Refajo in La Calera
It’s our last day in Bogotá. We’re driving out of town to La Calera with my little sister and her husband. Yes, I still refer to her as my little sister. It doesn’t make a difference to me that she’s married and two years older than my girlfriend.
As we go up to the hills, I catch a view of the city. So fucking big, I think. From up here, it doesn’t look that bad. It is beautiful.
As a child, I visited Bogotá on vacation a few times. I moved here to go to college when I was 16. Despite a very long first semester of miserable homesickness, obligatory for a mama’s boy, I was mainly amazed in those early months. So much was happening in the city. There were mimes and clowns in the streets trying to make the city a better, healthier, more secure place to live by educating people on taking care of each other. A new bus system was under construction, promising to improve the traffic chaos.
Teachers, doctors, students, union members, and any type of workers took their complaints right to the president’s house, peacefully but forcefully. A sense of progress dominated the city around the turn of the century, and I learned that there were two Colombias: Bogotá and the rest of the country.
But nice things don’t last long here. Over the years, the capital’s bright future descended into a string of corruption scandals, insufferable traffic jams, and insecure streets. It is still a great city, the place to be, the city that offers more opportunities. You can live a good life here. But I will dispute anyone who claims that it can also be a happy life.
As we enter La Calera, my girlfriend, Sabeth, asks me what those things on top of some houses are. “What things?”
She points to the water tank on the roof of a yellow, one-story house. I laugh out loud. My sister and her husband do too when I translate for them. We’re not mocking her. It just never occurred to us that keeping a water reserve when you know the water system is not a 100 percent reliable is not a worldwide thing.
We finally get to El Tambor, a countryside restaurant, where we take a seat on some tree logs in the big garden. We order a parrillada with everything (chicken, beef, pork, chorizo, chicharrón, chunchullo, morcilla, longaniza, arepas, guacamole, yucca, potatoes, hogao, suero) and drink refajo, beer mixed with sweet, red soda.
I eat and drink knowing how much I will miss Colombian food once we return to Germany. I start feeling bad for having spent only one week in Bogotá, the place I called home for almost 17 years. I grab the last piece of chicharrón, my favorite. Sabeth looks at me and her smile reminds me that it is her favorite, too. I’m not sure if I want to give it away.