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First impressions of Bogota

COLOMBIA | Wednesday, 18 June 2008 | Views [588]

In three words Bogota could be described as confronting but stimulating. Even our landing at the airport could be described as such; Clouds shrouded the peaks surrounding the city as the pilot (clarify, learner pilot:I was wondering what the big yellow ´L´ was for when we came aboard) did a crash dive for the runway as the latina next to us was praying to Mr J only to end with the whole plane applauding when we landed on mother earth again with a fairly substantial thud. Our near death experience continued when we left the airport with a taxi driver who was definitely convinced that Alain Prost learnt his skills on the roads of Bogota. They are absolutely mad on the streets here! From all the warnings we had heard before arriving, we were convinced that we were going to be mugged on the way to the hostel which is a real shame because in hindsight the cab driver was trying to give us a really warm Columbian welcome (I think 100km/hr in the rain, ducking and weaving through traffic means love). To tell the truth, people are super friendly here.

Bogota lies at 2600m above sea level and has a population of anywhere between 7 and 9 million (public data aint that fantastic here). On a map the city looks fabulously organised but on ground level it is a chaotic mess of streets, laneways, mad traffic and heavy smog. It is suprisingly cold with an average temp of 14C despite being so close to the equator. The inequality of Colombian society is confrontingly obvious when you arrive. There are an incredible amount of people living on the street who await very well-to-do Colombian business men leaving their offices to beg for a few pesos. In most Western countries, the vast majority of homeless people have ended up on the streets because of mental illness or drug habits but, in contrast, many of the people here are living rough because they are "Desplazados" (which means displaced person). It is estimated that there are 3.8 million displaced people out of a total population of 43 million within Columbias own borders. This is the second largest group of displaced people in the world second only to Sudan! These people have been forced from their homes due being caught in the middle of a complex and several decade old struggle between left-wing guerillas, right-wingparamilitaries, drug cartels and the army. It is a really sad and hopeless situation. As you would guess crime is a big problem here: you can´t move around on the streets freely at night but have to use taxis for safety, pickpockets are common and some areas are complete no-go zones. I happened to go for a jog the other day and ended up in a fairly dodgy Barrio (neighbourhood).. so I found out later.

This is not to say that the place is all doom and gloom. People are great and keen to get to know you, we have made a good mate in our Spanish teacher and there are plenty of good bars and Cafe´s. Despite its shortcomings, the city has a really nice feel with the main street being shut off on Fri and Sat night for a big street party and on Sundays for jogging and bike riding.

We´ve added a couple more short stories about our first week here in Bogota so check ´em out! Unfortunately, there are no photos yet because we have been too worried about having our cameras stolen to take them out on the town!!

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