A Bogotá ‘moment’

A twilight sets over Bogotá's main downtown area.
A twilight sets over Bogotá's main downtown area.

A  friend of mine recently remarked on facebook that he was having a ‘Colombia moment’ after a meltdown at the bank over a payment gone missing. I reflected on these words, realizing that I might have one of those moments soon enough, as my driving license was about to expire, and even though I tend to use more my TransMilenio ‘Tullave’ than my car keys these days, I decided to start the entire process of renovating this important Colombian document. The hardest part of the whole process, in hindsight, was trying to get the PIN number online to set up the obligatory medical examination at one of the official Centros de Reconocimiento de Conductores (CRC), or in layman’s terms, the Center for Drivers’ Recognition. After Citibank wouldn’t debit my money (something they are fond of doing), and Baloto didn’t recognize my cédula de extranjeria, I called the RUNT’s hotline, in a cold sweat. The kind woman answered me from Chapinero, rather than Bangalore, for which I was grateful. Her recommendation was that I head over to a CRC in the Polo neighborhood and just pay the nurse up front for a medical. It worked.

After a short wait by ‘Colombian moment’ standards (20 minutes), I rigorously had my ears and eyes tested. The DMV doctors took my pulse, which was rising like inflation. I almost didn’t pass the “psych” test, which was elementary to teenage cyber geeks, as it required navigating a red ball through a canyon using dials on a computer simulator. Words to the wise: invest in an XBox before renewing your Colombian license. After I had cleared walls and tried to match the yellow box with the red circle, pumping pedals, I was told that I was cleared to go…almost! A ‘Colombia moment’ was pacing towards me.

All that was needed were biometric prints. “Press one finger here,” I was instructed, “put your thumb over there.” With effusive palms, the reading was dodgy at best. The computer refused to accept me. I was told to come back “mañana.” The system might have a glitch. In the worst-case scenario, I would have to grunt my way over to RUNT (National Transit Registry), to have my biometrics incorporated once again. And so it was. My “mañana” turned into another day with my ever-so-essential driving certificate “held” until further notice under a stash of spiral notebooks. I tried to keep cool under pressure. My ‘Colombia moment’ had arrived.

After hitting the pavement and living up to that old adage: “El que madruga Díos le ayuda” (He would wakes up early, God helps), I arrived at my chosen SIM office (Integrated System of Mobility), at the crack of dawn. I smiled at the transit agent and cracked jokes about how good the tinto was that morning – and in a dash – I was biometrically up to date. Digitally sound, I returned to the CRC and picked up my certificate. I cracked the same joke, about the tinto, which saved me an extra 15 minutes. The spiral notebooks were still there, and so was the certificate. Back to SIM to be photographed and claim my new driving license.

My ‘Colombia moment’ was short lived and the experience just reaffirmed why I have grown (over two decades) to love this beguiling, often treacherous, city. While waiting for the laminated card, I discovered a “hole in the wall” selling the real, hard to get your hands on, La Chamba pottery. And to kill even more time, I was tempted by remarkably well Made in China counterfeit watches, in an alleyway near the DMV. Cleared for the road, I made my way to TransMilenio’s busy San Victorino junction. The city was energized. Thieves eyed each another suspiciously, while empanadas briskly changed hands. I was having a ‘Bogotá moment.’

If you are new to this city, you have to “take it all in stride.” Remember to look over your shoulder regularly when walking the streets, and when handed an important document, get it photocopied and notarized before its due date. You can take corn patties from strangers, but not much else. And remember above all, that ‘Colombia moment’ are transitory and will generally end well, if you approach them with your very own “joke of the day,” and an early morning wake up call.

And even though I am road worthy for the next 10 years (even though my car might not be), I am going to try and explore this city as much as possible…on foot. With its dodgy street corners and all.



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