Bogota is a living example of what it means to live in a vibrant city that successfully drives together a sense of community. While our time there was very short, I came away with a keen sense for the city and what makes it unique. At a population just under seven million, it is the largest city in Colombia and the capital of the country.
Our flight landed early in the morning and we decided to take a cab from the airport to a coffee shop in town. We needed to kill time for a few hours because we couldn’t check into our Airbnb until midday. As soon as we were in the city we saw people on bikes literally everywhere. Every corner, every street, every place you looked, there were people on bikes. When we asked our taxi driver what was going on he told us that every other major street and highway was completely closed off and open for people to bike freely. I figured it was maybe a national holiday but was quickly corrected. Every Sunday they hold what is called “Ciclovia,” where they shut down half the city for cyclists. It was a great first impression to take into the beginning of our visit. Once we were dropped off, we killed a few hours at a coffee shop and it is there where we first experienced what I am going to call “Colombia disorientation.” Sitting under the towering trees, sipping my coffee and looking at the people and bikers passing by, I for a minute forgot I was in Colombia and could have sworn I was in a trendy neighborhood in Portland. The mature trees, calm weather, and American music took my mind to the Northwest. It was only when I heard the chatter of the patrons in fast paced Spanish that I remembered where I was.
By lunch time we could check into our Airbnb and we took a short drive to the house. We were warmly welcomed by our host and shown around the house which was an impeccably remodeled 1940’s mansion. The owner had taken a ton of time and energy to refurbish the house in a manner that still respected the style of the original construction. It was energizing to meet someone as passionate as the owner was about his house and to hear his energy in describing the efforts he went through to complete the remodel.
We really took advantage of our second day and spent quite a bit of time exploring. We were a short walk from downtown and decided to visit the famed Botero Museum. As soon as we got into the thick of downtown we came across another major street completely blocked off and available only to pedestrian traffic. I was astounded to see this major street- probably seven lanes wide used by the people of the city strolling with friends or heading to a nearby café or restaurant. I asked around and again was informed this street is periodically closed off and open only to pedestrian and bicycle traffic. The city was bustling and definitely felt like the center for commerce in the country. After about a half hour walk through the busy downtown, we turned up a hill and headed into a more Spanish colonial section of town, arriving at the Botero Museum shortly thereafter. For those of you unaware, Fernando Botero is a famous Colombian artist and widely considered one the most famous artists in all Latin America. Botero’s trademark in a manner of speaking is to paint or sculpt his subjects in a proportionately exaggerated or fat manner. The whimsical and consistent nature of Botero’s style makes his work very enjoyable and memorable to view. While I have seen some Botero paintings in the past, the museum carries an extensive collection and experiencing them all together in that way gives you the feeling that you are transported into an alternate universe that never skimps on dessert or an extra few pinches of salt (doesn’t sound too bad to me). He has repainted many famous works like the Mona Lisa in his own style which is also very enjoyable to see and recognize while wandering the halls of the large museum.
Bogota over many other cities made me feel a sense community immediately. The efforts of the city to bring the people together on such a consistent basis has the effect of turning the metropolis into a much smaller town over time. One could feel the sense of community exuding from the people of the city and the pride they took in speaking about it. People should take a page out of Bogota’s playbook – it would make for more common ground, more relationships, and a stronger drive towards civic duty. // Jeff