The legend of Bogotá

I was in Santa Marta for a few days before I hiked to the Ciudad Perdida.

There I met a skinny, 26-year-old Colombian lad called Diego.

He was on a short holiday from his home in Bogotá, where he lives with his brother, Juan.

Now, when Diego heard I was planning to skip the Colombian capital altogether, he insisted I visit them for a few days.

Initially, it wasn’t a tempting offer.

The only thing I knew about Bogota was the legend of the bullet-proof tailor. Now, if a city needs a bullet-proof tailor, it is not my kind of place.

But when I returned from the hike, I realised I’d had enough of the beach. I was craving proper shops, a decent hair salon, museums and art galleries.

So I jumped on the bus for 17 hours to see what all the fuss was about.

I am so glad I did.

The day I arrived, of course, I went shopping.

The malls were perfect and I resisted all temptation until I stumbled across the Zara sale and emerged with a new dress and bag. Oops.

Still, my indulgent ways ended the following day when Diego appeared far too early. I’d forgotten I’d agreed to join him on his morning run to the park.

He raised an eyebrow when he saw I was planning to wear my Ecuador football shirt.

“Do you think it is safe for me to take my iTouch?” I said, quickly.

“Yes, this is Colombia, it is perfectly safe,” he said, with a hint of irritation.

“We are a much more developed country than Ecuador, for example.”

I didn’t rise to the bait. It was far too early and I am far too fond of Ecuador.

The park was fantastic. There were hundreds of people running in the sunshine and playing sports across the several football pitches and basketball courts.

On the way home Diego started to tell me about Colombia.

(I will say now he is one of the most impassioned patriots I have ever met.

During one heated debate in which I was backed into a corner and forced to defend Britain, he just shrugged and told me: “Of course you would say that. If you don’t have pride in your country, you have nothing.”)

The lesson ended in the kitchen.

“You know the problem with your country?” I ventured, after a short pause.

Diego, who was peering into the fridge, swung round furiously.

“Reputation,” I said hurriedly, wondering if I should rescue the two eggs wobbling dangerously in his hand.

He grimaced.

“It’s journalists,” he said, with a mock bow in my direction.

“They’ve been writing shit about Colombia for ten years. Now they can’t take back what they’ve written and they wouldn’t do it anyway.

“I particularly hate the BBC.”

Again, this was not a debate I wanted to have.

Instead, I nodded and listened as Diego explained how he had set up his own tourism website – which promotes Colombia – in direct response to the country’s reputation overseas.

Eventually, he paused again.

“Actually, I don’t mind what they think,” he said, defiantly.

“We have some of the most beautiful, untouched forests in the world.

“We have so many treasures.

“We already have lots of tourists here but if we get too many more, it will be impossible to protect everything we have. That’s always the way it goes.”

He sighed and rubbed his eyes.

“Perhaps we should just keep Colombia to ourselves.”

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