“Si, señor!” That’s what Colombians have been enthusiastically telling me since I landed in Bogota three days ago. And I love it! I think it says a lot about what kind of people they are: very respectful, very courteous, happy to be of service. And I haven’t felt unsafe a single time here, despite my typical late-night meandering. I’m staying with a Colombian friend in an upscale neighborhood called Los Rosales, which of course makes a difference. The police presence in this area of the city is tremendous. The main point I’d like to make here is that it’s clearly ridiculous to paint the entire city of Bogota (or the entire country of Colombia) with a broad brush, as has been done by the mainstream media in much of the world. “Colombia = Danger. Period.” That’s the image that has been inculcated into the consciousness of so many potential visitors to this country (myself included, until about four months ago.) But the days of Colombian narcotraffickers openly waging war in the streets are long over. So the mainstream media is simply engaging in fear-mongering foolishness, just as would be the case if they were to do the same with the US, France, or any other country. Sure, there are dangerous areas of Bogota, just as there are dangerous areas of Chicago, London, and Paris. And each of those cities is more dangerous overall than some other parts of their respective countries. So let’s inform ourselves (google is your friend), then act accordingly, rather than let the mainstream media and Hollywood movies dictate our views of the world and which parts of it are safe or unsafe to visit.
OK, now that I’ve gotten that rant out of the way… 😉 I must say it really feels great to be back in a Latin country again!* It feels like… home. Or as close to home as I’ll probably ever get. I feel like I really click with Latin peoples. It’s hard to put a finger on it exactly, but I think it’s a combination of the laid-back, friendly attitude and the joie de vivre found in Latin cultures. These people don’t take life too seriously. They’re very “live and let live,” and they don’t sweat the small stuff. “Tranquilo, don’t worry about it,” they’re quick to tell you when you make a fuss about something small or apologize profusely. I think this really is a saner, healthier way to live, and many other cultures could greatly benefit by taking a page from the Latin playbook of life.
So, once again, I’ve discovered that it’s the people that make the place for me. Nothing else seems to matter much. Not the museums. Not the beautiful nature or sunny beaches. It’s all about the people. Those other things are nice, but I enjoy them only in the company of others. If some locals insist on taking me to a museum, then that’s great. They can tell me what the exhibits mean to them and why they think it’s important for me to see them. Thus I learn something much deeper than if I were to visit those same museums alone or in the company of other foreigners. I get some idea of what makes these people tick. What is it that they live for? What would they be willing to die for? What’s their story?
The overwhelming conventional wisdom (and many of my own friends) says to forget about Bogota. It’s too rainy. The people are too cold. Well, my brief time in Bogota so far has reminded me not to put too much stock in what others say and to go find out for yourself. See if the place suits your own individual taste. I’ve found that my preference for places tends to run counter to that of many of my fellow travelers/expats/nomads. I dislike many of the popular places everybody else raves about, and I often take a liking to the black sheep that most people reject or pass over. I just recently came across a Blaise Pascal quote which sums it up nicely for me:
“I would prefer an intelligent hell to a stupid paradise.”
And, finally, I have to wrap this up with another serendipitous quote which happened to appear on the screen when I first turned on the in-flight TV for my flight to Bogota three days ago:
“Every dreamer knows that it is entirely possible to be homesick for a place you’ve never been to.” –Judith Thurman
Si, señor, it’s good to be back home.
* I use the term “Latin country” (rather than “Latin American country”) because I want to refer to all countries (or states/provinces, such as Quebec, Canada) where a Latin language is spoken.