Outskirts of Bogota -- working and playing

Trip Start Jul 05, 2005
Trip End ??? ??, 2006

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Friday, August 12, 2005

After my arrival back in Bogota after a fantastic weekend in Medellin, Lucho and I drove to Manuel's house (one of my Colombian counterparts) and picked him up. From Manuel's we drove three hours to Paipa, a small town located in the department of Boyaca (sort of like a county). The drive was very nice, especially since Lucho is such a great driver. The countryside was filled with varying shades of greens and browns. The road itself was a two lane paved road with lots of roadside stands filled with people of all ages. As we drove and night started to fall, the mountains appeared immense with fog resting on the mountain tops. We got to the hotel, Hotel Sochagota, where our two week training was going to be held. The hotel itself was kind of old and reminded me of a Super 8 (I'm basing this on Seth Rosenthal's description of such hotels, not my personal knowledge). There was no internet access and no gym. I found out the next day that the reason there was no gym was because that's where they had set up the first day of our conference -- not a good thing. Well, I figured I'd make the best of it and find an alternative in the morning. I thought if I wished hard enough, a W Hotel would appear, or at least a heavenly bed. I decided to just go to sleep. I guess I was really tried, because I don't remember shutting off the lights.

The next morning, I woke up around six in the morning. I opened the door to my balcony which overlooked Sochagota lake and was completely overwhelmed by the beauty of the lake and
it's surroundings. The lake looked like an enormous mirror, touched by cotton balls of fog and surrounded by lush greenery where horses were quietly feeding (see pictures). I stood there in awe and felt completely peaceful. There wasn't anything that could affect my mood after witnessing such beauty. Once again, I felt extremely lucky to be in Colombia. I got dressed and headed to the room where the conference was going to begin at 8 am.

Unfortunately, the conference room was not what we expected. The hotel staff had double booked the main conference room which held 200 people and decided to convert the gym into our conference room. Shockingly, I did not freak out and no heads rolled (I know you're all in shock as you read this :-)). Instead, I thought about the beautiful morning that had greeted me just hours before and took the glitch in stride. Everything worked out just fine and after lunch, they moved us to the main conference room. The 60 Colombian prosecutors were nervous, anxious and completely mortified. Imagine someone telling you that your country's legal system is being changed in the next five months. You can imagine their feelings, right?

That night all of the instructors and I went out for dinner (Lucho too, of course). Two other Colombian instructor prosecutors, Nestor and Leo met us at the Sochagota hotel. Nestor and Leo are part of a commission that was formed to assist us with training. Both Nestor and Leo are experienced prosecutors who have learned the new Colombian Criminal Code (CCC) completely and have been trained by us in trial advocacy. They are two of six on the commission. Paipa, the town we were in, didn't have much too offer in the way of food. Believe it or not, though, we found Pizza and it smelled good, so we decided to try it. It wasn't bad and the entire meal for the 5 of us, including soft drinks was $US8. What a bargain!!!

As the week progressed, the prosecutors started to loosen up. The first week of our course is an intense introduction to the CCC. I learned a whole lot. While the new Colombian system is based on ours, it's not a complete copy. Most of the first week is taught by my Colombian counterparts with some commentary and comparison from yours truly!

I moved to my new hotel, Hotel Paipa (4 minute drive) the second day. The Paipa Hotel was more my style. It wasn't a W, but it was pretty nice. The grounds were beautiful. My room at the Hotel Paipa also faced the lake, but the view from Sochagota was better. However, Hotel Paipa had a WHOLE lot more to offer. There were thermal jacuzzis, pools, a gym (yeah) and best of all, a SPA. I was in heaven. I didn't really explore until the second night I was there. After the course on Monday, we (the instructors and I) drove to Duitama, another small town about from Paipa. Duitama was really, really small. There was a plaza, a church, some businesses. We went to a restaurant called San Miguel. It was located on a side street and we missed the first time we walked by. The restaurant was an old house that was converted into a restaurant. It was kind of Freida Khaloish in it's decor (see pictures). The food wasn't too good, but the restaurant made up for it. As we were having dinner, I learned that these very macho Colombian instructors had to get back to the hotel by 8:30 because they had to watch a soap opera! Can you imagine? Apparently, this new soap opera, Los Reyes (the kings) is the hottest thing! Everyone watches it.

As the week progressed, I discovered more and more wonderful things about the area I was in and in particular, the Paipa Hotel. On Tuesday night, we drove to see "El Pantano de Vargas" ( Vargas' mud pit), which is actually a huge iron sculpture by Rodrigo Arenas Betancout. The sculpture honors a famous battle in the area fought between the Spanish and the Colombians. The sculpture depicts soldiers on horses getting ready to engage in battle (see picture). We barely saw the
sculpture because it was dark and it was not illuminated because the bulb were broken and there was no money to fix them. We ended up seeing the sculpture a few days later.

After our ride to Pantano, we headed back to our hotels. I was anxious to get there so I could jump into the thermal jacuzzi, I did just that and then headed to my chocolate massage, mud facial and some kind of funky hair treatment. It was fabu!!! It left my skin feeling soft and smooth. I slept like a baby that night.

The next day during lunch, I went horseback riding in the countryside. The ride brought back memories of Chile (no Satanas in sight Gogo). We rode through back roads and towards the end of the ride, I was surprised to see camouflaged military men with large rifles walking around. I asked my guide why the soldiers were just walking around in the countryside and he told me that because the area is safe and they want to keep it that way. Seeing soldiers in the countryside as well as the city is a common occurrence. I was very aware of it when I first got to Bogota and I still stare every time I see the soldiers, but Colombian's seem accustomed to it. I hope I never get use to it.

That night, we were invited to got to Villa de Leyva by another Colombian instructor, Maria Victoria and her sister, Martha (not on the commission, but helps us out). I didn't know Villa de Leyva was 1 hours away, otherwise we would have gone another day. I am glad we went because Villa de Levya is a beautiful little town with a huge plaza (probably the biggest in Colombia) and the streets are cobblestone. People were all over the plaza that night, holding candles. There was a band and kids running around. There were fireworks. It was a party. It was the 60th anniversary of the local school. The entire community was out. Can you imagine that in the States? We had dinner at a great little restaurant called The Camealeon. The restaurant was adorable and the food excellent. We had Chilean wine and had great conversation. Villa de Leyva is definitely a place I want to explore more, possibly next week.

I am in the car right now heading home (wow) to Bogota. I am happy to be heading home because tomorrow morning my belongings from home (DC) are arriving!! YAHOO! I am also going to get a beating from my trainer, I am sure. Sunday, two AUSAs are coming into town to help out with the second week of training. We are heading back to Paipa on Sunday afternoon for a week. Then, I'll be in Bogota for a week or so.

Interestingly, the travel hasn't bothered me much, but then again, it's kind of new. I'm trying to keep a positive outlook and appreciate where I am and the experience I am having. Hope you all come visit soon wo you can see what a great place this is!
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