Saturday, June 22, 2013

Now that I've had a good ten days to get used to the city, I can say for sure that I'm having a great time.  But man, let me tell you, Bogotá is HUGE.  I climbed to the top of a tall hill and thought it was pretty impressive, seeing all the city spread out all across the valley and climbing up the sides of the nearby mountains.  But then I took a taxi out of the city center to help a girl I met in the hostel go get a tattoo, and we drove along mountain after hill after pastoral scene after mountain, and still there was more and more Bogotá, buildings beyond buildings disappearing off into a haze all the way to the horizon.  I'd read that, except for New York City and Mexico City, Bogotá is the largest city in the Americas, at 7.3 million inhabitants, but it's still crazy trying to get my head around it.

I've been doing my best to balance out being an active, energetic tourist with just lounging and eating in cafes and the like, and I think I've been doing a pretty good job.  Dodging trucks, motorcycles, and potholes, I've walked miles around La Candelaria, the arty, colonial-era section of bars, cafes, hostels, and museums that's swarming with youths and backpackers and the like.  And I feel like Bogotá has a lot of energy, and a lot of potential.  While there is a lot of poverty, I have not felt unsafe walking around by myself in the downtown area (although some of the dark, narrow streets, especially up in El Chorro, Bogotá's answer to Dublin's Temple Bar, could stand to have a few streetlamps.)  Maybe a small bit, but nothing compared to walking around after dark in Baltimore.  But there is a huge, city-wide campaign to modernize, posters and billboards urging people to keep the city clean and whatnot; you see policemen everywhere with their giant police dogs in Hannibal Lecter masks, and I hear that they've made immense progress with the drug problem over the past 20 years.

I've hit up a handful of the most crucial landmarks, mainly Plaza Bolivar, Simon Bolivar's country-house, and the Museo Botero.  Below is Plaza Bolivar, which is generally where lots of vendors hang out with llamas for tourists to take pictures of, selling caramelized coconut wedges (my new favorite thing!) and bags of corn to feed pigeons.  If it looks cold and overcast in the picture, that's because it is.

While most beige, pigeon-infested, cathedral-lined plazas resemble each other (and the same goes for the country-houses of languishing, consumptive revolutionaries,) I found the Museo Botero to be weird and thrilling, and I could have stayed there for hours.  Fernando Botero is a painter from Medellín whose glory is painting these great, big fat people with tiny, squished faces.  Recently he's done series of paintings dealing with violent themes, like the Colombia drug cartels and Abu Ghraib, but he's best known for his vibrant, exaggerated portraits in bright, bold colors.  He especially seems to love painting people dancing, and also massive, naked women with impossibly melancholy faces.

[Woman in Front of a Window, Fernando Botero]

I seriously could look at these forever, I think because they're so different from my drawing style.  I draw skinny people with large eyes and mouths, so I find Botero's enormous and perpetually sad people to be mesmerizing.  There is apparently an even bigger Botero collection in Medellín, and I'll definitely have to take a look while I'm there, if I can manage to pull myself together and change my flight ticket soon.

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