Have you ever traveled somewhere and felt an immediate change in your emotional and spiritual aura? Where you felt happier, more alive and more yourself than you’ve ever felt before? There’s something special about that place but you can’t quite put your finger on what it is, and you think, “there’s something I like about you.” I have, but it hurts my heart to say a place I love is a place that others refuse to visit. It is a place defined by its dark past, not given a chance to prove its development and incredible beauty. Don’t we all deserve a second chance?
Bogotá prides itself as the largest city in Colombia and one of the largest in Latin America. At 8,660 feet above sea level, I stand amongst the clouds both literally and figuratively. On a brisk and misty day, I gaze over the entire city from my friend’s balcony. Silhouettes of mountaintops loom in the distance while the occasional gloomy and gray cloud passes overhead. I look out over the capital basking in its own beauty, despite the dreariness of the day. Brick buildings and prominent skyscrapers steal my attention away from all the green shades of the occasional palm tree sticking out in random places. I’m reminded that this is a mountainous city, and that the juxtaposition of city-like architecture and natural landscape add to the magnificence of this exotic location. Glancing over my right shoulder, I catch glimpse of bright baby blue skies and the sun finally peeking through. A palm tree on the balcony catches a ray of sun and glistens in my direction. This is paradise.
. . .
It is important for me to remember my time here will most likely be away from the poorer parts of Bogotá, as my friend Vanessa comes from a well-off family. She once told me, “Either you’re well-off and upper class, or you’re struggling and you’re lower class. There really is no in-between here.” To give me better insight to what she previously exposed about Colombian class structure, we take a ride through the city with her driver. The SUV is bulletproof, a necessary precaution due to the country’s gloomy, violent past. We drive through the capital and pass by multiple skyscrapers, restaurants, parks, churches and schools. People are conversing, laughing, dining, and even selling flowers along the road.
As we make our way out of the city, I instantly notice a change in scenery. We leave the modern day architecture and beautiful landscaping behind us and begin our drive through what resembles a shantytown. Dirty clothes drape from lines strung from window to window. Broken down cars lay in piles of dirt, and stray dogs are sniffing around for scraps. I feel ashamed that I had been blind to the poverty that exists in this country; all I had known before was the paradise-like life my friend welcomed me into when she brought me to her home in Bogotá.
Yet, while driving through these poorer areas, I expected to see sad faces and unsocial neighbors, I found the exact opposite. Young children play soccer and invite as many other kids to join as they can find. Adults cook food outside and laugh with one another. I see a young boy grab a small piece of meat and feed it to a few of the stray dogs while petting their dirty fur. Each individual has smiles beaming from ear to ear. It is sad but beautiful, all at the same time.