I’d like to start this blog post out by dispelling some possibly erroneous perceptions about Bogotá. I was looking through the pictures I’ve taken so far on my trip, and Bogotá looks like a beautiful place, if I say so myself. But it’s not. It has some beautiful neighborhoods, parks, districts and landscapes, but beautiful is not a word I’d use to describe it. It would not even make it to my top five Bogotá describer words list. When I think of Bogotá, the first words that come to mind are pollution, cement box generic architecture, heavy traffic and, on a more positive note, culture. To me, there will always be something somber about Bogotá, maybe because of the gray weather and the dark, ominous Andes overlooking the city to the east. And in the end, at least for me, it was more exhausting than invigorating, which is probably why I left. But maybe I’m just not a big city person.
To me, Bogotá is a city that zoning laws forgot until recently. It’s not unusual to find a bike shop operating from an aluminum shack next to a modern, 20 story building, next to a mid scale restaurant housed in a relatively well-preserved Spanish colonial. In front of these buildings you will find a lady selling cigarettes, candy and cellphone minutes from a makeshift wooden or metal cart (though there seem to be far fewer of these street vendors nowadays), construction workers taking a nap on the grassy median during their lunch break and sharply dressed professionals walking to and from work. Buses will stop and go leaving behind a potent cloud of diesel fuel and when you cross the street, few cars will care that you are a pedestrian, and fewer still will stop. Before, you would have seen recicladores riding down the avenues and streets alongside late-model sedans, but this seems to be a thing of the past. For those of you unfamiliar with Colombian reciclajadores, they were like the city’s recycling crew (I’m not sure if official or unofficial) and they’d come by late at night to sort through discarded pieces of metal, plastic, wood and anything else that could be sold or reused. You’d see dozens of them every day, sometimes entire families riding along in their ancient looking wooden carts pulled by sad-looking horses or mules. But the recicladores seem to have disappeared forever as Bogotá modernizes. I asked my grandmother about it this morning when it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t seen any of these carts since I arrived, and she said the government gave the recyclers new cars, because the old wooden cart and decrepit horse system didn’t exist anywhere else in the world except Colombia. This is my grandmother’s version, so I don’t know how precise it is, or if Bogotá’s traditional recyclers actually got anything approximating a far deal out their elimination.
The sidewalks as I mentioned in my previous post, are still a disaster, and near the main avenues, the air smells like an intense, moderately offensive perfume of diesel and cleaning products (my sister’s observation) with an occassional whiff of something fried when the breeze picks up. I would say Bogotá is a chaotic place teeming with life, culture, people, money, poverty, potential, entrepreneurship, business opportunities, pollution, disorganization, corruption, cement, nature, innovation and both progressive and archaic policies. It’s vibrant and fascinating but beautiful as a whole? Probably not. The reason it looks relatively nice in my pictures is because my grandmother has assured me that I will be assaulted, mugged, stabbed and murdered if I take my phone out in certain neighborhoods and on certain streets, so fearing for my life, I’ve only taken my phone camera out in relatively nice areas. And although my grandmother is prone to exaggeration (as are so many Latin grandma’s= this assertion seems to be at least partially backed by statistics…despite the drastically lowered murder rate, you still have a 1 in 5 chance of being the victim of a crime in a one year period in Bogotá. So the Bogotá I’m capturing is somewhat skewed. It exists, but in pockets, and the pictures I’ve taken aren’t really a good representation of the overall feel of the city. So before posting my pictures from yesterday, I wanted to post a picture of what Colombia looks like for millions of people…
These invasiones (invasions) pepper the mountains throughout the city. Many of the people who live in these settlements are impoverished farmers from the countryside who come to Bogotá to looking for better economic opportunities. Believe it or not, the people in these settlements often find ways to connect electricity, cable and sometimes even Internet!
The picture above was taken from one of my old neighborhoods in Chapinero Alto. I couldn’t say that settlements like these are a representation of the overall feel of Bogotá either, only that it’s a big mix here and it’s hard to describe the city in only a few words…when you visit Bogotá, you are really visiting dozens of co-existing, parallel cities in various states of beauty, modernization and economic development. The pictures below are mostly from the Santa Barbara neighborhood (my grandmother’s neighborhood), El Country and the Cedritos neighborhoods, located between Unicentro on the South and Calle 145 in the north. These neighborhoods vary from middle class to upper class.
I don’t remember Bogotá being a particularly green place, but I’ve been surprised by all the beautiful urban parks and well, trees and greenery in some neighborhoods in the north. I don’t know if the same trend goes for the center and south, but the north, at least, is not the cement jungle I remembered from my time here. This scene is from right outside el Parque del Country in el Country neighborhood.
And old colonial style house just outside el Parque del Country. I’m not sure if this house is still in use.
If I were a wealthy Colombian, I would probably never leave. These apartment buildings in El Country have a great view of the Andes, a majestic urban park 100 feet away and are far removed from the noise, pollution and chaos of la Avenida 15. I’d say wealthy Colombians have it pretty good.
Joggers…something I’d rarely seen in Bogotá when I left. This is el Parque del Country, a majestic, relatively large park in el Country neighborhood. According to my grandmother, the park was created after the government deemed that the CLUB DEL COUNTRY, an exclusive, traditional Bogota country club, had too much land. The park had to give up a parcel of land and convert it into public parkland. Again, this is a grandmotherly account, so I’m not completely sure what the real story is.
View from el Parque del Country. The park is open to the public and has a stadium, a walking and jogging trail, a children’s playground, horses, and beautiful views of the Andes. As far as urban parks go, it’s pretty spectacular.
One of the things I enjoyed about my time in Bogotá was the strong cafe culture. In Chapinero and el Centro, there are plenty of independent, quirky cafes and in the North Juan Valdez and Oma dominate. My sister and I walked up from Carrera 15 to Carrera 9 for a snack at this Oma near the Usaquen neighborhood.
Feeling like we’d done a lot of walking, my sister and I decided to indulge in a little mid-morning snack. That drink you see is a frapuccino topped off with heavy whipping cream and dulce de leche. And the pastry is basically a raspberry-covered brick made of sugar and butter. In my defense, my sister and I split the pastry. And we had walked a lot.
La Carrera Novena from a bridge on Calle 127.
Another view of La Novena from a bridge on Calle 127.
This is an example of a typical, upscale apartment complex in the North. Most apartment buildings in Colombia have a doorman (or woman) and the nicer ones often have a gate that you can’t enter without permission from the homeowner.
This is a mall across the street from the apartment complex in the picture above. There are A LOT of malls in Bogotá. I wonder if Internet shopping isn’t big in Bogotá yet? If it gets big, I don’t know what’s going to happen to all of the city’s malls! Then again, Colombians are inherently more social and connected (to each other) than Americans, so maybe Internet shopping, with its lack of human interaction, won’t take off in Colombia?
A flower stand in the Cedritos neighborhood. The Cedritos neighborhood is a mix of middle class residential buildings and housing developments and chaotic, loud commercial strips. This being Colombia, there are flower stands everywhere.
A commercial plaza in Cedritos. One of the things I’ve noticed during this trip to Bogotá is that the whole city (well, at least the parts I’ve seen) is under construction. It seems that a new building is going up every other block. I’ve read stories about Colombia’s booming economy, and I really hope that more people are able to take part in Bogotá’s growing economic opportunities.
An example of commerce in Cedritos. As an American, one of the toughest things about Bogotá for me was the juxtaposition of the commercial and residential. Unless you live in certain neighborhoods in the north, it’s hard to take a quiet walk through a residential neighborhood without eventually stumbling on a commercial street. I can imagine this would be invigorating and exciting to a lot of people, but for me it was exhausting. A lot of Bogotá strip mall type buildings are cavernous, with tiny, tucked away businesses hidden in little nooks no bigger than a walk in closet.
Another example of a Bogotá strip mall type building. This one is the Santa Barbara neighborhood across the street from my grandma’s apartment. Here you’ll find clothing shops, small hardware stores, electrical repair outfits, cigarrerias, restaurants popular with area workers, dentist offices and pretty much everything you can imagine.
An example of old and new intermingling in Bogotá. This is near my grandmother’s apartment.
As you can probably tell, I really like urban parks. In the evening (after a nice afternoon nap) my sister and I walked west toward the Autopista and stumbled on this adorable little park. I don’t know if all these parks are part of some new greenification city wide campaign or if I just forgot about them, but in the north at least, you’ll find a park at least every few blocks.
A tiny little pocket park right across the street from the park in the picture above.
This is another example of an elevated, interior bike lane. As mentioned in a previous post, you’ll find these throughout all of Bogotá, which makes getting around on bike a lot less stressful!
Categories: Bogota, Colombia