I arrived in Bogota, Colombia.
Completely surreal. Suddenly I found myself on the other side of the world, where the sky looks different, water flashes in other direction, and peoples’ day to day reality makes me even more aware of how privileged I am being born in Europe.
I mean, it didn’t happen so suddenly. I have dreamt about it for years! In fact, seven years ago, when sitting in a Pizza Express restaurant in London (where I used to work) with my Colombian friend, I told her how one day I would go backpacking in Colombia.
Since then, she went back to Medellin with her family, and I moved countries twice. And only a couple of days ago, we had a Colombian breakfast with her family and spent the rest of the day discussing the world and life as we have only said bye to each other a few days prior.
I never intended to be the typical traveller.
Beautiful locations, majestic nature and all the typical vacation activities were not my only intention.
Travel is the best educator. It opens your eyes. Much widely than you have thought it would initially.
It’s one thing to watch documentaries, TV series, YouTube videos, read books or online articles.
Things always turn up to be different when you have finally arrived at your destination! Whether you travel to Madeira or Bogota.
You can imagine a place to be this or that; it is always different. No books or shows can ever give you a true understanding of place. No documentaries can provide you with a more extensive understanding of the country’s issues than talking to people who live there. No photographs will ever express the beauty of its nature!
I travel to educate myself. To open my own eyes. To other peoples lives, to their struggles and their culture.
I would learn nothing about Colombia if I rented a luxury apartment with a swimming pool in El Rodadero, Santa Marta.
This is my first week. I am staying in Bogota, and in order to get my bearings around the town, I took a bike city tour. This was the best idea!
Bogota is a city of million faces. It is a massive city, the third highest capital in the world, as it stands at an average of 2,625 above sea level. It has crazy weather and an enormous amount of the most beautiful and fascinating murals!
Except, it wasn’t that long ago when graffiti was illegal in Bogota. In fact, it was only in 2011 when a young artist Diego Felipe Becerra, called Tripido, was chased and killed by the police when spray-painting his signature wide-eyed Felix the Cat image on the walls of Bogota underpass.
It has sparked the graffiti revolution in Bogota, and today, Bogota is one of the most street art-friendly cities in the world. What’s more, if you look closely, those paintings send powerful and often political and social messages.
It is a brand new experience for me. Bogota is not Lisbon where you can take a walk in the evening and explore the town or grab dinner out in a quiet street and browse your phone while waiting for your order to arrive. It is not London where you can find a very polite police officer who will gladly help you and be a representation of law and protection in case of any trouble.
When I arrived at the Bogota airport and got out of the terminal, I wasn’t sure if I’m dizzy due to the altitude or the craziness I experienced. A guy, after relentlessly trying to offer me a taxi ride and sell a sim card for some ridiculous amount of dollars, after I politely refused in Spanish (many times), finally gave up, asked me where I’m from and with a smirky smile, said ‘Bienvenido a Colombia’ – this sentence had so many meanings to it!
I have seen more fully armed police officers in 2 days here, than I have seen in my whole life. And I mean – fully armed.
Also, I am visiting the country during a very difficult time. Colombia’s people suffered greatly due to pandemic and prolonged lockdown. In addition, recent changes in tax legislation sparked nationwide protests, which are rooted much deeper than just the new tax law.
As I walked to see Plaza de Bolivar for the first time on my own and I passed the Palace of Justice, which was rebuilt after the 1985 siege – I knew I’m walking next to powerful symbols of Colombia’s modern and ancient history and representations of this country’s struggles. I walked the street not far from where Congress of Colombia is housed. Who, I assumed was the army rather than a police officer with a gun hanged on his back, looked me directly in the eyes. He knew I’m a gringo, and I will never forget this look.
And then you have the most friendly, polite and chatty people you have ever met. Salsa and reggaeton music coming from each car radio, Uber drivers telling you the story of their country, the food that is so delicious but one plate could feed a whole family, majestic mountains, diverse coastal beauty and the most complicated history.
I can’t wait to get to know you Colombia!