27 November-1 December 2012
Being on the other side of the world, us Australians seem to have a lot of preconceptions about Colombia, and in particular, it’s capital, Bogotá. I think that this is mostly because the news that we read about in Australia is mostly to do with kidnappings and massacres and other fun stuff. This is not at all helped by the Smartraveller website, which offers a shopping list of terrorist attacks that have occurred over the past few years, many of which in Bogotá, the most recent being a car bombing in May.
So amidst all this doom and gloom, shortly after LAN 572 from Santiago de Chile landed late on Tuesday night, in the short journey from the airport to the nights lodgings, I very much expected to get murdered, or drugged, or taken on the apparently not uncommon paseo millonario, where passengers are taken at gunpoint by the taxi driver or his accomplices to a plethora of ATM’s to ensure that your bank account is drained, and your holiday ruined. (For the record, a million Colombian pesos is about $530, but still slightly higher than the typical monthly wage.)
As such, I was pleasantly surprised when after a couple days of touring around the city, much of it solo, I had not been the victim of crime, violent or otherwise. Perhaps more surprisingly, I hadn’t really seen any crime. In fact, the worst I had witnessed was a local jumping the ticket barrier at a TransMilenio station – a sight encountered in any city. Police are very common throughout the city, even if many of them are just high school graduates completing their compulsory national service.
During the day time and into the early hours of the evening, Bogotá, or at least the parts I visited, seemed fine. I encountered only the odd beggar, and even then they appeared to be less common than Brisbane. Everyone was well dressed, in the hustle and bustle of their daily life. From the moment I had a conversation in very broken español with the taxi driver, I could tell that the Bogotanos are very optimistic about the future for their city and country. It wasn’t really written anywhere, just an intangible feeling I sensed from many sources.
The whole city seemed normal, and perfectly functioning, perhaps a function of its single digit unemployment rate. And while the city itself is wonderful and enthralling, it kind of lacks a major drawcard to the tourist – other than an insight into the daily life of the typical hard-working Colombian. Which in addition to Colombia’s reputation, is probably why you don’t see too many ‘regular’ tourists traipsing around the place, with most gringos being fellow young travellers. Which is a shame, because the city is actually quite nice.