Since Thursday night I have been spending the time in Bogota with my parents and enjoying a massive but quite beautiful city. I have not spend enough time here to develop anything close to serious insight, but as someone who seeks to observe what is going on around me, I have a lot of observations to make, so I will write this post in a somewhat unconventional fashion and make bullet points rather than writing in longer paragraphs, although I will provide explanation as necessary and as I can. Here are my observations so far from visiting Bogota:
- Colombia is not a place that caters to monolingual American tourists. The quality of English speaking among the population here is not particularly profound. Whether you are speaking with airport staff (including those involved in customs), taxi drivers, museum staff, hotel staff, or random people around, English is generally not spoken except on the most rudimentary level. On the contrary, though, the people of the country seem to appreciate Americans who can struggle through with Spanish and manage to communicate questions and requests and information. Normally, my level of Spanish would drive a bilingual person to want to attempt their English, but here there is little or no English level to attempt for the people I am talking to, even pretty well-educated people, and so that has definitely been quite an experience. I am sure there are reasons for this, but it is definitely something I have noticed so far here.
- Colombia is a really religious country. Yesterday the first stop we made in our city tour was Monserrat, a Catholic sanctuary built on top of a high mountain over 10,000 feet high that overlooks the city of Bogota. When I was buying tickets, the lady at the ticket counter commented that she was having a great day thanks be to the Lord. The sanctuary included a way of the cross, and on the hill I saw a mendicant with no legs looking for help. The hotel and taxi driver we had were continually pushing us to visit cathedrals, which there are many here. The hotel reception area even had a book (that I may check out, if it is offered for free) about religious tourism to Colombia. If you are a pious Catholic looking to earn some merit, this country has a lot to offer, although as someone who is by no means an expert on contemporary Catholic practice I am unsure of how conservative the local Catholic hierarchy is in doctrine and practice, although I can say that the level of common piety I have encountered in the local population is very high.
- Colombia has a lot to offer the tourist. There are many museums, most of them free–including a fantastic art museum. I didn’t get to go to the Museum of the Republic, which offered military equipment, but everywhere one turned there was a museum of the mint, or a Colonial museum. We did see the Gold Museum, which offered an insightful look into the heathen use of gold by the pre-Colombian peoples. All in all, the taxi driver was pretty heroic in getting around the complicated city of Bogota and we had a good time even if the walking was certainly a bit tough on all of us.
- Bogota is a beautiful city but not really a city that is all that friendly to people who are gimpy. As the second-most gimpy member of our party, I noticed that everywhere in Bogota there was uneven pavement and gaps and stairs and that very few buildings were well-stocked with elevators. If you cannot walk easily and if you have some troubles with mobility, this city is going to be really hard on you. Again, this goes along with the whole not catering to English language tourists, but Bogota is pretty much a beautiful city that you have to take or leave. It isn’t going to change for you; it isn’t going to cater to you, but if you can communicate with it on its level and appreciate its beauty and ruggedness, you can get along pretty well with it.
- Bogota’s economic situation is quite interesting. Unlike some areas, Colombia doesn’t expert all of their coffee for foreign consumption, but they really want tourists to come and buy it. They also like selling emerald products. During my tour of the city I must have been asked about whether I wanted to buy emeralds at least half a dozen times. At breakfast this morning there was a fruit that was like a sweet jelly with seeds, and it was okay, but odd, and one can imagine why that one isn’t exported. There are a lot of high cost trendy stores in the North part of the city, but at the same time there are a lot of bargains to find if you cut out the middleman and use your hotel instead of a tourist agency in order to find you drivers and guides.