Cheek by jowl with locals in Bogotá
What?! You are going to Colombia? Why? That’s dangerous, high crime rate, drugs, pick pockets! There are so many beautiful places on earth, why the hell do you choose Colombia?
Yet, my daughter, Naomi, and I chose Colombia for a four week trip despite many concerns of our friends and family. Naomi had traveled to Bogotá some years ago as an extension of her gap year in Venezuela. She still has a close relationship with her guest mother, Anna, in Caracas and writes to her on a regular basis. Anna’s family lives in Bogotá. She and Naomi visited her relatives together and spent two weeks at their home at that time. An experience of great value for learning about the culture. She knew, she would visit them again some time and so we decided to do so together as the opportunity was there.
For our stay in Bogotá we chose a small hostel in the middle of Candelaria, the centre of the old city of Bogotá. It has only a few rooms, a kitchen and a shared living room with a huge television, which drones on till late in the evening. To follow the semi finals of the World Cup 2014, which were scheduled during our stay, it was however pretty useful. A mix of young Americans, British, Dutch and Slovenians expressed their preferences loudly but still managed to share in the festive atmosphere of the matches.
The hostel is run by a friendly, but very determined older Colombian lady, who is, despite her small stature,is heard throughout the hostel, already in the early hours of the morning. A young lady, probably her daughter, does the housework. In the morning she prepares a simple and quick breakfast composed of coffee, a croissant and in a shape pressed flat, scrambled egg. The same every day, irrespective of the duration of the stay. Never mind, it was included in the price, which was surprisingly a bargain at this favorable spot, so we didn’t care.
Plenty cultural heritage is to be seen in Bogotá. Cheap food stands provide delicious snacks and fresh fruit juices. And for the traveler, who needs some clothes, shoes or souvenirs, local markets with a wide range of affordable items do fulfill any need. The temperature can drop quite dramatically as the city is situated at a altitude of 2,625 m (8,612 Ft). Daily rains are common. Raincoats, pullovers, beanies and scarfs are therefore probably the most sold items.
The most exciting of our stay in Bogotá however was our visit to Naomi’s friends in the neighborhood of Palermo. One of the daughters fetched us, who had come directly from work. This way we could experience a bus ride together with locals. Our bus was, luckily not as full as others, which were heading the same way at rush hour, however the green, rusty bus had for sure seen better times. The gears were protesting loudly with every shift, and dark clouds of dense black smoke escaped from the exhaust pipe, when climbing the steep hills through heavily populated, narrow streets. Bogotá spreads over total of 1,587 km2 (613 sq mi) and hosts a population, which is almost as big as the population of whole Switzerland (8 Million). We could see only a small part of the city, put it’s clear that people, who live here, don’t have much of a chance to see any green parks to enjoy themselves outdoors and to get some fresh air beside their daily duties. The next park is more than an hour away from this part of the town and no green is left for exercises in the nature.
As we arrived at our destination, the whole family joined together to welcome us and all gathered for a delicious meal in the cozy little house at the fully laden dining table. The proverbial Colombian hospitality was shown by everyone. Although it might not be much what the average Colombian has, but he or she is proud to share it. We spent a happy evening comparing our countries and lifestyles. We didn’t go home without being persuaded to take more food with for later and the appeal to return and spent some time at their house, whenever it would suit us. What a wonderful and open hearted people!