January 19th, 2018
I get up far too early, or at least so I think. I drag my sorry state slowly through the motion in seeming shock, not least of all because I can not believe I am actually anywhere but in my home, after years of languishing in one spot. Traveling was something that I may have adept at organizing, documenting, and so on, but I had long since lost the capacity to be anywhere else. Or so I may have thought. But here I am now …
Yesterday evening’s hasty unpacking begs to be completed, the only redeeming aspect of having to carry a limited amount of things in a backpack is that it can’t possibly take that long to unpack, order and store the items. Except that of course, a bottle of oil leaked, which in turn requires me to clean many other items, which in turn leads me to discover that the only hot water available in the place is in the shower. The AirBnB manager tells me I can heat water in a kettle …
Salchicha a la parilla, huevos fritos, arepas a la parilla, with jugo de mandarina, all very impressive and far too filling on a bloated and sensitive stomach. I am sure it will pass, but right now it all just seems to hurt a lot. At least this amount will keep me going for the day!
A coffee at the Pan Comudo next door is in order, but it turns out to be as lacklustre as the pastries are mediocre, which is a common theme in many Latin countries, irrespective of how much coffee they export. On the other hand, there could be fine cafes in the Parkway area, but that would remain to be determined. And it seems that there may be arbitrary surcharges for consuming in the interior.
After some more writing at the AirBnB, I leave the place fashionably late, admittedly nervous at hauling around my flagrantly expensive camera in dodgy areas of central Bogota. But the light is amenable, the temperature reasonable, and hopefully I will be able to make some inroads into getting an appropriate visual record of the city, which I hadn’t found existing photo inventories on the web to be very instructive of.
Life proceeds in a relaxed and innocuous fashion outside in La Soledad, the area I am staying in, bound on the city side by Carrera 14 and on the western side by Carrera 30. Next door, a young boy helps his mother carry plastic piping outside their shop. Cars amble by, but aren’t as inclined to stop out of courtesy – so that if there is any reason to think the car could hit you, run!
On the other hand, even smaller roads have dedicated bike paths, which are seen throughout the city. It strikes me as incredible that an apparently far less economically enfranchised country such as Colombia goes to the extent that it does to provide such bike paths, where back home, in a far wealthier society, it causes so much consternation.
Walking southward along the Parkway, I realize that by continuing, I will arrive in the downtown area that is euphemistically called Centro Internacional. It may be the corporate area, where the office towers are typically located, although there are relatively few of the predictable towers on show.
The demographic in La Soledad leans heavily towards students and hipsters, a far cry from the twitchy, bedragged and wild-eyed crowd I see later in La Candelaria. Interspersed among the drab apartment buildings are far more opulent residences, typically in the Spanish style, with terracotta roofs, wrought iron balconies, the typically unimaginative grass lawns sometimes erupting with copious amounts of flowering bushes. And to the city’s credit, at least the new areas are not shy of a substantial tree canopy, which provides the envelope for the grass meridian and walkway in the Parkway.
The presence of barbed wire delivers a clear signal as to the potential for danger, although it is not commonly seen here, and in fact most houses look very unprotected. There is no huge police presence, nor do you see or hear frantic guard dogs when passing by houses.
The Parkway is such a peaceful urban green space, ideal for people meeting with their dogs, sitting on benches and reading, taking a break from work, or for the few disenfranchised that pass through this neighborhood, a place to not feel under assault.
Taking peoples’ photos is an interesting way of meeting people. The city workers – of whom you see a lot around, working on improvement projects, which is very impressive – are not so impressed as a rule. The young couple sitting on the platform of the statue of some local hero, singing a Gloria Estefan song that sounds like it may originate from the likes of Silvio Rodriguez, is all too obliging, as are the older and younger candidates for a centre-left party for Congress and Senate. Apparently, there will be elections to both houses in March, and then the presidential elections in May. Now let’s hope I don’t get caught in any cross-fire pertaining to these upcoming elections.
Descending towards town, the structures become visibly wealthier, larger residential towers emerging, with the concomitant traffic, graffiti, and occasional edgy looks. What does seem to abound is Swiss-style architecture, in its slightly off-kilter, bedraggled Latin American incarnation.
Another architectural style on the inner flank of La Soledad is faux Tudor, which I would fault few for, particularly since the English did so much to abandon their own heritage.
Once I reach Carrera 14, I also see the vaunted TransMilenio high speed bus system whose routes cover much of greater Bogota, although this primary north-south artery is one of the most important in the city. The entrances of the articulated buses are level with the platforms of the canopied bus stations, which accommodate multiple lanes, including those of buses that pass through and don’t stop.
These buses may run at least to some extent on dedicated roadways. From a distance, the system reveals the potency a bus-based rapid transit system can achieve. On the street level, the stations look quite sleek, and hence also quite out of synch with the rest of the city’s architecture – or perhaps on the other hand, anchoring a more sophisticated look.
The National Museum – which I will not be visiting today – is housed in an ostentatious medieval-style structure with enormous walls enclosing the structure, stone walkways leading up to the frontal terrace. Unlike the rest of the somewhat chaotic city, the immaculate terraces and gardens create the sense of being in a sanctuary. And few people do in fact relish the privacy and ambience of the space.
The areas I have traversed so far feel fairly safe, with little in the line of unsavory characters. The only visibly poorer folk here would be limited to the few street vendors attempting to eke out a living selling fast food, local tropical fruit, or notions. But then the national police are complemented by security guards paid for by local businesses, who keep a watchful eye on proceedings with very vicious-looking dogs close at hand. You probably wouldn’t get very far in these circumstances. Then again, I’m not complaining.
I have easily fallen into the swing of things on my first day of photography, clutching onto the camera with the strap wrapped around my wrist, the camera itself tucked away into a small felt bag, which on one hand keeps it out of view, but at the same time is the first thing security guards and police look at as I pass by. I want to keep the camera out of sight as much as possible, especially given that the fat FX lens probably implies a much more expensive camera.