Bogotians take really well to foreigners. Most are proud that Colombia elicited some distant traveller’s interest and seems worthy of a visit.
My first impression of the city was, however, pollution and traffic, followed closely by the prevalence of graffiti. Some elaborate and skillful art spanning walls and blocks not infrequently yielded to slogans: existimos porque necesitamos.
There’s an interesting combination of urban transportation options here: all are frequent and affordable, linking the most outlying non-linear areas of the city.
But it is incredibly polluted – you can’t catch a breath!
The place I was staying at, Destino Nomada, is perched on a hill in La Candelaria historic district, peripherally overlooking the city, and every morning I could see a brown ring of smog that sits atop. As it is backed up by mountains on two sides, at an elevation of 2600m above sea level, the smog only lingers.
In an effort to offset those fumes, there are dedicated bike lanes all around the city and on Sundays between 7am and 2pm when the main routes shut down for an en-masse fury of cyclists, joggers, rollerbladers, and skaters!
The days are sunny, clear and pleasant just below 20°C. The nights were very crisp and often clear. Due to the city’s proximity to the equator (coordinates: 4°N, 74°W) this routine does not vary year-round: sunrise and sunset are at the same time, and the temperature always remains around 17°C during the day and 9°C during the night. There are only two season: the rainy and the dry, the latter being now, between December and April.
The city’s historic centre, La Candelaria is a maze of hilly streets dotted with colourful little houses – for residential, commercial (stores and restaurants), and cultural (museums, arts galleries) uses. Among them are also a few universities, libraries, and some administrative offices. Young, lively population zooms about daily, as well as on weekends and evenings.
The amount of police presence is simply staggering. By my rough guesstimate, about half of all the country’s population is in the police force.
Mostly they just observe and remain ‘present’ among the crowd. But I have very frequently witnessed them search random people on the street, down to peering into their shoes and socks.
Day and night, they patrol the streets, squares, public transport, and on more than one occasion they have come into the hostel “to check things out”. If this is Colombia’s resolve to eradicate drug possession and sale among the public, I’d say it’s a notable feat.
I didn’t inquire about the actual wholesale production and export of the stuff, but I imagine it’s even more rigorous.
Keen to get acquainted with all the odd tastes, I bought a piece of every offbeat fruit I saw. The girls at the hostel were incredibly entertained. As one was teaching me the names of the fruits (pitahaya, maracuya, tamarillo, granadilla, higo, nispero, zapote, papayuela, curuba), the other was teaching me how to describe their tastes in Spanish (dulce, rico, acido, aspero, fuerte, nada especial, me gusta mucho, nunca mas)!