Family Time in Bogota
It had been a few years since I have been to Colombia. I have been to Colombia many times and it was good to compare where Bogota (the capital city of Colombia) is today compared to about 15 years ago when I first came to Bogota.
Firstly, a bit of history, ten to fifteen years ago, I found that Colombia had many problems. The civil war had been going for more than thirty years, violent crime was high, security situation was not good and the country was experiencing a depressed economy. This had led to a situation that marked Colombia as a country to avoid for tourists and business people alike.
Without going into the reasons for the changes, I will in this article compare the differences as I saw it from my May 2011 Trip and my observations of Bogota over the last ten to fifteen years. I will also talk about the how I enjoyed spending time with my kids in Bogota.
Firstly I should explain my reasons for traveling to and from Colombia, including the reason for my current trip. I had been married to a Colombian Lady, Luisa, for over ten years. We have three beautiful children, Attila, Angela and Anna, between us. So I had travelled regularly to Colombia and visited many parts of Colombia over that time. The places that I visited include Bogota, Cali, Medellin, Ibague, Cartagena, Girardot, Tabio, Providencia and San Andres.
Our three children are spending 2011 in Colombia with Luisa in order to learn Spanish and develop an understanding of the Colombian culture. I miss them greatly as they miss me because I am living in Australia. The older two, Attila and Angela have their birthdays in May and so I travelled over to Colombia to see the children in May 2011. For this trip I only visited Bogota, as the children were at school and I was a little short on cash to travel to other places with the kids on weekends.
Well starting on the improvements that I have seen in Bogota over the last decade. I remember a time that cars would park everywhere and anywhere on the sidewalks, there was little to no bike paths and the roads had pot holes so big that trucks would get bogged in them. What can I say, there is still a way to go, however massive improvements by all accounts in this area. The network of playgrounds and parks are now linked together by footpaths, foot bridges and bike paths. The roads have been improved, with many of the main roads now have flyovers and trucks no longer get bogged. The speed of traffic around the city has greatly improved.
Colombia is famous for many thinks, including emeralds, gold, oil, beautiful national parks and friendly people. Unfortunately Colombia is also known for drugs, civil war and terrorism. However over the last decade it is clear to see that the security situation is less of an issue than what it used to be. The security situation, when I first started to travel to Colombia was the primary discussion point with family and friends whenever I travelled. Though the civil war is still going and drugs still pose a threat to national security, the security situation has improved extremely. In fact many other tourist destinations, such as Mexico, have overtaken the Colombia as a dangerous place to go.
Colombia continues to improve the security situation, which means that tourists and business people will find Colombia a great place for fun or business. There are still some rural or remote areas that are not so safe, however do not let this put you off your travels. I know that many Australians are taken back when they see compounds with electrical wire and razor wire or soldiers on the street; however this needs to be compared to other countries. Many countries around the world are in in the same situation and it is reasonably safe. Of course, everyone needs to remember that they need to look out for your personal safety, as you would in any large city.
I have already mentioned the road and bike way network in Bogota; however I need to make mention of the public transport system. On my first trip the bus networks were handled by private companies with several public bus operators completing on the same or similar routes. There was no dedicated bus stops, buses were overload in peak times and they consistently cut each other off as they fought over customers. In my opinion it was chaos.
The Bogota of today now has a dedicated public bus system with dedicated bus lanes and bus stops / stations. The TransMilenio system of red buses are still over loaded and there is complaints of petty crime, however it has reduced the number of private operated buses on the popular routes, making the roads safer for all. Is the new system ideal? No of course not. Just listen to anyone that uses the system, they will tell you the problems. However is it an improvement and heading in the right direction? Yes.
The other method of transport is taxis. On this last trip I found them very economical. The most I paid for any trip was about AUD$5.00. On average I would spend about AUD$3.00 per trip. That is about the price for the flag fall in Australia. That said I did not take the taxis often as I do enjoy walking.
The weather in Bogota was like Melbourne, four seasons in one day. I would start my run in the sun and end the run in the rain. Or I would wear my rain jacket out for a walk and half way I would have to take it off as the sun would have we sweating. Bogota is close to the equator; however it is also at a high altitude. This combination leads to a not hot, but also not real cold weather either. During my time in Bogota this time, Colombia was experiencing significant rainfall across the country and was leading to floods and land sides nationwide. By the way other parts of Colombia depending on altitude can be considerably warmer than Bogota.
On the subject of altitude, some people do suffer some altitude sickness when in Bogota. I am normally fine, though I do feel the altitude when I run. The children were staying in a house on the top of a hill. I will be honest and say that I did not manage to run all the way up the hill. Though I did make progress and run higher up the hill on my daily runs by the end of my trip. On my first day in Bogota this trip I saw someone running up the hill very slowly and I thought that he was travelling a bit slow. Now, I think good on him, at least he is running, while I walk…..lol
During my two and half weeks in Bogota I got to spend a considerable amount of time with the children, which was my purpose for the visit. The children still had school, music lessons and Spanish tutoring; however the rest of the time was mine to spend with them. While they were at school, I spent my time mainly studying, updating my Facebook with pictures from a number of my recent international adventures, going for a decent run most days and doing some planning for upcoming scouting projects.
The time that I spent with the children included:
• Going on a Ferris wheel with the kids inside a fair in the local shopping mall. A video clip of this one is available on YouTube or in my Facebook.
• Chilling with kids, being dad…. Awesome fun…. Including going to the playground and playing chess, backgammon, checkers and Uno.
• Going on walks with the Kids.
• Having the Kids be my translators on our outings. Attila’s Spanish is very good and Angela was great in organising shopping, taxis and helping me out when the security guard was telling me off in the supermarket. (Yes, you cannot take me anywhere, on my first day in Bogota I was in trouble with security at a supermarket. No I was not stealing).
• Throwing a birthday party for the kids in the function room at the compound.
• Going to Lunch for Attila’s and Angela’s birthdays at their favourite pizza and pasta restaurant, Archie’s.
The party was a nice time for each of the kids to spend with a few of their friends. We essentially through an Australian style party for the children. It was interesting talking with the children’s friends, as many of the activities the friend’s had not done before. Some of the activities that the friend’s had not done include:
• Pin the tail on the Donkey
• Pass the Parcel
• Musical Chairs
At least at the party I could talk with the Kids Friends as they could all could speak English, even if I could not speak with their parents.
There are a number of other cultural differences between Colombia and Australia. Purchases by credit cards have a number of differences. Firstly they want to see ID. In Colombia there is a national ID card, which of course I do not have, so I just show them my Australian driver’s licence each time. Then the other thing is they ask how many payments. This means that you can pay for your shopping over a number of months. This is a strange concept to me. Imagine paying off a meal at McDonald’s over three months. That is another definition to credit card debt.
Another interesting point of difference is packaging. In Australia we get a lot of our packaging in bottles, while in Colombia is comes in large satchels / bags. This includes tomato sauce, milk and hand wash refills. The only reason that I can think of for this is the lack of recycling in Colombia at this stage. The satchels make less rubbish in the landfills.
A nice to have in Colombia is that just about everything can be delivered to the home or office. This is not just ordering online as you do in Australia. You can do that too in Colombia. However this is calling up business, such as a Pharmacy and they will deliver in the next thirty minutes to an hour your prescription. Attila ordered some stationary for school on the last day I was in Colombia and they delivered to the home within two hours.
In Colombia there is a fair amount of trade done at the traffic lights. People sell so many different products at the traffic lights. Though that is not seen in Australia, what I really like is that at some traffic lights there are performers. All sorts of circus type acts. It also makes you hope for a red light at these traffic lights.
The most bizarre thing I saw for the first time this trip was a Catholic Mass being said in a shopping mall. They set up a table for the altar and chairs for people to sit down. Then the parishioners come in and set down, some in the café in the open area where the mass is being held and do Mass. I am not sure about this. There is too much happening around with other people shopping and it seems to take away from the sanctity of the Mass. The other side is that this is a example of how the Church can move out to the community. Anyway, at this stage I am not convinced on this one.
In concluding, I must admit that I am very impressed with the children’s Spanish and they have certainly learnt a lot about the way of life in Colombia. They have their preferences for the life between Colombia and Australia. Some preferences are towards Colombia and others towards Australia. However overall I must say that the greater unintended benefit that I have noticed has been their view of the world. As they each hold three passports, they are truly world citizens. I have noticed how they are comfortable with travel and adjust well to different environments. This has led to an understanding that different cultures do things differently, not necessary better or worse, just differently. I can see in the future this will benefit the children in the as they will have business, work and study opportunities all over the world.
On the general Colombian experience, I would highly suggest Colombia as a beautiful country to visit. There are some tourist places in Bogota; however I would suggest Cartagena, Providencia, and the Amazon among other destinations. I know for this trip I only stayed in Bogota and this article is from that point of view, however I have had some great times in Colombia over the years and over the same time I have watched massive improvements in the country.
Photos from the Colombian Trip are available here.