The streets are busy, as they always are. From Juan Valdez Coffee on the third floor I watch people below slide across the concrete, following imaginary routes written into the stone. A huge boulevard with trees so tall I cannot see the tops of them splits the road in two, dividing the mostly yellow line of taxis moving through the veins of Bogota and to its beating heart La Candelaria. If Zona Rosa is the brain, the central thinking hub of business for the city, La Candelaria, with its old buildings, strong culture and history and narrow streets keeps the rest of the body alive.
Bogota is a sprawling, diverse city that grew faster than its own skin. The transversal streets and other diagonal roads cutting through the grid are the stretch marks. Colombia has the greatest number of internal displaced citizens out of any country. The narcos, their violence and destructive behavior forced people out of the country and into Bogota.
They pile into the city, 9 million of them, building as far as the eye can see from Montserrate and even into the sides of the surrounding mountains themselves. With them these displaced bring the hope of a better life, of an honest life.
By many standards Colombia is a poor country. But money is a relative thing, its value depends on what you can get. Here, in Bogota, hundreds of miles from the humid coastal cities and their beautiful beaches you can find anything. Bogota is a melting pot, an answer to those who want to leave behind evil but not their homelands. And why not?
As someone who has been traveling since 19 understanding the desire to stay in one place of familiarity is difficult. At this point travel seems a responsibility, a privilege. I have no excuse for remaining ignorant when my standard of living is one of the best in the world. What have all the wars, conflicts and struggles from 13 colonies to a world power been for, after all, if not to achieve a position where we can utilize our abundances to better the world?
But what makes people stay in a broken, but slowly recovering country, when there are so many safer places to go? This is a universal question. What makes women stay with abusers? What makes alcoholics work in a bar? The question is the same: what makes people endure a bad situation when all that is required is change?
It’s Monday today and the traffic has settled down a bit. This weekend cars were packed tight into the streets like tic tacs in a container. Smog settled into the city, a haze lowering itself into the buildings. Bogota is a crowded city. So much so that they implement something called Piko Plaque. The government limits driving during the week to curb traffic. On certain days only vehicles with odd or even ending license plate numbers can drive. As time continues the problem will only get worse. In many ways we are all just working towards our own destruction.
This isn’t out intention, only the tragic result of our ignorance. We don’t know how to stop time. We don’t know how to curb growth. We don’t know what to do. So we continue moving, because if humans know of anything it is how to get back up, it is how to continue living when shit hit the fan. Which is the tragedy. Our strength creates overcrowding, it creates the piko plaque.
A few days ago the city got too much so we went up. We hiked up Montserrate, climbing the steps one by one to the top. The uphill was two hours of lunges. 1,500 feet, 500 meters, of leg burning lunges later we looked down upon Bogota with the shadow of the 500 year old hermitage retreat behind us.
There are many ways to the top. Some take the Teleferica, cable car. Others, like us, walk. Some run. We saw one man who did a sort of dance, bouncing two or three times on each step and whistling to himself like a cho cho train. Some even crawl up the steps on their knees as a form of extreme penance.
From above, the city looks even bigger and the cars and people are invisible. The tops of the buildings are flat squares, geometrical boxes, mashed together in no particular design.
It is quiet up here. Stages of the cross wind down part of the mountain. The landscape is beautiful. Bright flowers grow beside the statue of Jesus getting nailed to a cross. Behind him the hillside drops into a valley that rises again to another mountain in the distance.
A cross gushes water into a 17 foot wide basin, which drops water into another, and another, and another, and so on. Finally after six basins large rocks stop the waterflow. Beyond that is a wishing well. I wonder if the water drops down into the bottom of the well? Maybe it continues on, unseen, but there. Eroding and changing the world.
The street lights change to red and a line of taxis slam on their brakes, their car hoods dipping towards the concrete. Beautiful people swim across the long street, some even run. They move down side-streets, turn different directions and vanish from view. Like all of us they move, they make the best of their situations, and they lie the best possible lives.
For when we find ourselves surrounded by evil and the indestructible barrier of death we keep moving. Some travel to large cities like Bogota for safety in numbers and others simply pick up and travel to a different part of the world. But, we all have the hope of a better tomorrow, a legacy, and the fight for something greater.