardiente passed around are only half full, they’ll quickly add up…
  3. I’m sorry if you’re tall. Chiva ceilings are about 5’7″, meaning that even if you’re lucky and don’t knock your noggin on one of the steel roof supports, you’ll still spend the night dancing with your neck at a comfortable forty-five-degree angle.

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Recommended Read: Living in Bogotá

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Living in Bogotá: A Practical Guide by Expats and Locals for Expats

When we moved to Bogotá, I relied heavily on Tripadvisor and a guidebook about Colombia for advice on the must-sees and must-eats of my new city. However, when you find yourself actually living in a new city—especially in a foreign country—you quickly realize travel guides are made for travelers and will only take you so far.  Living in Bogotá: A Practical Guide by Expats and Locals for Expats picks up where TripAdvisor and LonelyPlanet drop off: with all of the day-to-day info you need to settle in.

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Don’t miss in December: Expoartesanías and Día de las Velitas

The holidays can be a bittersweet time for expats. On the one hand, it’s hard to celebrate away from family and your normal traditions; on the other, it’s an amazing opportunity to adopt some new ones! This being our second holiday season in Bogotá, I’m feeling a little like sophomore year—you know, you’re still relatively inexperienced but have lost a bit of that deer-in-headlights look of total bewilderment. Now that I have my holiday sea-legs, I was readily anticipating two December happenings, both of which are unique to Colombia: a visit to Expoartesanías and lighting candles with my fellow Bogatanos on Día de las Velitas.

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Expat resources—for Bogotá and beyond

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Last month No Longer Native was featured on two different websites, which is a huge deal for a lil blog like mine! Making the experience even better was the fact that both were incredibly helpful to me in my first months in Bogotá. So, I’d like to give them a shoutout and make sure that all you Bogotanos know where to get the good details.

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A conversation about class

Social class isn’t exactly polite dinner conversation, but living in Colombia I’ve come to learn that your last name and address say more about you than just where you live.

In my first months in Bogotá, I didn’t notice it quite so much—the way the way the porteros (doormen) in a friend’s building would let her expat friends in with no problem, but the Colombian ones would wait while he called to ensure that they were, in fact, guests. Another friend told me that when applying for membership at a country club, they wanted to know all about their parents—what kind of work they do, their religion, and whether or not they are divorced. Startlingly, I only just realized that there’s a chain link fence, topped with a curlicue of razor wire, that separates the low-tuition school where I volunteer from the most prestigious school in the city, attended by children who’s parents are senators and diplomats.

As we were discussing the social order of Bogotá in a Saturday Spanish class, my professor told Cody and me that there is a reason foreigners may not see the sometimes subtle—but many times direct—borders in class that are still prevalent in Colombian society today. She explained that foreigners are kind of exempted from the rules because firstly, they’re assumed to have money (and by default are put in a higher group) and secondly because we simply don’t fit in firmly rooted rubric of Colombian social structure.

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Sembrando Confianza: Organic eats with a social impact

sembrando confianza

I come from California, the birthplace of fancy—but unregulated and therefore technically meaningless—food buzzwords like local and natural.   That said, my first reaction at these kinds of terms is a little bit of an eye roll.  Moving to Bogotá, I wasn’t too concerned with finding an organic or local label. I find little buggies in my broccoli every week, which says to me that what I’m eating is probably more on the natural side.  However, if I can directly support small operators who really are doing their best to organically and sustainably farm, all the better!

This past week I learned about a really cool non-profit organization who is using a CSA-type program in order to make a big social impact here in Bogotá.  Sembrando Confianza, which translates to Seeds of Confidence, is a non-profit which seeks to help Bogotanos in two specific ways. Firstly, they provide education on healthier food habits and help neighborhoods in Bogotá install self-sustained, organic gardens. Secondly, they support already operating urban farmers by connecting them with a market.

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Adventures in eating, the Colombia edition

A few weeks ago we were ordering appetizers with some friends at Bruto, a lovely tapas restaurant, when they said they were a bit surprised at our choices—we voted for the morcilla and octopus, which a couple of years ago I would have completely brushed over in search of sliders.  It got me thinking how I’ve really changed at the dinner table since we’ve moved here: I would never have considered myself a picky eater in the past, but then I remember how often I’d refuse to try new things because I always wanted to go for the option I already knew I liked.

Eating out in Bogotá—or any country where you’re not a native speaker—is a bit like culinary Russian roulette.  I quickly got used to thinking I ordered one thing but having something completely different appear in front of me and I can’t count the number of  times I’ve eaten something with unknown ingredients because I didn’t understand what I was ordering (see my blurb below about mondongo…).  Sometimes I’ve eaten things I wasn’t so sure of because I didn’t want to offend a host.  

Learning to just enjoy the moment and whatever comes is a lesson I’ve learned again and again since leaving my native country, but doing it in a food-y way has probably been the most fun. Keep scrolling to see my most pleasant surprises.

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An ode to micro-empresas

microempresa

Each morning and afternoon as I walk our dog I see them, dotting the walkways along the park or on the corners of the busier streets: small wooden carts, sometimes pushed or with a bicycle seat, generally with an umbrella, each offering neat rows of snacks, sweets and cigarettes.  The fancier ones have glass cases perched at one end, where cups of fruit wait or empanadas steam up the glass.  No matter where you are in Bogotá, you aren’t far from a bag of peanuts or a cough drop.  To my eyes fresh from the U.S., these little carts and stands dotting the sidewalks in Bogotá initially seemed disorganized, unattractive and cluttering the already crowded streets.  Now, I see them as a charming part of the city’s backdrop and something I’ll miss once we leave.

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Cristal Artesanal – Handblown glass in Bogotá

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Don’t let the simple façade fool you, there are treasures inside Cristal Artesanal’s  warehouse in La Candelaria.  As soon as we stepped inside, I immediately regretted bringing a purse…firstly because I wanted to buy everything in sight and secondly because I quite literally felt like a bull in a china shop and was terrified I’d knock something over.  This past week I spent an hour happily (and carefully!) browsing through the seemingly endless shelves of glassware, adding things to my “spot” at the checkout counter.

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Andrés Carne de Res: A Bogotá institution

andres souvenirs

After a year I feel like Cody and I have this “hosting visitors” thing down pat…based on who you are, how much time you have with us and what you like, we can pretty easily whittle down the list of tourist attractions into a nice itinerary of things you have to see while you’re with us.  However, there are a few places so synonymous with Bogotá and so crucial to experiencing the city that they make the cut no matter who you are.  Andrés Carne de Res is one of those places.

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