I’ll write a brief rundown of my time in Bogota because if I don’t get to it now I definitely won’t do it later. I was in country to shoot video interviews with two city officials in locations I hadn’t scouted in a language I don’t speak, so I was a little nervous about the results I’d get. Luckily I had a colleague from work joining me who was familiar with the program, speaks fluent Spanish, and knows how to operate video cameras, so I had a translator who could act as a second operator with me at all times. This made the trip infinitely more successful, because she knew what we wanted to accomplish and could shoot B-roll at different vantage points wherever we went, so the sheer amount of footage we left with was more than double that of my previous trips.
My flight was direct from Dulles, so I got in late on Monday night and waited at the baggage area for Valeria to arrive. We were set up in a beautiful hotel in the northern half of the city, and early Tuesday morning (5:30 EST) we headed to the partner office in town which we used as a base of operations. From there we shot a bunch of B-roll around the central eastern section of town, pausing only for a brief lunch and shooting until 6:30PM.
Wednesday we were up at 7 to shoot our first interview and met with our subject at a park along a bike path. I found a good vantage point and we filmed him speaking, then some B-roll of him biking up and down the path. Next we returned to the partner office and shot interviews with several of the bike-riding staff (much easier than grabbing random people off the street) before heading back to the hotel to offload data to an external drive.
We spent pretty much the whole time on the ground running, and if I didn’t have a translator I would have been sunk; UBER in Bogota is illegal, and for some reason their mapping service there is terrible. We wound up in several random places where the app told us we’d reached our destination, and we had to spend time explaining where we really wanted to go to the driver.
I bought a new LowePro backpack to haul the gear around in and found it much easier to use than the ThinkTank suitcase I inherited at WRI, while being able to carry about 90% of the suitcase’s maximum load plus my laptop. This made packing once for the day feasible so I didn’t have to return multiple times to the hotel to swap out gear, although it made the pack heavy. I got skilled at keeping it to the barest load possible with enough batteries to last the day and only the lenses we’d need; only once did I regret not packing the heavy zoom lens for some good B-roll shots on the second day.
Bogota itself is a beautiful city. It sprawls at the foot of a mountain range bordering the east side, at an altitude of 2,600 feet. The architecture is an eclectic mixture of old country and modern jumbled next to each other, much like Mexico City, and I spent much of the time I spent in vehicles craning my neck to take it all in. We saw both the good and the bad, from the upscale neighborhoods where we were staying to the slum and industrial areas away from the mountains. Because the climate is often wet (think of San Francisco, but much higher) there are exotic, vibrant flowers everywhere. Calla lilies were blooming in pots outside our hotel, and across the street, brilliant purple bougainvillea draped over a residential wall.
We used a variety of cameras, with two Canon 5Ds as our primary shooters paired with a couple of key lenses, a DJI Osmo (verdict: pretty frickin’ sweet), three GoPro Sessions, and my Fuji X-T10. The 5Ds were used for all of the interviews, most of the stationary B-roll, and a few long takes for timelapse effects. We used the Osmo for traveling shots outside the windows of our cab, some pedestrian shots, and some interesting footage while riding bikes. The Sessions I used for stationary time-lapse footage in different locations and handlebar-mounted footage of our interviewees.
In the afternoon on our second day we headed north to some of the taller buildings and tried to access their observation decks but were told they were all closed until the weekend. Undeterred, we UBERed up to the side of the mountain and took a cable car up to the peak of Monserrate, a scenic overlook and tourist destination above the city (at 3,100+ feet above sea level). From here I set up the 5D and all three GoPros for an hour, shooting wide vistas and detail shots of the city. While I was there a nice police officer named Hugo came over and tried out his English on me while I tried the few Spanish words I knew.
I broke down my gear and walked around to find Valeria, and we stopped in to a cafe overlooking the city for a cappuccino and some pastries while exotic birds flitted through the flowers around us. When the sun got low in the sky, we huffed our way back up the steps and set gear back up to shoot it setting through the clouds.
Our final day on the ground began with a flurry of email as we tried to line up our final interview subject, the transportation minister of Bogota, and after nailing him down to a time, we went to the historical district and shot some B-roll of the original city square and surrounding streets. Then we jumped in a cab and headed to his office nearby. There we were faced with several lousy locations for shooting, but as I grudgingly set up in a bright and noisy hallway I glanced out into what had been a sunlit courtyard full of people and noticed it had emptied out after lunch. I grabbed my gear, told Valeria we were moving, and ten minutes later we were shooting outside with a vista of the mountains behind the minister in perfect light. Once that footage was in the can, we grabbed a steak and a beer at a restaurant across the street, toasted our success, and made plans to head back to the hotel.
My final evening was quiet, as Valeria had plans to go take a salsa class, so I transferred footage to an external drive and got all my gear packed for an early cab ride in the morning–I had to be at the gate by 7:15 the next morning. Even though I was up at 5:30 I didn’t make it through check-in, customs and security until 8, and ran to my gate. Once I was on my flight things were better, but it was scary for an hour or so there. The plane ride home was uneventful, and I was back at the house somewhere around 5PM.
Overall, despite the fact that I ran my ass off the whole time I was there and I don’t speak Spanish, I enjoyed my quick stay in Colombia tremendously. I’d consider going back there, with six months of intensive language training, for a long vacation with the girls.