Apparently journalism is addictive

I have always hated rollercoasters.

My knuckles are white when Bogotá taxi drivers negotiate sharp corners and I generally distrust motorbikes.

If asked about my many pointless fears, I gently insist there is nothing enjoyable in “unnecessary adrenaline”.

But one of the few worthwhile rushes is the feeling of finding or writing a really good news story.

I was a newspaper journalist for six years before I left to travel to South America and by the time I quit, I was fairly flippant about how much I loved my trade.

“I’ll have my blog, I just want to learn Spanish, learn to salsa… I don’t need to go chasing after news stories anymore,” I told everyone who would listen.


That fails to explain how I found myself tramping the streets of Bogotá, wrapped up in a leather jacket and struggling to keep up with a Colombian photographer.

We were working on a piece about traffic light artists for Colombia’s only English-language newspaper, The City Paper, which has 70,000 readers and is based in Bogotá.

Traffic light artists perform circus tricks so they can collect tips from drivers stuck in traffic across the city.

They do everything from eating fire and walking on stilts to juggling knives and balancing bicycles on their foreheads.

They are also the basis for a new Colombian film, La Sociedad del Semaforo, which was released in cinemas last week.

And on the day we decided to look for these interesting individuals… they were nowhere to be seen.

“Where are those motherfuckers?” the photographer, Sebastian, muttered after two hours fruitless searching.

Despite being from Bogotá, Sebastian can swear in English like a trooper. Luckily, he also has natural empathy and finds it easy to talk to people on the street.

He is a patient translator and, amusingly for me, exhibits some very familiar photographer personality traits.

“When I take the pictures, you’ve got to watch my back and my equipment,” he said for the third time.

“What are you going to do if someone tries to grab it?”

“Smack them, scream, turn into Jackie Chan,” I repeated.

(I have worked with dozens of photographers and, with a few exceptions, they are world class worriers. I once had to hold a caterpillar for a picture because the photographer was concerned it might be poisonous.)

Sebastian stopped suddenly.

“That guy there, he’s going to do something,” he yelped and we ran across the road, chasing a young dreadlocked Colombian carrying three juggling batons.

Minutes later we were huddled around coffees in a nearby cafe. An hour later, we were at a junction taking photographs.

The lad was charming. He was open and honest about his trade and excited to be interviewed – although I did have to hide a smile when he politely invited us to drink beers and smoke weed with his colleagues at a street party.

“I think we make a good team,” Sebastian said finally, as we gave our interviewee 2,000 pesos for his time (70p) and I agreed to pose for a picture for the lad’s facebook.

“I know loads of people in this city, loads of people on the streets who know everything that is going on. I can take the pictures. I can translate,” he continued.

“And you, well, everyone wants to talk to you… because you’re blonde.”

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