Bogota cannot claim to be the most attractive city in the world, nor the most passionating, but here I have been able to catch a glimpse of this creature called ‘Colombia’. A little preview of what awaits me on its road, as well as a small window into its complexe culture and politics
Three flights and a night sleeping on the floor of the International Panama Airport are the price I have paid to reach the International Airport of El Dorado, in Bogota. Soon after having discussed my missing luggage with the airline staff, I find myself in a taxi, driven by a man who warns me of the many precautions I ought to take in the Colombian capital. Between millionaire rides and sketchy motel that “are not for sleeping,” the man abounds of examples. Eventually, we reach a quiet street on the edge of the lively neighborhood of El Chapinero, and I thank the man.
Bogota is not the warmest place on earth, nor the driest. I spend the afternoon under the covers, cursing myself for having left Nicaragua in shorts and flip-flops. Eventually, the phone rings and I am informed that my luggage has made it with the following flight. It should be delivered by early evening! I take this small victory to the common area, where I meet a middle aged couple on their last day of travelling. They will fly out of Colombia on the next day, and “how great have the holidays been!” The man explains with passion how their three month trip across South America has turned into a three month tour of Colombia. “The people have been so great,” he says, “and the landscape! There is so much to see.” Strangely, he mentions how stray dogs are not aggressive in Colombia because people treat them well. I pay him half attention and ponder how unreal it would seem that I extended my stay by a two months…
My first visits are to a few museums. The National Museums displays pieces and informations ranging from the Indigenous culture of the pre-hispanic period to the late twentieth century. In between of course, the Spanish invasion and the struggle for independence led by Simon Bolivar. Next, I pay a visit to the well renowned Gold Museum, where I learn about the cultural significance of gold and emerald for the ancient Indigenous groups of Latin America, as well as the different crafting techniques that were used across the continent. It doesn’t come as a surprise that gold has a special place here, and yet I am taken aback by the beauty and details of the artefacts. Colombia is to day much richer in gold and emerald resources than I suspected. Both hold a special place in the traditions of ancient Indigenous tribes, especially those who lived in the region where Bogota is. Convinced that these two precious resources were the seeds of the sun, they made ritual offerings to a sacred lake which was considered the womb of the earth. Finally, I visit the Fernando Botero museum, where I can observe some of the pieces created by the famous Antioquian artist. If the artist’s work on volumes and proportion is not for everyone, one cannot deny he ranks amongst the greatest prides of Colombia.
My week in Bogota goes fairly fast, between a coffee here and a visit there. On one afternoon, I take a cable car to Monserrate where I catch great views of the city. Later, I realize the striking disparities of the country’s economics whether I walk around downtown, around the luxurious Parque Noventa-y-tres area, and around more ‘run down’ neighborhoods. My stay is nearing its end when I decide on the visit that will turn out to be the most informative of all: the graffiti tour. It is a free walking tour around the Candelaria and downtown, focused on the street art of the Colombian capital. However, the guide punctuates it with anecdotes on Colombian history, culture and politics. He explains how the street artists of Bogota have once organized a weekend of painting -the longest art protest in the world- because Justin Bieber had been escorted by the police to paint over a wall in front of his camera crew. He explains how, at the time, the police was breaking down on street artists and had even murdered a nineteen year old painter. “The people supported the artist with food and water” -he explains, insisting that street art is important to the great majority of Bogotanos. Later, he explains how the political sphere of the country is dominated by always the same corrupt families that make up the Colombian elite, and how one of the most active art protester is a university professor whose real identity was long a secret. When he informs us of the farmer protests to take place in the city the following day, the guide mentions the nasty impact of the multinational Monsanto in his dear country. The company is suing the government because of a nationwide shift to more traditional techniques. Techniques which, of course, do not require the company’s activating chemicals. In the midst of a lawsuit for patent infringement, what with Monsanto owning the seeds, the government had to send the military to destroy an unimaginable amount of crops. The guide gives us an interesting overview of Colombia, which is not nearly as dangerous as the image it unfortunately carries. He asks us to pass on a more positive image of the country upon our return to whichever country we come from.
Bogota cannot claim to be the most attractive city in the world, nor the most passionating, but here I have been able to catch a glimpse of this creature called ‘Colombia’. A little preview of what awaits me on its road, as well as a small window into its complexe culture and politics. More than once in the week, I have learned of a place that, if it has an undeniable history of crime, is generally a lot more safe than one assumes. I have also seen how the Colombians hope to part ways with this cued image. It would appear that the country is a lot more complex than one would expect. I think of the few people I have talked to, as well as the information provided on the tour, and I realize Colombia might be made of a duality. For better or worse policies, especially. And what better time to be visiting the country? The peace treaty has been implemented and the FARC are slowly disarming. And yet, I have been told of a corrupt police, and paramilitary groups that have committed the most gruesome of deeds. Surely, grasping it all will take time but for now, I have to say goodbye to the Bogotanos. Or as they are called here, the rolos.