Like any major city worth mentioning, Bogota has an active and entertaining street life (and I don’t mean the pay-by-the-hour illicit type, although there’s plenty of that as well, if you’re interested). You can be perfectly entertained without entering a museum, paying for a concert or heading to a bar. In other words, if like me, you suffer from a seemingly permanent lack of capital, there’s no need to panic.
It being my first weekend in my new apartment and neighborhood, I wanted to see what el centro was like on non-work nights, so I put on my sweater and scarf, and prepared myself to brave the cold, penetrating mountain winds that characterize Bogota evenings. Pretty much all the action in my neighborhood happens on La Septima, which was flooded with people eating hamburgers from hole-in-the wall stands, loitering and talking on every street corner and gathered around the dozens of street performers between La Calle 19 and the Internationall Center. There was a mix of university students, desplazados and poor people from the nearby shanty-towns, middle-class workers relaxing a bit before heading home, street vendors, elegant-looking old men wearing berets and suits whose social class and life story I coudn’t quite define, skateboarders, punks, hippies and homeless people. Within an hour, I enjoyed a very intricate, excellently put together street circus, watched a group of children peform cumbia, listened to a soulful, talented Calena sing Celia Cruz’s biggest hits and saw what appeared to be a hopelessly intoxicated, homeless man shake some water bottles filled with beads (pretending they were maracas) and attempt a very crude and unpleasant version of Guantanamera.
After enjoying my fair share of street theater and street concerts, I turned around and headed toward La Plaza de Bolivar. On my way south on La Septima, I heard a homeless old woman talking with a younger, also apparently homeless woman about the lack of profitability on her relegated street corner and how she was going to have to fight for a more lucrative corner because things just weren’t going very well. I noticed that rather than stand attentively on guard in preparation of any disturbances, the police force in el centro seems to hang out together and congregate around the fried papa and yuca stands, especially if the cart’s owner is a particularly young and attractive woman. They are not particularly enthusiastic about being called to duty.
Anyway, generally speaking, every plaza in the center seems to be home to a flea market or handicraft market. Considering the almost complete lack of tourists and the supposedly dire economic state of Colombians, I’m not exactly sure who is buying all these goods, but that’s another story. However, because Christmas is just around the corner, Christmas lights and decorations adorn every plaza and the handicraft and flea markets have been converted to Christmas markets. While not as charming and beautifully put together as those in Austria and Germany, these little Christmas markets really do highten the Christmas spirit, as long as you don’t mind replacing warm pretzels and apple strudels with obleas and arepas de queso, forget mulled wine and accept aguapanela and convince yourself that the light sprinkling of litter is actually the season’s first snow. Every plaza had a group of musicians, usually school children, and the churches, all dressed up in Christmas lights and angel decorations reminded me of the miniature Christmas village we — well, my brother — puts together every Christmas. There were many little streets I would have liked to go down, but as it was dark and I had no intention of testing Bogota night-time security, I decided to save these excursions for later.