My name is Pieter van Dalen, and after three weeks in Medellín learning Spanish, I am spending the next few months in Bogotá. This city is known for its altitude (2640 meters), ‘cold climate,’ reserved Colombians, rich diversity of food, music, culture, and unfortunately, traffic problems. Tourists often pass through briefly, and most Colombians swear by Medellín, Cali, and the Caribbean coast. However, I feel at home in Bogotá and believe that the city has a lot to offer, especially if one looks beyond the traffic, climate, and initial impressions.
I have since traveled beyond Bogotá and seen more of Colombia. What strikes me is the incredible diversity and the different faces of this country. This is also the common thread in my first blog. Before I departed for Colombia, it was difficult for me to imagine what it would be like. Yet, you hear stories, research, and are informed by people around you. The perspective before and now provides an interesting view of how I understand Colombia.
NatureTake, for example, the landscape: Colombia has beaches, but also glaciers; rainforests, but also mountains with a unique Páramo ecosystem; urbanized cities, but also vast rural areas. So many different landscapes in one country, which is remarkable and gives this land a lot of character. I have been to the coast so far, where I celebrated Carnival. I lived in Medellín, with its always perfect climate, surrounded by a mountainous landscape and a city intertwined with nature. Additionally, I have seen mountains around Bogotá, but most of my time has been spent in Bogotá itself.
Colombia is a country with a long history tied to conflict, violence, and unrest. On the other hand, Colombians are incredibly friendly, kind, cheerful, and bring a warm energy with them. Something that some Dutch people might learn from. This friendliness also goes hand in hand with being attentive to each other, sharing what you have, and protecting each other from danger. Phrases like ‘Todo o nada’ or ‘Todo en la cama o en el suelo’ are sayings I have heard frequently. It basically means sharing everything, everyone gets the same, and we don’t leave anyone behind. At the same time, there are also bad people, and this has often been impressed upon me. It was a huge shock to realize that not only I am at risk in some places, but also the Colombians themselves. I have been warned enough times in different cities about the ‘danger’ that looms if you are in the wrong place and encounter the wrong person.
Living in a country where both nice and not-so-nice people reside is still sometimes difficult to grasp. It seems that this dichotomy has its roots in the intense period of conflict but also the enormous class inequality and economic system here. It’s not easy in Colombia to move up the social ladder, and the social hierarchy reinforces that significantly. Here in Bogotá, for example, you can easily live in a completely different world if you have money. You never take the bus, you don’t go beyond a certain street to the south, you go to a private school with a private driver, and you hang out with people from the same bubble. I am fortunate and privileged to be able to live in a good neighborhood and see how wealthy Colombians live. Additionally, I go further south, take the bus, and interact with Colombians who haven’t had it as good. The same applies to the city’s structure. One moment you’re walking in a good, bustling, friendly neighborhood. The next moment, you feel unsafe, the streets are in poor condition, houses are shabby, and there’s garbage on the streets. This is something that continues to amaze me as I walk around in major Colombian cities.