Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bogota Abbreviated

An extended travel post for summer reading.

off to greener pastures - avianca #9 into ElDorado International

The CONQUEST of pre-colombia

Like a string bikini, Colombia is pinched between the bubbling Caribbean Sea and the mighty Pacific Ocean. It is a place that prominently occupies America's southern land-mass. The Andes mountain range begins there and rises 8000 feet above sea level. In 1492 Columbus and his little metal clad mariners sailed their way into a corner where water meets the jungle. They came ashore in search of untold gold to help the queen of iberian peninsula home take back the promised land to accelerate the biblical rapture.

A 24k chest-plate from the Pre-Keith Haring period.

What they found was a wild world of what appeared to them to be crazed indians, with considerable bling-bling. But what they stumbled upon was 1500 years of a refined culture of orality. The legend of Montezuma was in effect a ponzi scheme gone ugly. The indians boasted a yellow brick road at the end of the rainbow. If they wanted a rainbow they had to put up with the rain. It was a one way ticket to annihilating assimilation for both parties.

This 'trojan gift' appeared one day, then gone the next... what-a-concept.

Coffee was the New Gold

After most the pre-colombian royal head-sets, nose-rings and such were smelted, the gold rush busted. Yet, wooden ships loaded with speculating spaniards continued to bring trouble, land deeds were drawn to carve out the jungle among mostly foreign land-lords. Places of worship where painstakingly plated on solid footing by monks with muskets.

I imagine googled indians were dazzled by catholic artisans handy-works of painting, sculpture architecture. though grudgingly, were sold on the pope's message of salvation. Turf wars erupted causing heavy casualties on both sides. By and by gold is replaced with coffee as vast fields of arabian seed are cultivated and thrive.

The new cash crop was taken to sea via the great Magdalena River while 400 years pass and finally industrialization kicks in. By this time most of the people have kinda mingled, interbred naturally because young people fall in love all the time. Smack dab in the middle is Bogota the Capital City.

Peruvian tourists more focused on techno-gadgets than the awesome panorama view of the city from mountain-top Monserato.

Modern is the New World

Back in 1930 Bogota was nice enough, a proto-metropolitan hub complete with an urban plan, commerce, universities and decent weather. Today it is home to nearly 8 million people of every conceivable strata, from the bullet-proof uber-wealthy to the ubiquitous indigents.

Sharp dude with collection box and cane, might be indigent but not at all crazy.

So all is not calm of course, as the usual nepotism, corruption and general ineptitude result in the predictable social inequities that give way to periodic tremors of unrest. All the while young people fall in love, have families and want the same thing for their kids that you and i want.

Pleasant gypsy dudes display cryptic had signals.

MaryJane is the New Coffee

As in Cuba after their independence from Spanish rule, Colombia was swarming with gringos eager to do business with their fruity friends to the south. Like Betty Crocker before him, Juan Valdez was fabricated to humanize a food product. In the 50's Dupont invented synthetic rope then managed to eradicate "hemp" farms with images of reefer-madness. The 60's bloomed with a new products-to-markets, supply and demand dynamic, a Chicken-n-Egg enigma. Uncle Sam kicked back as the new Colombian Gold rush boomed. The Narco-trafficants got rich enough to quell any affront to their interests. But meddling is the name of the game and we saw a renewed grab for riches. The wealth generated was so tempting that it resulted in our collaborating with the elite to fund private armies or para-militaries to quell the cycle. Once trained and equipped, hired hands were up for grab to the highest bidder. Meanwhile plain folk have had enough harassment and the very lefty leaning M19 and FARK joins the madness while Round-up rains down in buckets. Finally, Californians are enlightened with homegrown and soon capture the market to keep all the proceeds stateside.

"Say hello to my little friend."

Turbo-charged and with Miami Vise allure, the 80' saw a new cash crop emerge from the ashes of el bongo grande. Fueled by an ever affluent wild-style abandon of counter-culture lust, coca cultivation and it's fiendish derivative capture new markets and energize the fearless. The accompanying violence is unimaginable, the stuff of movies. Cocaine becomes a vehicle of social blight as the players played for keeps. Agents of a culture of death. In the shadows of the foreground, the ordinary mench dodges bullets while young people do the courtship dance and try to just say no.

Intriguing display at an antiquarian book shop.

Over-due Diligence

When it comes to getting a grip on the situation Bogota has the safety security thing down. Todays visitor need not look far to spot some one in uniform packing big heat vigilantly. Soldiers in fatigues with ak47's, Cops is blue with riot gear, guys is green with shiny boots, cadet with trained dogs, and of course battalions of private security. Imagine going to Aventura Mall and getting the full wakenhut before entering the parking garage.

South-bound, road-side vigil on the way to Arbelaes.

The capitol city is basically under martial law and people seem safe. Yet the sidewalks are a veritable obstacle course of uneven cobbles and craters big enough to swallow babies. The scene at the airport is overwhelming. But guess what, those irreverent kids flaunt themselves with a force of creative expression that makes for plenty of kick-ass graffiti.

captivating image, marker on wall.

If it Smells like TRAFFIC...

Pedestrians have the right-of-way... not. Breath at your own risk. Like a torrent of diesel that will stop for nothing, the motoring public is a collective of lead-footed runaways, their chariots small and large are percolators of contamination, debilitating generations of the pulmonary challenged natives.

typical street scene in Chapinero neighborhood.

Then add to the jam legions of motorcycles evil knievels wearing mandatory plastic vests with giant numbers that must match the giant numbers on their helmets, sputtering like sick weed-wackers. It is a carbon-fiber blanket of toxic smog with exhausting exhausts at Himalaya heights of thin air. The supreme rule is there are no rules. Like an amusement park ride, with the carnival attendant asleep at the switch, the ebb and flow is a spectacle of modernity. In fairness, cabbies are courteous, fares are reasonable and the public/private transport buss system is substantial. The good news is there is no parking authority ever in sight, no petty parking tickets. On Sundays all the joggers and bicycles take back the asphalt along a major Avenue for a mass choreographed calisthenic.

just the same keep in mind, if you want to live long, curb yourself.

Jetson-esque gasseteria , gas about 4 bucks gallon.

pieahaya - another of many strange delightful fruitas.

Food Among the Flowers

Something about the renascence style city that makes sense. Much like New York, the street level is punctuated with businesses of all kinds while people live above. There are nice neighborhoods and funky hoods that follow this model for metropolitan life. Ma-n-Pa shops dot the cityscape. Supermarkets, restaurants, food joints, street vendors, fruit stands, cafes, and such offer a cornucopia of samplings from sublime culinary novelties to downright gut-rot. I heard tap water is safe to drink, but i'd stick to bottled beer and strange fruits.

Stop for lunch on the road to Zipaquira and the Salt Cathedral mines.

Salt of the Earth, Pepper of the People.

Off the coast of Colombia is an island sanctuary much like the Galapagos. The Island of Gorgona has a slithering history, hence it's man-sake, the mythical snake-headed Medusa. It was also the site of a prison much like our Alcatraz and Guantanamo. To the condemned it was hell on earth. Some 40 years ago one particular lady made it her business to have the government close down the prison and designate the island a natural preserve. Affectionately known by the inmates of Gorgona as Mama Ceci the fine lady that taught them arts and crafts, she was like Cindy Sheehan, Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Racquel Welch in one smart pant-suit. It appears I am somehow related to Cecilia Castillo de Robledo, mother of Jorge Enrique Robledo Castillo, a driving force in the The Independent Democratic Pole (Polo Democrático Independiente).

Coincidence is fate.

Guadua, the back-bone of Colombian Architecture, bamboo's cousin grows wild.

For more photos of the greater metropolitan Bogota, visit Critical Miami slice-show.



  1. nice post, welcome back

  2. nice comment, happy to be back.

  3. Hola Oli, has regresado a Bogotá a tu estilo,

    Un abrazo, Pedro