Bogota is a Many Headed Hydra of a City

One of my favourite descriptions for Bogota when describing the Colombian capital to newcomers here is to state that it is a many headed hydra of a city. Then I usually feather this statement into a call to Bogotanos to reclaim their home from the corrupt, the delinquents and the unruly.

My last post was a stand-alone manifesto of nine issues that I feel need addressing straight away in the city in order to make it a more liveable and pleasant place that can really achieve a status as an international and tourist friendly capital city. In this post, I guess part of an “Improve Bogota” series I want to share a few thoughts and few pieces of wisdom that I have gleaned over 6 years as a semi-permanent resident here.

  • It will rain on a Friday afternoon. This will render it difficult to get a taxi. And as a subsection to this thought, should you be staying in the downtown Candelaria district, you may have to negotiate with the taxi driver to make the journey here. They will use any excuse from it being “dangerous” to the more simplistic, “I’m not going that way”. Be prepared.
  • On a positive note, when you are thinking of travelling beyond Bogota’s limits, you can negotiate the price of your bus ticket. Don’t be afraid, try it. If you succeed in getting a reduction, it’s a bonus, if not you’ve not lost anything really. You can even negotiate at the very counter in the bus terminal. It’s expected of you.
  • Banks in Colombia are neither working for their clients nor their customers. They are in it for themselves. Remember this at the endless line for a Bancolombia ATM and the amazing degree of inefficiency if you ever have to deal with a bank teller.
  • The Police can be overwhelmingly helpful; don’t be afraid about approaching them with a question in pidgin Spanish. Even if they are clueless as to what you are saying or what you need, they will still give you information about something.
  • Bogota is a conservative city despite the progressive mayor and the progressive Camad (drug centres) being placed in less salubrious neighbourhoods. People like to dress well and are expected to be polite. There is even a campaign by the current administration named Bogota Humana in an attempt to wrest this politesse from the jaws of thuggery.
  • The weather in Bogota is predictable. The day will start wonderfully, and then bruise at midday before offering showers in the evening. The nighttime will be cold and a coat is recommended. There is no central heating in most homes and hotels. You will get sunburnt in the high altitude sunshine.
  • You will think the Transmilenio bendy bus system efficient to begin with and then hate it when you have spent a rush hour in front of a mouth breather or in someone’s armpit. Bogota is under construction and as I write this is 2012 this will probably still be the case if you are reading this in 2015.
  • There are many things to see and do in Bogota, but the city still needs to come to terms with its role as a tourist destination or it will lose invaluable numbers of visitors to the warmer climes and organization of Medellin and the tropical activities of the Caribbean coast.
  • Bogota is not for everyone in that it is the centre of finance, business and industry. Of course it’s going to be big and cluttered. Accept it, embrace it and look to its positives, you can eat well, wander the barrios, enjoy the culture and there are now some fabulous hotels to choose from.

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