My favorite city in the world is Bogotá, Colombia and I have a hard time explaining to people why; it’s big, it’s dirty, the traffic and infrastructure are abysmal – how can I think that Bogotá is so great? This city feels authentic in a way that others just don’t. No strip malls or vegan cafes (or even vegetables really) people are polite and respectful and when I stay out of the touristy sections I feel anonymous walking among the crowds of Colombians living their normal lives. And when you are living a normal life around here you get a little sentimental to the dirt, grime, the familiar old man selling stuff on your street corner each day, the occasional unkempt gentleman urinating across the street from your building entrance. You develop a sense of community and togetherness with the anonymous people you walk by each morning on the way to start your day and then again in the afternoon when returning home.
Part of this camaraderie comes about from walking so much. I walk most places unless I am meeting a friend who lives in a different district of town in which case I take an Uber to where I need to go as a conventional taxi will try its best to cheat me (another quaint aspect of the local personality that I find endearing yet at the same time unwelcome). Walking is a great way to develop a ‘home field’ appreciation for the things, places and people around you in any city; additionally it serves as effective therapeutic psychological conditioning to the otherwise untenable realties of an old, large, south American city (aforementioned). For instance a sketchy park of loitering, suspicious characters become familiar faces that I appreciate seeing after walking by a dozen times. The traffic isn’t a hassle while I walk along side it, faster. The “Coyote Crazy” gay bar might seem gauche on first gander, but after glancing in the front while passing by so many times it seems like the type of place you want to go if you were gay. Those street peddlers and beggars stop soliciting after a few weeks of glancing into my pitiless eyes. You learn obscure capabilities of the neighborhoods you venture through — where to buy professional uniforms, custom hats, specialty shoes and locally-made pasta. All of a sudden in a 1.5 mile radius you have everything you want or need and the thought of living somewhere else, where you sit alone in your car surrounded by other people, alone in their cars, stuck in traffic — it makes you feel lonely.
This was my second stint in Bogotá — I spent six weeks here last year. This time around I lived a lot during my two and a half months here. My Spanish has been steadily improving and I know if I stopped meeting people with the capability to speak English it would be even better; but that’s a burden of being a tall white guy — they can spot you a smile away. And once someone speaks your primary language how exactly can you justify decreasing your ability to communicate with them by speaking terribly? These are the false justifications I have hid myself behind for over a year now.
I found a great gym in my neighborhood that costs $30 USD a month. I made major gains on my back squat and paired with a steady diet of hamburgers regained what was lost during my lazy winter in Veysonnaz, Switzerland. If I could stay here for another three months I have no doubt that I would transform into the incredible (white) hulk — if only in relative comparison to the local population which is remarkably más pequeño. I was introduced to the local sport of Tejo – a local sport involving throwing metal weights under-handed at explosive targets 20 meters away while drinking no fewer than 30 beers (the minimum price to play). Needless to say I’ve added it to my list of things to culturally-appropriate once I am back stateside. White people will love it.
Footnote: As my comfort outside of the USA grows, my discomfort and disgust with what I can only identify as the political, cultural and media “noise” intensifies. Increasingly I find it hard to identify with people, opinions and perspectives from the USA and find myself actively enduring my ties there instead of celebrating them. It’s challenging to articulate – but I am really beginning to understand those things about America that were invisible when I lived within it. Headlines from stateside delineating increased political and cultural polarization nationwide leave me revolted at the thought of having to identify with any part of it. As I’ve explained previously, I am a travel hipster and I expect this to be just a passing fancy. All it should take to steer me back aboard conventional American leanings is a knifing, unplanned donation of organ tissue or participation in a hostage situation somewhere overseas. And let’s be honest I’ve been rolling the dice for over two years now — as my friend Jenny Blankenship says “we all know about regression towards the mean”. But anyway — that’s how I feel currently.