Recently I had the good fortune of interviewing someone for my weekly radio show who was bold enough to write the statement on her blog page about the stark reality that most websites: “sugarcoat life in Colombia and, from young traveller’s perspectives, it can seem like 24/7 sun, salsa, parties and attractive women.” Reading this phrase was as good as an epiphanic moment and it was no more impacting than when I took a wrong turn and ended up driving my car a few blocks to the West of the Avenida Caracas.
I should have listened to my wife, I should have followed her directions and instead of doing so I ended up trying to follow traffic along blindly for a few short blocks and impossible one way streets in the hope that an exit would miraculously appear. In the blink of an eye we had been transported a world away from the familiar security of the Centro Internacional and the Tequendama Hotel into an altogether different socioeconomic bracket.
Where I had taken us was just to the West of the Caracas, that scar of a road identifiable for the trails of ubiquitous black smog streaming from the Transmilenio buses, faceless homes and non-descript doorways with signs identifying doss houses to cater the most needy at 5000 pesos per night. The Avenida Caracas which divides the living from the living dead in so many sections of central Bogotá.
This is far from the Altos de Cazuca in south Bogotá, this is lightweight and insignificant alongside that kind of hardcore, but it is an important reminder of how close the disparities can exist and all of only a 15 minute walk from the Presidential Palace.
Even the graffiti of which I write so frequently had changed. There was only gang tags and nothing of the artistry found on the Calle 26.
How many people know the reality down here? Yes, Colombia is a fantastic destination for all travelling types and for an 18-year-old backpacker or flashpacker etc, it very possibly represents sun, sand, salsa, attractive women and parties 24/7. But, spare a thought for the Embera Katio people displaced to here from western Antioquia due to the violence and living in squats, for the people working and begging all day to raise the 5000 pesos to ensure a bed in which to sleep.
One wrong turn and all is clear. It’s a world apart as if seen through a monochrome lens and set to the music of Nick Cave.
Great post, Richard. I used to live in Veinte de Julio in the soooouuuuttthhhh of Bogota and I can't stress enough how big the difference is between living in Colombia and travelling to Colombia. I saw a lot of sad and incomprehensible things while living there. But I personally prefer to focus on the good. Not to discount what goes on and not to turn a blind eye to it either, because they certainly need support, but to hopefully change people's perceptions about the country as a whole.