Eating passionfruit and lulo; taking aphrodisiacs, hearing of ‘parapolitics’ and ‘false positives’ and, at the same time, riding a bike. A mix of things to do for the tourists of La Candelaria, thanks to the bike rides offered by an immigrant.
His name is Mike Ceaser, 44 years old and a journalist by profession. The crisis in print media in the US made him lose his job. “I left Texas a decade ago. I always wanted to get to know South America. That’s why I decided to travel to Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay and Venezuela”, tells Mike, who sustained himself abroad by giving English classes and writing for some web portals.
Five years ago, he decided to come to Colombia. He chose Bogotá because he read on an Internet portal that it was the third best city for bike rides, after Amsterdam and Copenhagen. Just like any lover of cycling, and in light of news that it wasn’t going to be very profitable, it took him two years to open up Bogotá Bike Tours, a business focusing on riding on ‘bici’ (bicycle, I presume), situated on Carrera 3a. and Calle 12.
That’s where he goes everyday with ‘Parchita’, a little mixed-breed dog and his only company. He rents bikes for 15 thousand pesos and does guided tours for 25 thousand pesos. He also buys, sells and trades books found in the classifieds of the newspaper.
“This is Mike’s business?”, asked Isleim, a tourist with asian roots that arrived there via a friend’s recommendation. “I heard that Bogotá had interesting things to offer and I took advantage of Spring Break to go on vacation”, confesses the 22-year-old, born in Singapore but studying in New York.
With her and 13 more tourists, Mike rode last Sunday through the middle of the city, Teusaquillo, Chapinero and a few parks. Finally he returned to La Candelaria, where he has made his home. That’s where he arrived by chance and without thinking twice about it.
“A taxi driver left me at a hotel in the neighborhood. It was my destiny to stay. This is what I like,” he said with pride, that, while mounting his little horse of steel, unveils the city with the intention of presenting its best image.
A ride on the ‘caballito de acero’
During the four hours that make up the bike tour, he tells them of the M-19, of the political situation of the country, of the ‘false positives’ and of the guerillas. He gets them to take natural ‘viagra’, a mix of borojó (an energetic tropical fruit), crab and honey that they sell on Calle 13. They also visit the market plaza in Paloquemao. There, they smell the scent of fish, see the swine and pieces of meat hanging on hooks. Each time they make a stop downtown, a homeless person approaches with his arms outstretched, asking for change. The people on the street call them ‘gringos’ because almost all of them speak English. They visit the bullfighting rings, the Parque Nacional and, before returning to the starting point again, they stop at the ‘Nacho’ (nickname for the Universidad Nacional). “Get out, Yankees in Colombia” is the painted phrase they read on one of the murals of the ‘Che’ Guevara plaza, in the Universidad Nacional. Paradoxically, it is one of the tourists favorite places to visit, after the bullfighting ring and the market.
ANDRÉS MOLANO TÉLLEZ
Special Report for El Tiempo
Translated by Me