Colombians have a saying - "don't give papaya". Basically, it means don't let yourself be vulnerable, which is important because the other part of the saying is that if someone gives you papaya, you take it. Anyways, hiding our papaya is made slightly more difficult by the fact that we are probably the tallest people here and I am the only person walking around with a third degree sunburn. Also, we don't speak or understand Spanish (we're working on it) and, by and large, bogotanos don't speak or understand English. Luckily, Kristin has been keeping the would be papaya-stealers off balance with an unpredictable mix of English, Spanish, French and Italian.
Although we still have much left to explore, we love the city - it's vibrant, the topography is stunning and it's full of interesting neighbourhoods. The city is high (around 8500 feet) and the sun, even when it's not close to breaking through the clouds, is actively hunting my skin. Back home in Calgary, we sometimes talk about how we can experience all four seasons in a single day. The same is true of Bogota except that the time frame shrinks to about 20 minutes. Best job in Bogota? Weatherman. Every day the forecast is a high of 19-20, a low of 12-13, and calls for light rain.
Most of the bogotanos seem very friendly and amused by our attempts to communicate. The city itself has a couple of attributes that strike me as particularly noteworthy. The first is the safety/security concerns, but I think I'll save that for a future post once we've had a little more time in the city. Another would be the staggering disparity in wealth within the population. We are staying close to the wealthy part of Bogota and it could easily be a wealthy suburb back home. Three malls within walking distance of our place are each probably nicer than anything we have back home, and the prices are nearly on par. As we move south daily for our Spanish classes, and then on to the historical center of the city where many of the most interesting sites are located, the demographics change, the activity becomes more frenetic and the people are more aggressive. The contrast is particularly striking in the center, where fashionable and obviously wealthy bogotanos mix with an unfortunately high number of people begging for food or money. To the south of the center, we understand the level of poverty increases further, but we have repeatedly been advised not to visit.
We are excited to make Bogota our home for a couple more weeks to continue our language studies and try to soak up the culture. My only real complaint about Bogota - and I suspect this may be true of the rest of South America as well - is that in a little less than a week's time, the exhaust from the vehicles has probably undone the benefits of my more than 29 years of cigarette-free living. When a bus accelerates, it looks like the Smoke Monster from Lost is out cruising for victims. I'm afraid to blow my nose for fear of my kleenex looking like an Rorschach Inkblot. I realize that things could be much worse.
Click here to check out some of our Bogota pictures.