Once upon a time in Bogotá…

I am being assaulted by the blazing sun and staring at a young woman. She is tottering in huge heels and grasping a white umbrella that is clearly far too big – trying to avoid both burning her nose and arriving at work in a sweaty mess. We’re not used to summer in Bogotá, you see, we’re even finding it hard to give up our umbrellas.

But crisp, sunny weather is not the only unpredictable joy in this city. Let me tell you about my perfectly normal Monday. Normal for Bogotá, that is.

Travelling on the bus through Galerias, I looked out the window to see a boy riding a bicycle. He was accompanied by six large dogs. That’s three beasts in each hand, all pulling and straining at their leads while he weaved and wobbled along the pavement.

I was distracted by this vision until I felt a furry tail pass my leg and looked down to see a stray dog (which clearly had wolf or husky ancestors) pushing through the bus. It walked down the aisle and then decided to take a ride, until my fellow passengers ordered the driver to “stop and let the dog out,” at which point the stray reluctantly returned to the streets.

I jumped out too and was enjoying the sunshine when a chocolate vendor accosted at me. Normally I don’t stop, but for some reason I made the mistake of hesitating.

He told me he wanted to play a game – I could ask him the capital city of any country in the world and, if he lost, I would win a chocolate bar. If I lost, I had to buy it.

I was still digesting this when he began: “What is the capital city of Nicaragua?” he chirruped. “No idea,” I replied. “And Venezuela?” he continued. “Er, Caracas,” I blinked.

“Now you,” he ordered.

My mind was blank and still confused as to how this had happened.

“Erm, Croatia?” I stuttered.

“Zagreb,” he replied, rolling his eyes. Well that aroused my dormant competitive spirit.

“Ivory Coast,” I snapped.

He looked confused.

Clearly, it was to his advantage that we could only play countries I can name in Spanish. Eventually I had to concede with Kenya and will offer this warning; Don’t play against this man, the chocolate is awful.

I ended my day perched on the edge of an ornate fountain, waiting for a friend to meet me. Finally I felt relaxed, because I could see nothing but a sea of smartly dressed professionals hurrying home from work. Then I felt a splash on my shoe and turned to find two window cleaners hurriedly filling their buckets from the fountain.

“Quick, quick,” the taller one yelled as he scampered away, soaking everything in his path with dirty fountain water.

Life is never normal here. The day it is, I shall probably give them back the visa.

Like this? You’ll love Colombia a comedy of errors.


  1. Steve Baker

    Yes, a truly wonderful day yesterday, a special energy in the air. I love Bogotá when it has that special energy.

    Thanks for the advice about the chocolate vendor I am pretty close to Galerias, mental note taken…

    “BSFF says avoid clever vendors round here”

    1. bananaskinflipflops

      Thank you, I feel a bit guilty sometimes because I tend to highlight the ‘quirky’ (some would say ‘annoying’) things many Colombians dislike about Bogotá. I know some who idealise cities like Miami, for example, where everything is more or less uniform – spacious, clean, orderly, modern.

      I’m afraid I find that tedious and always argue that my other favourite cities – New York City, London, Rome, Liverpool – are equally full of random, quirky, messed-up, disorganised chaos and that is what makes them great.

      I also think the messy bits of Bogotá inspire creativity. I have so many friends – photographers, artists, graffiteros, journos – who are doing great things in Bogotá for a reason (have a look at this article – http://www.economist.com/node/21550235 – particularly the bit about cities and ‘unexpected experiences’)

      I wouldn’t have it any other way… would you? (oh alright, I could have done without the scrawny woman bellowing off-key vallenato in my ear on the bus today, but you can’t have everything!)

  2. uncovercolombia

    Very nice post! We must agree with your view. Colombia is all about the people and the little unique things that unfold unexpectedly before your eyes when you least expect it. Macondo is not a mythical place!

  3. Mauricio Abello

    I like the article one upon a time in Bogota, and I will added something that I think that is relevant
    I think that the loveliness of Bogota is that is mixture of a lot of worlds, you could be on the most modern city, and only a few minutes away you can be at the most depressing area in the world, but that is all about this City.
    I walk the other day trough the centre of the city on my way to el Chorro de Quevedo, so I have decided to document my walk taken some pictures before arriving to my destination, so after I was checking the pictures I could see the quirkiness of the city on the pictures that I have taken only on matter of some 20 streets.
    So if you want to see that check this link: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151104518701703.489840.564386702&type=3&l=189e4fd0eaThanks f

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