We’ve arrived in Bogota, Colombia. South America. For Harry and I both, this is a new continent and it was our intention to conclude our trip during the summer season in the southern hemisphere. But Bogota is anything but tropical white sandy beaches, and warm water lagoons I’d imagined this Caribbean country would be. It is in fact, a bit dodgy.
At an elevation of more than 8,500ft its cool here. Very cool. Afternoon rains are quite common and I could’ve been smart and packed a raincoat but I didn’t. The city is crowded (over 8 million people) and the traffic is the worst I’ve experienced. Our taxi took approximately 30mins to move 5 blocks. Even the thousands of scooters on the streets of Saigon managed to maintain an even flow of traffic. Here, its a crippled mess and to add insult to injury the buses spew black smoke out with every rev of their engine.
I can live with crowds and noise and pollution. I’d experienced a similar situation before when I was teaching English in Guadalajara, Mexico in the late 90′s. The difference here is I don’t feel quite as safe. It’s no exaggeration when I say that everyone we encountered that saw us with our cameras hanging round our necks told us to be careful. From the owner of a local arepas restaurant to the lady selling us a SIM card at the local corner store to our host family at the hostel in La Candelaria, each warned us with urgency to keep a watchful eye over our equipment and not to take our equipment out at night. ”Hay que tener cuidado.” they told us. Even I can be stubborn, but I was quick to notice how many heads turned and the gazes I got the first day I pulled my camera out of my bag in the middle of a small plaza called El Chorro. I quickly put it away. As wikipedia notes, as recent as the mid 90s, Bogota was regarded as one of the most violent cities in the world. Here are some reminders for those of you traveling to places where crime might be an issue:
- Less is best. Avoid wearing jewelry, flashy name brand clothing, items that will make you stand out
- Don’t flaunt it. Keep the expensive cameras, cell phones, sunglasses, tucked away until you’re in a safer area, i.e. the more affluent parts of town
- If you don’t speak the native language, speak softly and politely. There’s nothing worse than being the loud obnoxious foreigner.
- Write directions on a piece of paper. Don’t do like we did and whip out a fancy iPhone to show the cab driver where you’re supposed to be headed with Google maps and such. You’re just asking to be robbed – and we were!
For anyone planning a visit to Bogota, here’s a fantastic website created by an ex-pat living and working in Bogota. It’s in English with many useful links and tips on where to eat: yourbogota.info Alyse, thanks so much. I wish we’d found your page sooner!
All this being said, I’m truly in love with this city. Its exciting. It keeps me on my toes. There’s nothing better than waking up and walking around each day and not taking a single thing for granted, quite the opposite of life back home in San Francisco. The people are friendly and the general consensus is that times are changing for the better. Bogota’s government is taking steps to improve the infrastructure and stimulate growth and for that the people are very optimistic.
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