The biggest danger in Colombia is…
So here I am in Bogota, Capital of Colombia, city of 8+ million people. Of course, I remember watching the news from Bogota and Medellin back in the 80’s - bombings, kidnappings, massacres...but things have changed since then, right?
My first impressions of Bogota would be one word - civilised. Here's why:
The people are surprisingly friendly and helpful for a city of such size. I met some lovely folk, although you have to be on your toes at all times. There is always someone looking to take advantage of a rich Gringo. People are also very polite, it's part of the culture not evident on the Caribbean coast for example.
Usually when I live in a new city, I buy a push-bike, to get around, and in Bogota I had extra incentive. They have an amazing culture for bicycles, including an extensive cycleway, and every Sunday, they close all the main arterial routes, and open them to cyclists, skaters, walkers, families etc. How civilised is that!
You know you usually have an image of a place in your head before you go there, and my image of Bogota, and Colombia in general was distinctly Third world. I imagined shanty towns and mud huts, which there are - but in general, Bogota is not dissimilar to an English city for example, rows and rows of 2 or 3 story brick dwellings. Just like good old Coronation Street!
Homeless on the Street
Not me silly! I’m telling you what I saw. Of course, not everything in Bogota (and the rest of Colombia) is all “Champagne, Strawberries and Cream”. I’d never seen so many people sleeping rough on the streets, there seemed to be someone sleeping everywhere, even traffic islands and the middle of the footpath, obviously Bogota has a poverty problem. Speaking of poverty, I saw plenty of Beggars in the streets, on the buses, everywhere you look, and of every age. Having the look of a rich Gringo, I'm a favourite...Colombian beggars have no problem (or shame) asking for money - anyone, anywhere, anytime. You get used to saying no or ignoring them, but it's hard when a woman with a dirty baby is asking, but you've got to harden up, which is a bit sad really.
At night many people seem to hang out in the streets, in front of their houses and apartments, drinking, talking, partying - Colombians are very social.
One day I went to the Flea market in central Bogota, to buy a bicycle. There were people selling all sorts of old stuff on the pavement, stuff that anyone in a 'developed' country would call rubbish. I found my bike, and with the help of a friend (I'm a rich 'Gringo' remember) it cost me $40. It survived 3 months in Bogota, and 4 months in Cartagena, a faithful friend.Violence, I never saw any, but nearly all the people I spoke to had been robbed at least once, one friend of mine had been robbed at gun-point 4 times (on the bus, in the street). I was reminded constantly, of Colombia;s violent reputation. The newspapers have a habit of showing the full blood and guts stories....I’d never seen that before, not even in “The Sun”.
One incident that did concern me was one night, I started to hear explosions around different parts of the city, I wondered what was going on?....was it a terrorist attack?....Paramilitaries?....actually, I had arrived around 20 July, which is Colombian Independence Day! They were celebrating with fireworks - Colombians love fireworks, and parties accompanied with loud music (never mind the neighbours).
Sightseeing Tips in Bogota, Colombia
Bogota has some wonderful sights, like Montserrate mountain church, the Gold Museum, the Botero Art Museum, the Zipaquira Salt mine, Simon Bolivar Park and the Botanical Gardens, to name a few. There's a ton of stuff to do in Bogota, you won't get bored that's for sure.
Colombian Love affair
No, I’m not taking about a woman (that comes later), it’s something more profound.
The day I landed at Bogota's 'El Dorado' airport, I began a love affair with Colombia that exists to this day. I found my 'El Dorado', not in material wealth, but things so much more important. I came here to learn, to grow as a person, to expand my horizons, and Colombia is giving me that, and so much more. You never know, it could do the same for you.
What image did you have of Colombia? Did I change that in any way? At least I hope I made you think.
Oh, and by the way, what’s the biggest danger in Colombia? It’s not wanting to leave!
Check in next time, we’re off to the Caribbean Coast!
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