This time last year I was working two serving jobs in Tennessee, USA, trying to earn as much as I could before the start of my master’s program in Europe. At the time, I had no idea where the program would lead me. Now a year later, I’m sitting here in my 10m² room in a colorful and chic Colombian house in Bogotá.
Before I moved to Nepal in 2015, I remember saying “I never would have thought….”, and as you know life has its funny way of doing things sometimes, here I am again thinking “I never would have thought….”
The start of another new adventure
So on the 23rd of June, I left my temporary home in Aix-en-Provence, France and my family and friends in order to pursue an unknown objective. Traveling, let alone moving to, a new place always brings with it a bittersweet combination of adventure and nostalgia. The hardest part of any journey, for me, is always taking that first step–away from the familiar, and into the unknown.
Of course, you can have expectations, and I always do whenever I move. But those expectations always get reformed in many surprising ways.
What you feel and what you think when you first go to an unfamiliar destination fades and ends up becoming “normal.” It’s happened to me every time. Without fail, I always think I’ll remember what it was like to be a stranger in a strange place, but then months go by, and suddenly I’m sad to leave yet another home away from home.
5 unforgettable impressions about Bogotá
So in an attempt to remember the new sounds, sights, smells, and scenes of Bogotá, here are a few of my first impressions.
Una ciudad muy grande
Bogotá is Colombia’s thriving capital. Nestled in the valley of the Cerros Orientales (Eastern Hills), Bogotá is home to over 8 million people. That means it’s officially the biggest city I’ve ever lived in! Perched atop a plateau, Bogotá is also the place highest in altitude that I’ve ever lived in–2,600+ meters or 8,660 ft!
Upon arrival, it’s normal to get easily out-of-breath or to get headaches. On top of the jet lag, I must say I was feeling quite cloudy-headed for the first 4-5 days.
Getting around can be easy or difficult, depending on which barrio (neighborhood) you live in. I’m quite central: 20 minutes walk to the university, or 30 minutes walk to the popular La Candelaria downtown. At first, I always took an Uber every time I needed to go somewhere; now, if it’s within 30 minutes or so, I choose to walk. Money saved on Uber = more tacos! 😉
The Colombian welcome
From my very first moments in Colombia I was greeted with a warm welcome from strangers, some of them I can now call friends.
On my first full day here, the lady I live with invited me to the nearby park to help the community plant plants as a sign of community resilience against theft. Though I could only introduce myself in broken Spanish, each of them welcomed me warmly to their neighborhood.
One of the community members offered to walk with me to the supermarket so I wouldn’t have to go alone. He even helped me do my shopping and cutely pointed out the names of all the fruits and vegetables. When I didn’t know the word for butter (mantequilla), he went and found the store manager, who was extremely happy to help a foreigner in his store. As a sign of their welcome, they gave me a free coffee! So there I was, with my basket full of frutas y verduras and my little cup of Colombian coffee. An interesting first day indeed!
In just one week, strangers became friends. They all offered to show me around, make me try typical food from Bogotá, teach me Spanish, make sure I got home okay, and much more. So definitely one of my first impressions is that, in general, Colombians love to give a warm welcome!
History meets modern
Bogotá has an incredible mixture of both historical and modern aspects.
For example, La Candelaria is Bogotá’s famous historic center that dates back to the 16th century. It features colorful colonial architecture, centuries-old churches, and charming, winding streets. It’s become a tourist hub and it’s no surprise why!
Mixed with the city and country’s government buildings, famous museums, and a handful of business buildings and towers, Bogotá offers the best of both worlds: history + modern.
Some of the most popular destinations within this area includes: la Plaza de Bolivar (Main square of Bogotá), Museo Botero (Fernando Botero -famous Colombian artist and sculpture), Museo del Oro (The Gold Museum), Palacio/Casa de Nariño (Presidential Palace), Iglesia del Carmen, and El Chorro de Quevedo, just to name a few.
Each time I’ve gone to La Candelaria (which is only twice so far), I discover something new! Before arriving here, I would look up these places online or in guide books, and it’s awesome to be able to finally experience it all in person.
Art, art, and more art
One of the very first things I noticed about Bogotá was the amount of art there is; whether on walls, streets, trees, houses, sidewalks, shops, buildings, etc. Some of it of course is just tags, but most of the time, and from what I’ve seen so far, it’s usually a beautiful and meticulous work of art.
Something here that is really fun to see is “storytelling.” People gather round (whether outside, on a square, etc.) to listen to someone, or a pair, tell funny stories that draw upon the Colombian culture and language, etc. It’s too difficult for me to understand what they’re saying now, but hopefully, at the end of my 3 months here, I can understand all their jokes!
Another thing I love about the art presented here is the number of handcrafted items there are for sale on the streets. From typical jewelry to colorful mochila bags and much more, there is always something that catches my eye! Of course, before I buy anything, I’ll need to practice my bargaining skills again.
Rich in cultural diversity
There are lots and lots of ethnic minorities and indigenous groups throughout Colombia. Bogotá only represents a tiny portion of all the diversity out there. Once you travel north towards the Caribbean coast (Cartagena, La Guajira, Barranquilla, etc.) for example, the environment and local cultural traditions and practices change completely.
Though I haven’t been there yet, I’ve already been told by so many people how lovely it is up there. You have to take a flight though, otherwise, it’s 20+ hours by bus!
The locals here tell me Bogotá is the least pretty/favorable city among Colombians. Bigger, and in some areas grayer, people prefer to travel outside of Bogotá to other cities like Medellín, Cali (famous for salsa dancing), Santa Marta, Bucaramanga, and many more!
Though there is so much yet to discover in Colombia, already I’ve got quite the work set out for me to really cover all of Bogotá. As I mentioned before, Bogotá es una ciudad muyyyyy grande!
Thanks for reading!!!