It has been just over a year now living in Bogota, Colombia. As usual I would like to share my experience, likes and dislikes and a bit of culture.
In general this has been the toughest year for me. I have not fallen in love with Bogota nor have I grown to like it. I have despite the rough times decided to stay perhaps a year more. I think things are improving for me here but it has been a slow process. There are a few reasons why it has been tough but I think the main one is that I have not had a work-life balance. I worked a lot the first half of the year and trained for two big events requiring lots of time and energy. My friends are basically all related to work (until recently) and I don´t have best friends here.
Life in general and some random stuff I noticed my first year (in no particular order):
Obviously living abroad one trades life here for life back home. Lately I have really missed my friends as many now have kids, many of whom I have not met yet and for some reason this bugs me. It is not easy to get time off and people are far away so these long weekends here don’t get me far at all which sucks. No I don´t want kids just yet but I feel I am missing big moments with my closest friends.
When you first arrive you may notice two things…traffic sucks and diesel. The majority of vehicles use diesel and walking the streets one smells the difference. I don’t notice it now but you probably will – especially walking around with traffic everywhere.
Traffic in general is horrible, rated horribly by Waze. I for one bike everywhere so generally it doesn’t bug me too much but it is noticeable when one leaves the house on a Monday vs Sunday. I think the reason is the amount of buses both public and school buses but then again 8 million people.
The first day of every week we bus out 1 hr North to a city called Tocancipá to the office /wearhouse to give presence in that office basically (normally we are in town in office in Zona T). I catch the bus at 6 am, we arrive, eat, work and return at 4 pm, but seriously the traffic to get there and back is just stupid. Today for example we are headed out there, it is the day after a puente (3 day weekend). Yesterday at this time I was on the same road and no one was on the road, today it looks like it’ll take 2 hrs to get there as the streets were full of vehicles really early. Sometimes I bike there…its about 23 miles one route or my preferred route though the mountains is 45 miles (less cars, beautiful).
In Colombia people are hard workers but they don’t survive without their puentes. These are basically 3-day weekends. Many people leave town, go home, etc. In all there are 18 of them, I think only February & September are without one and people struggle when there isn´t a puente coming up. These holidays are mainly religious and very few Colombians know what holiday is being celebrated but they sure know when there is one. I for one use them to explore the country. Like I said they aren’t long enough to go home for me like Colombians get to do but the breaks are nice. Even when i dont leave the city for them its nice because it feels like half the population has left and with Sunday and Monday having ciclovia (roads closed for bikes only) it makes Bogota the perfect city.
Oddly, I am not a fan of flying out of Bogota although it doesn’t seem to stop me it is something I notice every time. I have a lot of anxiety when I fly out because at this altitude and with mountains so close when you take off you fly really low, turn lots and it freaks me out being so close to the ground, except at Christmas when it becomes cool to see all the blue lights on the houses so close…distractions I know. Also to reduce noise pollution after take off they quickly do what I call ¨turning the engines off¨ which obviously adds to my anxiety!
Something I do love about living in Bogota is biking. Like I mentioned they have ciclovia, it’s every Sunday and puente plus a few other days a year. It’s one of the largest in the world, something like 152 km of roads dedicated to bikes – people, run, walk, skate and more as well. I think general attendance is like 3 million on bikes not mentioning the others using their feet. Besides that Bogota also has many ciclorutas or bike dedicated lanes all throughout the city and they have been improving them with their new mayor. I think daily about 1 million use bikes to get to and from and with traffic the way it is more begin biking each week. It is quite incredible to leave your house head to work on cicloruta and have traffic in the bike lanes…don’t get me wrong it probably adds to the disorden jaja. Cycling is the second most popular sport here after Football/Soccer having the famous athlete, Nairo Quintana win in the Tours, France, Spain and others (among other top Colombians who hold podium all the time), and people watch the races and get very into them too. So not only are their bikes for transport but many also practice the sport. Weekdays you can go up the mountain to Los Patios (a 30 min. Difficult accent) or La Calera and on weekends there is hardly room for cars. Outside the city are tons more, on weekends you see an exodus on the highway biking out or driving the bikes out. So many amazing routes for biking. This last weekend I did the VALS circuit (90km vuelta de la sabana) plus added in Tocancipa and Guasca – this being a new route for me, it was newly paved and gorgeous, also tons of cyclists up there – I assume headed to El Cuchillo (a 12 km assent similar to Los Patios just double the distance).
Another thing I love is the love for perros here. I have yet to have my own but Bogota is super dog friendly. I swear nearly everyone has a dog or two. The parks are full of them playing. Many restaurantes/bars and stores let them go inside. Obviously people work and they cant care for them always so there are dog walkers and daycare trucks…even mobile grooming…there is a massive & growing industry for ya! There is nearly every breed available but I think the most popular are Great Danes and French Bulldogs. I mean really there are just so many of every kind. I am looking currently at a billboard for pet insurance, so imagine!
An interesting topic I wanted to touch on is trash pick up and recycling. Mind you there is not much recycling going on here. I think the two most recycled items are cardboard (maybe paper) and bottle caps. I know bottle caps, right?, well turns out Colombians are excellent recyclers of this item because it helps fight against cancer when you donate it. I swear its the only thing we recycle in the office and that I’ve seen it in action on the streets too. After this comes cardboard or at least from what I can tell its being recycled. On the streets you see these recyclers…its not what you expect. There is no truck but instead usually it is a family with a hand cart that is pushed around on the streets looking for the cardboard stash. All day everyday they walk around pulling their cart and picking up the cardboard. I guess it used to be that horses would pull the cart but that got outlawed so now you have hard carts on the street instead…hum. So I mentioned families….usually its a couple or a father son or the whole family. One member finds it (usually a known pile) and guards it until the other comes by and picks it up. In one case, my favorite, is a man who collects and his partners are dogs, he has I swear 15 dogs, mind you well treated, fed, and educated! I’ll look for him and get a photo, its worth sharing (I later found out it is a scam 😦 and he actually abuses them). Besides that I see trash cans labelled around town to recycle but like many countries in Latin America this is a placement for foreigners I believe because there is no proper education behind recycling and if you look it is always mixed…no one reads anything here.
Garbage collection is by dump truck, a few times a week…at least in my neighborhood…but then again quite the mess since those recyclers often dig through it. I assume in poorer areas this is less frequent since I see it on street corners or down cliffs quite often…another industry untapped, right?
Lets talk about Paz, or Peace. I know its been in the news lately (2016)…Colombia said No to Peace. In reality they definitely want peace here but said no to the agreement negotiated towards peace. You probably didn´t research it when you saw it but were probably saddened that still 52 years later Colombia remains at war…hopefully at least this part you knew and were sad about but I bet not. Let me put it in a more clear closer to home reference, 911 (for my non American readers I am sure your country can relate to terrorism o bombing etc). Why would 911 have anything to do with war in Colombia you ask, well it just happens it does. The war in Colombia has involved kidnappings, bombings, death, fear, sadness just like 911 now imagine that day happening for 52 years. Here its been the FARC or paramilitary who had controlled much of Colombia for that time, many years of unsafe, scary control…obviously this has improved over the years, less FARC controlled territories, less bombings, kidnappings, etc. You likely wont see much when you visit but in the past it seriously wasn´t safe to go out in Bogota. There could literally be a bomb at any time, it was not a good plan to even go to the mall, best to stay at home. Currently 2018 reading a book called ¨El Trapecista¨ about an ex government official who was kidnapped and held in the forest for 6 years! later to escape and tell about it…crazy I tell you!
People here are really friendly; in general Latins are friendly, but if compared to other Latin countries I have been to, Colombia really raises the bar…although maybe Venezuelans are even friendlier (at least my perception). One of my favorite areas in Colombia is Boyaca and I was very impressed by the people there, their hospitality, confidence in strangers, willing to help/teach just simply going out of their way. I was driven to the hostel – no questions asked, made food – didn´t matter the hour, ran out of cash – come back when you can, no place to stay – I´ll find you one and the list goes on…this is just an example but blow your mind friendly.
When you bring it down to a huge city locals are still friendly but all this insecurity and crazy unorganized – untrusting world changes them a bit (hostile can sometimes be a good word). These Rolos, as the local Bogota population is called, can quickly change attitude with slight changes in their ordinary day. Be aware of this as the way you speak might quickly elevate a Rolo to become mad or ready to attack. Temper in this hectic big city is limited and quite different than the rest of the country. For instance if a biker goes on the wrong path or a car tries to turn where they can’t and others are there you might have a Rolo snap and be aggressive…get out of the car, yell, honk, block traffic forever, etc. You might not notice this if you don´t stick around too long but it definitively stood out to me.
Another thing although very Latin in general is getting answers. People here don´t tell you much when you ask. You really have to play like 50 questions to get all the information that you need and if you forgot well sorry. This bugged me lots because if there is something important I should know and I didn´t ask specifically about it I would never know. Maybe this is why lines are also longer in Latin America. Think it through and ask lots of questions about the details otherwise you will be misinformed and likely you need to know. Doesn´t hurt to ask but you actually have to ask to get information in Latin countries. (What are pool hours? If you forget to ask if tomorrow it is open or what days, likely Monday it is closed and you had no clue..but well you didn´t ask…hum, you will learn the hard way)
Important dates for Colombians – #1 Football/Soccer games, Easter, December (really 15 Dec. to 15 Jan.), puentes, school holidays. On these days don´t expect much attendance, expect things closed, less responsiveness etc.
- Football game well most will be watching (not working, not exercising not shopping, etc.) so plan for another day or way before the game…people start early though, they get anxious and well chao attention span…# Sport trumps everything every time
- Easter mass exodus of cities, several days off, most go for 1-2 weeks of travel..very religious country!….
- December, not just Christmas is highly important here but festivities leading up start early, they have Noche de Velitas in early December when families gather in parks or outside homes to light candles…it is tradition and I feel it starts Colombian´s Christmas season but wait there is more..forget everything because they also do something called Novenas…9 days before Christmas where they basically have parties and sing together with friends and family all 9 days before…then well there is Christmas Eve (more important than Christmas day…all celebrate this evening…also many countries do it this way…fyi)…..this whole thing for Colombians keeps going until mid January because New Years most leave town as nothing happens in Colombia for weeks…no reason to be around, literally work stops and starts back up near the 15th.
- Puentes, well in general no one knows what is being celebrated but most go to their fincas, leave town, etc these weekends.
- School holidays are also important as this is when traffic gets lighter and often people go on vacation with their kids, etc…also to note that exams are right before this so young people disappear before vacation starts. I should mention that nearly all schools in Bogota are far outside the city (1 hour is normal) meaning kids bus super early in the AM every day to arrive to schools…to me this is crazy as in the US it is by districts and you live close to the schools but here no one lives close to school and well poor kids have to start at like 7 am their classes…eek which makes traffic hell for months!
There are probably a few more topics to address here but I never finished this entry (Posting October 2018 finally) but I wanted to share it anyway as it does mark a time in my life, an interesting one at that, and well I feel it is neat to be able to share these views of mine and also to look back on one day. Other topics I was going to talk about in this blog had to do with sports, training, running, friends and process changes but that time has passed and I don´t want to update now because it might not be what I really saw back then.
Photos that sum up a year (I hope as I selected them in 2018)
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