Bogota, the capital of Colombia, is a large modern metropolis of about 8 million people that sits atop a mountain range of 2500 metres. Because of this it has a cool, temperate climate, that is in stark contrast to the other, tropical parts of the country. I have been here for 2 weeks now, taking a rest after 4 months of hard traveling, getting my itinerary together, waiting for my soul to catch up, and learning some basic Spanish. In Asia the travel advice is always, “learn a bit of the local lingo, the locals will appreciate it”, but as my friend David says, in South America you must learn to speak Spanish otherwise the locals will think your an idiot (and they do think I am an idiot).
Bogota is very similar to large “new world” Western cities, as it’s overly industrialised and excessively modern; a bit shabby, dehumanising and robotic like elements of LA, Sydney, and Melbourne. When I first got here I was expecting to find many of the dignified rhythms of the best of Spain, but instead found many of the hum-drum rhythms of the worst of the United States. Bogota is a down-beat work-a-day city with a 9-5 culture of large office buildings, peak hour traffic from hell, and big pissy, desperate weekends. The majority of the food here makes the diet of the English working class look healthy and I never knew there were so many ways to deep fry food (ie. and this is a component of the worst of the United States). But then again, like all big cities, Bogota is full of contradictions and if one can manage to cross the roads, there are some of the best museums I have seen anywhere full of Inca gold, exuberant contemporary art, and smug portraits of Spanish conquistadors. Plus they are curated in a sensitive and contextually informed manner, especially the National Museum and Gold Museum (and the museums are usually free or close to it).
Bogota isn’t really an international city (unless this is defiend by down-town Los Angeles), as it is a very, very long way from Asia and the Middle East. And perhaps there isn’t really such a thing as “the International” anyhow, only ways to see the international as the international, as we all engage with the forces of the world differently (and every wondered why the only people you will find in elevators of the London Shard are shiney, well meaning hillbillies from Perth or Dubai perhaps imagining that they inhabit the peak of civilisation?) The iron cage of Modernity is everywhere and inhabits no where, so read those history books peeps because they may just give you access to many more richer worlds.
And in terms of the elephant in the room, the drug question, well I am glad you asked. Here is my blog-post version. In the 1960s, the United States was at the peak of its economic power, perhaps controlling half of the World’s economy. And the large, brattish generation that grew up in that period started smoking marajuana and snorting cocain in the truck loads. And ironically, whilst this generation was saving Vietnam, they were also f**king up Colombia as someone had to supply them with all the trucks and boats and planes stuffed full of high-grade coke and marajuana.
In Colombia, a well organised criminal class emerged, led by people such as Pablo Escobar and members of Maoist rebel groups to supply lubricants for emergent American lifestyles (and not just the US of course). This led to bucket loads of cash, deadly weapons, years of internal conflict, murders and kidnappings and loss of State control over large parts of the country. Although, I am told, the conflict between the rebels and the drug lords and the State is not as bad as it once was, Colombia is still the World’s second largest producer of cocain after Peru and some parts of the country are still even out of bounds to bloggers!.