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  • Writer's pictureSanni & Gerri@

Bogotá: Art, culture & colourful hustle & bustle

Updated: Jan 3, 2022

After the adventurous and action-packed weeks in Ecuador, we are going from Quito to Bogota. Colombia attracts with warmer weather and all fellow travellers who have already been there always rave vigourously when they talk about Colombia. So we are full of anticipation at the check-in desk, ready for country number two of our trip. After presenting all documents, the gentleman at the counter asks us for our onward journey ticket. Excuse me? Perhaps just a comprehension problem due to our still rather rudimentary Spanish skills. Which onward journey? Well, the ticket out of Colombia again. Without onward flight, no access! In the spontaneous decision for Colombia, we unfortunately completely overlooked that entry necessarily requires proof of onward travel. No matter where we will go; the main thing is to get out after 3 months at the latest.

The entry documents are missing and time is running out

Blood pressure is rising rapidly! So command back with our luggage, out of the check-in area and passing the now metre-long queue of the other travellers. The solution idea comes to us relatively quickly. We need a so-called onward ticket. Via various online providers, you can reserve a flight ticket, which then serves as proof at the airport. It's a real flight reservation but NOT a real plane ticket to fly! You borrow it, so to speak, for 48 hours or for 2 weeks and then return it automatically. It should work great. Our next problem: No internet to buy the ticket. Rehe Airport WIFI is a catastrophe and we also have extremely poor reception via our sim cards. Gerriet takes care of the luggage and Sanni sprints out of the airport with her mobile phone to finally find reception in front of the door. We choose one of the countless providers and book our virtual onward journey with a rental ticket to Panama. Problem solved? No! Payment by Paypal is constantly crashing and the sweat is raising on our foreheads. We don't have much time left until the check-in desk closes. Shortly before, it finally works out and we receive our tickets by email within a few minutes. Costs 17 € per person. Once again queued up in the check-in line, we kindly are called back directly to the counter for the same employee. He doesn't seem surprised that we suddenly have a plane ticket to Panama. Neither is the fact that Sanni got a direct flight and Gerriet flies with a Stop-Over in New York City. Never mind. We get our boarding pass.

Colombia? That's totally dangerous.

In the research before our sabbatical, we had never seriously considered Colombia as a travel destination. Probably because of all the headlines in the news about drugs, cartels, FARC and ELN guerilla. When we finally find ourselves in the middle of Bogota, we do not yet know how to assess the situation. Our Uber winds its way through the close to dense cars over a huge highway towards the centre. Latin American music and horns everywhere. The streets near our destination, the old town district of La Candelaria, are lined with the countless stalls of flying merchants. Clothes, food, furniture, technology. Everything is sold here on the street. A few years ago, La Candelaria is said to have been one of the so-called no-go areas. So a district which security situation is so precarious that a visit is not recommended. Without the raving of other travellers, we would probably not have entered the country. In search of unique moments - without risking our lifes - we plunge into adventure.

Shortly before midnight we arrive at the airport in Bogota. While we wait at the exit for our shuttle from the hostel, we realise that this city is a completely different ball game than Quito. Everywhere it is packed with people honking, chattering and screaming loudly. For the first night, we have chosen a hostel near the airport so that we

don't have to drive through Bogota at night. It is said that it is better not to stay outside after dark. And indeed. The hostel is located in an area with many small streets that all look the same. Small houses crowd close to each other and not a single soul can be found on the street. When Gerriet wants to smoke a cigarette before going to bed at 2 am, the hostel owner goes outside the front door with him to make sure that he is not alone on the street. The next morning it looks very different. There is a lively hustle and bustle on the street. Time for a typical Colombian breakfast. Here it turns out once again that if you can't speak Spanish, you have to eat what comes on the table.




Don't trust taxis

Strengthened, we continue heading towards our destination, the oldest district of Bogota "La Candelaria". For our route, we now only use Uber and no taxis. The background is that there are many unregistered taxis in the large cities of Colombia that are visually indistinguishable from the official ones. The scam: The driver takes you to extremely remote, gloomy areas and then demands the handover of the belongings. We play it safe. Thanks to Uber, we can get safely and easily from A to B: All drivers are registered, you can follow the journey live in the navigation system, there are security features that record sound & image from your mobile phone in case of danger. The price will be communicated at the time of booking and payment is made automatically by credit card. It is usually also cheaper. However, Uber is officially banned in Colombia, but this is not a serious problem.

Despite the "possible dangers", we start our first exploration tour on our own right after arrival at our beautiful boutique Hostal Arche Noah. We stroll down from La Candelaria, where pretty old houses line the steep slope, down to Plaza el Bolívar, visit the small flower market and simply drift through the busy streets and squares of the city. Without a predefined route, we automatically stroll past many sights: the house of government of Iván Duque, the Gold Museum, the National Gallery, and much more. It is pleasantly warm during the day in Bogota. However, many locals say:

Here is autumn every day. All year round, forever and ever.

When the sun comes out, it gets really hot. Most of the time, however, it is slightly cloudy. In the afternoon it often rains briefly and at night it is getting cool. With the flat old houses in our neighbourhood, Bogota looks like a small town. We don’t feel anything of the 7.5 million inhabitants. Only when you go a little further up in the alleys, the view reaches many skyscrapers and huge buildings that extend to the horizon. A drive to the Monserrate, the mountain directly east of the city centre of Bogota, offers even more impressive views of the metropolis. However, we skipped them due to the high number of visitors.


 

Say it & Spray it - Eine Graffiti Tour durch Bogotá

A nice way to familiarise yourself with cities are free walking tours. This time we are choosing the Bogota Grafitti Tour. The graffiti artists and their street arts are world famous here and firmly established in the cityscape. Today, many sprayers can even do their work during the day - if they have the permission of the homeowners or the city. That wasn't always the case. This was preceded by several cases in which the police even shot graffiti artists. Our guide tells us about the a case in 2011, which caused a decisive turnaround. A 16-year-old artist is spraying under a bridge. When he sees the police, he runs away. The policemen shoot him in the back. In the later investigation, they testified that it was a robbery. For weeks, this was the official version, but then the parents of the teenager spoke up and mobilised the graffiti community. The protest became so strong over time that the case finally comes to court. After almost 10 years the perpetrators were actually convicted. Police violence is unfortunately still an issue. More recently, a teenager was shot up close during a demonstration in 2019. A graffiti near the crime scene commemorates the 18-year-old Dilan Cruz, who became a symbol of peaceful protests. It is noteworthy that despite the danger, people continue to go on the streets for their right. Lastly in March 2021, to protest against a tax increase during pandemic times, which would have deprived the existence of the lower and middle classes.

Meanwhile, the authorities are meeting the graffiti artists: punishments are relaxed and legal projects for sprayers, sponsored by the city, are being launched. In the old town today, most murals and tags are rather apolitical, but in other places of Bogotá graffiti is still used to criticise - corrupt politicians, the oppression of the aborigines, the violence in Colombia. The official OK for the sprayers also represents disadvantages. The government restricts the space for artistic graffiti. The idea that in the future the city will dictate what artistic graffiti is and what is not goes against the grain for many in the scene. The sprayers are often organised in collectives, for example the well-known graffiti collective APC. They see the power of dialogue in graffiti - similar to radio, TV or large advertising agencies. Therefore, some sprayers are sceptical and opposed to the trend that money is made with tourist tours to see graffiti. The fear "Then everyone paints what they want or what they should - without worrying about what the statement should be behind it."

There is also a pronounced graffiti culture in other cities of Colombia and the collectivos are active nationwide. It is said that there are different influences in each city. We are curious to see if we will recognise works by the Bogotá artists.

 

Botero Museum When you visit Colombia, you certainly can't get around one name: Fernando Botero. A Colombian painter and sculptor who is one of the best-known visual artists in Latin America. Internationally, he is particularly known for his very characteristic style, called "Boterismo". Botero often visualises modern life in Latin America. Another topic of his work is atrocities such as the violence of the drug war in his home country. His portraits and sculptures represent people with exaggerated, oversized body proportions. A large part of his works can be understood as political and social criticism, although he himself denies satirical intentions through the use of roundish forms. The artist was born under the name Fernando Botero Angulo on 19. April 1932 in the city of Medellin. Botero travelled a lot at the beginning of his career. He first moved to the Colombian capital Bogotá and then lived in several European cities. (Source: artnet.de)

To learn more about Botero's work, we visit the Museo Botero.

That's really worth it. The museum is located in a very beautiful colonial mansion, which served as the archdiocese of the city until 1955. Fernando Botero donated his art collection of 208 pieces, which are displayed now in the museum on two levels. 123 of the exhibits were created by Botero himself, while the remaining 85 come from international artists. Among them we find masterpieces by Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró or Claude Monet. Of course, the art of Botero is in the foreground. Due to the special characteristics, it stands out from the other artists. We particularly like the chubby Mona Lisa. We also like the sculptures of animal and human bloated like balloons. Initially, his art only received attention in Colombia, after they made the leap to other continents. Today, Boteros sculptures are exhibited in Berlin, Bamberg, Singapore or Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein. Colombians are rightly proud of their artist.

Botero's work occasionally got him into trouble. For example, when he addressed Pablo Escobar's death in 1993 in a series of pictures called "La Muerte de Pablo Escobar". Of course, this was not well received by people who saw Escobar as a hero. That‘s why Botero had to flee Colombia for a while for his own safety. In 2005, he began producing a series of almost ninety paintings depicting the torture of prisoners in the Abu Ghraib detention camp west of Baghdad. Botero says he received hate mail for the series and was accused of being "anti-American". (Source: Greenland.com)

 

*The English version of this blog is supported by automated translation*



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