I hate that there is such a negative perception of Colombia. Yes, I will be the first to admit that there is a reason for its notoriety: in the 80s and 90s, Colombia was indeed a not-so-safe place to visit. And yes, Colombia is a major exporter of cocaine (the USA is its #1 consumer), which leads to tension and strife in drug-growing areas, which are not near the major cities. I have been visiting Colombia 1-2 times a year for the last 13 years and have never once been mugged or have witnessed any drug-related violence or have been kidnapped. Ha!
Seriously, though. It is a damn gorgeous country and the natural beauty it has to offer is stunning. The cities are fantastic and safe, the food is great, the people are so nice...As the slogan for Colombian tourism says, the only risk in coming to Colombia is wanting to stay. Here are the things we found most surprising about living in Bogota:
- Every single day, you can expect some rain. But you can also expect the sun to shine and when it does, Bogota looks absolutely beautiful.
- It is always between 60-70 degrees year round.
- Fresh juice is abundant and cheap (12 oz of freshly-squeezed OJ is less than a dollar. Less than a dollar!).
- People are really nice and the customer service is really good (it's not uncommon to hear someone calling you "su merced" - literally "your mercy" and everytime you say "thank you" for a service, the person will happily respond with "con mucho gusto," which means, "with much pleasure.")
- You actually befriend shopkeepers, restaurateurs, and papeleria (paper store) owners. They ask you about your kids, want to see them, and seem genuinely happy to see you when you come in.
- You could have almost anything delivered to your house and the delivery fee is ridiculously cheap ($1.50 charge for your groceries delivered). Even if it's 3 am and your baby can't breathe because he has snot in his nose, you can call a 24-hour pharmacy and they will deliver medicine for you.
- Bogota is huge. Like, mind-boggling huge. 8.6 million people live there. It looks like one huge downtown as far as the eye can see.
- Despite its hugeness, there are lots of beautiful parks there and a mountain range that borders it on the East that is absolutely lovely.
- If you own a car in Colombia, you can only drive it on certain days because of something called "pico y placa." This was instituted to diminish the crazy, awful traffic congestion and pollution associated with it, although it doesn't seem like it's doing any good. The traffic there is horrible. To go about 20 km in the city, it would take us over an hour in traffic.
- The speech in Bogota is very formal. Most everyone uses the "usted" form, which is the formal way of speaking. I would always use the "tu" form and then kick myself in the mental ass for not remembering.
- Men never hold babies. Scratch that. In my 8 months there, I saw a total of 4 men walking around the city pushing a stroller, holding a baby, or wearing one. Other than that, only women held babies.
- Only a few women use carriers (like Ergo, Baby Bjorn); many prefer to hold the babies in their arms with blankets over them. Like, really heavy blankets to protect their babies from the "air." I'd be more worried about suffocating them.
- The sidewalks in Bogota are really bad. Maybe that's why there aren't many parents pushing their kids in strollers. Not sure if sidewalks aren't a primary issue for the government, but it definitely makes Bogota less walkable.
- People loved our kids' blonde hair and were so disappointed to see that they didn't get blue eyes. I would see them zero in on my boys' eyes, look at my husband, and then look at me with pity. "Too bad they didn't get your husband's eyes." Thanks. Thanks a lot.
- The infatuation with blonde hair and light eyes leads many Colombians to (in my opinion) say that a person's hair is blonde that we would consider light brown, etc.
- Every single woman gives child-rearing advice, whether you asked for it (not usually the case) or not.
- We would get admonished constantly for letting Desmond walk ahead of us without holding his hands.
- People think 60 degrees is the arctic and wear crazy winter clothing. Like balaklavas. After a while, we did, too.
- Street food is really good and really cheap. Too tired to make a snack for dinner (explained below)? Buy 3 empanadas and 2 arepas for $2.
- Most of the women look like they are going to a job interview. They always look so put together. The whole yoga-pants-as-day-wear phenomenon has not caught on yet.
- They drink "tinto," which is a somewhat watered-down, bitter black coffee. I was surprised that they don't normally drink the delicious colombian coffee that the rest of the world drinks. Reason? All the good shit is exported. I had to go to a specialty cafe to get a decent latte.
- Lunch is the biggest and most important meal of the day. We loved eating the biggest meal in the middle of the day. At night, we would have "dinner snack," which would be a snack instead of a big dinner. I think that is probably one of the biggest contributors to getting back to my pre-pregnancy weight in less than 4 months.
- The patriotism in this country really brings a tear to my eye. During the World Cup this year, the whole city would be bathed in yellow, red, and blue (Colombian flag colors). You would see children, old ladies, storekeepers, our building's security guard...everyone wearing the team's shirt. Even business men would wear their shirts over their button-down shirts and ties. Every time a goal was scored, the entire city roared: cars honking, people shouting, TVs blaring. It was such a beautiful experience. There is so much joy and pride that people have in being Colombian.
Bogota has a couple of problems, just like any large city. But overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay there and can't wait to go back.