Every culture has its own form of hospitality. Some people make us feel at home right away, while for others it takes more time to warm up to new people and new situations. As an exchange student in Japan, my “favorite” host family, the one I still keep in touch with, welcomed me as a member of the family early on. It was a feeling of warmth and security I never forgot. I soon wasn’t treated as a guest, but had responsibilities around the house, and was reprimanded when I got too far out of line. That being said, I found that Japanese hospitality in general was quite formal. People would go out of their way to help you, but it was always at arm’s length. There was always an element of “saving face” and not causing anyone any discomfort of embarrassment. If someone steps on your foot and says, “Excuse me,” the automatic reply should be, “No, no. I’m so sorry my foot was in the way.”
Later, living in New York in a mostly Dominican community, and again while living in Venezuela, I learned about Latin hospitality. Most Latino cultures are warm and welcoming. People tend to be demonstrative and fast to make friends. Once you’ve been accepted as part of the family, you’re in for good. That too comes with both benefits and responsibilities. There’s always space for one more to sleep, and there’s always food on the stove. Those with an American sensibility may feel there’s a lack of privacy and personal space, but not having to worry so much about putting people out, knowing they wouldn’t have it any other way is very comforting.
Colombian Hospitality: Warm Welcome to Bogota
Upon our arrival in Colombia, we were greeted by Luisa and her husband Andres at the airport. Luisa and several members of her family had lived as exchange students in the United States in the home of Donny’s Dad. We’d met Luisa and her son one Christmas, but Donny hadn’t seen any of the rest of the family for 15 years or so. We spent several days in Luisa and Andres’ apartment in the northern suburb of Bogota where we were treated to home-cooked meals, and had a wonderful time exploring a bit of the city.
Home Cooking in the Capital
One morning, we got to try calentado (literally meaning heated) for breakfast. This consists of leftover beans and rice heated together and served with egg, arepa and whatever meat is handy. With ours some delicious avocado was also served, along with coffee or hot chocolate.
One evening we had a specialty of Bogota, ajiaco, a chicken and potato soup also a traditional favorite in the Andes region. The dish features three kinds of potatoes, cilantro, garlic and is served with corn on the cob, a dollop of heavy cream and capers. There was also a perfect avocado on the side, and the meal was perfect for a cool evening. Another evening, we were able to visit the neighborhood of Usaquén. This area has nice restaurants, cute shops, and a well-known flea market.
Seeing the Sights
Other highlights of Bogota included a trip up to the top of Cerro de Monserrate (3,152 m / 10,341 ft) by cable car for great views of the city below. A funicular carries passengers up generally in the mornings, while the cable car operates in the afternoon. There are many small restaurants and souvenir shops at the top, as well as the famous white church whose altar features the Statue of the Fallen Christ, to which many miracles have been attributed. Religious pilgrims have been drawn here since the 1600s, but the church there at present dates from 1917, the earlier chapel having been destroyed by an earthquake.
After descending, we had a walk around La Candelaria. There, we saw many of the highlights: government buildings, churches, the university sector, backpacker zone and colonial heart of the city. The city’s best museums, such as the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) are found here as well. We hope to see some of those when we return. Of course, all that walking warranted a stop at La Puerta Falsa, which has been in business since 1816. Located on a side street not far from the Plaza de Bolivar, this famous snack shop is known for its chocolate completo, a cup of hot chocolate served with cheese, bread and almojábanas, cheesy rolls made with cornmeal.
Colombian hospitality would follow us as we continued our visit to the country with a trip to the mountains and the lovely town of Villa de Leyva and beyond.