Some years ago, before I had ever been to Cali, or anywhere else in Colombia, I flew into Bogotá to spend a week with a good friend. We stayed with her in-laws, who very graciously took it upon themselves to show the gringa, who had no clue what the hell was going on, around the capital. They took me to what you might call Bogotá's Greatest Hits—places that all tourists go the first time, and then seldom return to. I have been back to Bogotá many times since my first visit, and, other than frequent returns to the colonial Candelaria neighborhood, had not retraced those first steps until last month.
It’s been more than two years since I started calling Bogotá home. After the initial excitement and honeymoon with the city, reality slowly but surely started to creep in. The pollution, the horrendous traffic, the overpriced beers in Parque 93… It felt a bit like I was no longer living in Colombia but just in another soulless megalopolis.
La Recreovia is sort of La Ciclovia's little sister. During La Ciclovia, which happenings almost every Sunday and holiday, hundreds of people swing, jump and shake it up in mass aerobics classes held in the Parque Nacional and other location.
The Pasaje Rivas, a central Bogotá market which offers the essence of Colombianness, commemorated its 120th anniversary this week. The L-shaped pasaje connects Carrera Decima to Calle 10, and is full of souvenirs, furniture, clothing and lots more. Its vendors are proud that the pasaje pioneered the retail trade in Bogotá.
While Bogotá hasn't experienced waves of foreign immigration like many other Latin American capitals, the city's neighborhoods do have characteristic personalities, formed during the city's growth north and south from the historical center.
With Christmas a few days away, it seems appropriate to highlight some of the old and not-so-old churches of the La Candelaria neighborhood, Bogotá's historical center. The churches are handsome, majestic and elaborate, and one doesn't have to be a believer, much less a Catholic, to appreciate their beauty.
Calle 10, between City Hall and Carrera 10 may just be La Candelaria's and even Bogotá's most colorful block, with its sidewalk vendors, elegant (if decayed) historic buildings and small shops offering everything from esoterica to clothes to a cheap lunch.
During my seven years in Bogotá, one point of reference for me has been the the city's official archive: El Archivo de Bogotá. The word archive conjures up images of grey people shuffling down rows of dusty shelfs weighed down with forgotten documents. And, for all I know, that may be accurate. But I've been interested in the Archive's often insightful exhibitions about odd and interesting bits of Colombian history and culture: writers, photographers and long-play record artists.
They've been called ghosts, memorials to the dead, even visiting extraterrestrials. They are the green men (and a few women) standing on rooftops and balconies in La Candelaria. They include a model, a shoeshiner, an acrobat, a musician (without his guitar) and others of unclear profession.
Visit La Plaza del Chorro in La Candelaria many afternoons and evenings when the universities are in session (and it's not raining) and you'll see a group of mostly young people gathered on the steps of the chapel, probably laughing. They're not watching television or playing with their Ipods, but enjoying one of the oldest forms of human entertainment - storytelling. It's a tradition here, which not only entertains, but also helps pay storytellers' way through college. See Diego, one of the best-known storytellers, tell a crazy tale here.
We all know that Colombia is making huge strides forward, and today those of us here enjoy one of the most diverse, culturally rich countries in the world. For many, however, all they've ever seen is negative news coming out of the country (no matter how much positive press is being written right now). It has always interested me just what these people might think of Colombia should they experience it for themselves....
Bogotá's colorful and opinionated graffiti - perhaps more appropriately called street art - turns plain and boring walls into canvases. Four prominent Bogotá graffiteros recently published a book called Calle Esos Ojos and created a website: www.BogotaStreetArt.com, to display their work.
Usaquén's colonial district has always been one of my favorite places in Bogotá, especially during the popular flea market held on every Sunday and holiday. In addition to the market, this area has several great restaurants, a large beautiful plaza, and a lot more history than you'd imagine.
There's a natural park just 30 minutes outside of Bogotá where you can enjoy one of Colombia's most beautiful ecosystems. It's called Chicaque and it was founded in 1990 thanks to private conservation efforts. The most suprising (and saddest) fact is that only 4% of Colombia's "Andean Cloud Forest",like this one, still exists. Over the years people have destroyed it to clear land for grazing and growing potatoes.
Gushing, unstoppable and intrinsically linked to the creation of this country, the Rio Magdalena, Colombia’s most famous river essentially divides the country in half and makes for a varied itinerary along a course cut through its Andean spine. I guess if I could I would pen my fluvial inspired version and compilation of stories in homage to Kerouac’s “On the Road”.
An unforgettable experience I’ve had in Colombia was volunteering for 'Un Techo para mi País - Colombia', an organization that sends volunteers into the poorer areas surrounding Bogota and throughout the country to help construct emergency housing and implement social programs into these communities. We had close to 800 volunteers building 100 new houses in the south of Bogota, helping numerous families in need on the weekend I was involved. It wasn’t an easy weekend by any means but the feeling of achievement and the gratitude from the family I helped was definitely worth the hard work.