Life is funny.
It’s been almost a year since I’ve been in Bogotá.
I miss that place, the way the people are so friendly, debunking every stereotype that CNN and other major news stations want Americans to believe is true.
My parents didn’t want me to embark on another voyage. They thought I would get robbed by the cartel or some demented individual, just like they thought if I went to China that surely someone from the Communist government would throw me in jail.
Looking back, the most dangerous part of Columbia isn’t the people, or even the crazy traffic.
Rather, the most dangerous aspect of Colombia is the ability to lose yourself in the vanity of it all.
Much like China, everywhere I looked, there were beautiful women, and it made me sad that too many American women have denounced their femininity and instead replaced it with toxic ideologies that historically have not been prerequisites to happiness.
To be fair, a city like Bogotá also falls short of protecting their citizens.
I remember I took a bike tour with a local man named Gabriel. He didn’t speak much English so I told him we could talk in Spanish, even though my Duolingo-practiced Spanish was, and still is, at best, passable.
Every couple minutes throughout the tour, we would stop and Gabriel would get off his bike to tell me all about the significance of a particular historical landmark that he claimed few people knew about.
“Puedes hablar mas lentamente?” I asked, hoping he would speak a little slower.
“Por que?” he responded.
“My Spanish isn’t that good,” I told him.
“It’s good enough,” I think he said, me perhaps misunderstanding his use of the word suficiente. “Do you want to see something crazy?” he then asked.
“If we don’t get off our bikes, it’s not dangerous.”
I took Gabriel for his word, and then he took me through Santa Fe, arguably the most disenfranchised barrio in Bogotá.
Every street had more divots than the green on a par-three, and each building needed a facelift. Most people lazily stumbled around the sidewalks wearing despondent looks on their faces.
Before I could fully understand where I was, a man ran up to me, stopping a few meters short of my bike.
“Cocaina! Cocaina! Cocaina!” he shouted with extreme force, almost as if he believed that the louder he yelled, the more inclined I would be to indulge in the locally-crafted stimulant.
“Vete!” Gabriel yelled at the man.
This stretch certainly wasn’t going to be included in the review section of my Airbnb experience because, for all intents and purposes, I was not following the path of conventionality.
We plowed through more bumpy roads, the shocks on my bike absorbing every deep crack in the pavement that threatened to upend me from mi bici.
Soon we were on streets lined with scantily-clad women.
“Venezolanas,” Gabriel said when I asked why most of these women didn’t look as fair-skinned as those from other parts of the city.
None of these visuals could be found in a textbook, or a family-friendly YouTube channel.
Part of me didn’t want to look, and another part of me was curious at just what kind of place I was visiting. There was a natural eroticism to the moment, conjunctively suffocated by a sinking feeling in my gut that told me this is not how the world should look.
But I knew nothing of what the world is supposed to look like. Growing up in a middle-class suburb rarely offered a glimpse into a universe other than 401k’s and family gatherings that created the illusion that everyone lived the way I did.
There have been moments in the past where I have wanted to grab a sweater to throw around some poor woman’s shoulders, but even if Target had a sale tomorrow, I couldn’t buy enough sweaters to save all the women who slid their cigarette-stained fingers along the veiny arms of passing men.
“Why are there so many Venezuelan women here?” I asked Gabriel.
“To make money,” he told me. “Everything you see,” he then said, motioning with one hand while the other controlled his bike, “it’s all legal.”
And true to form, we made another turn, then observing two police officers quietly eating their empanadas while Gabriel directed my attention toward a group of women whose faces bore resemblance to what I had previously seen on the streets of Bangkok.
“Transgénero?” I asked Gabriel with a quizzical look.
Soon we exited Santa Fe. A sense of relief washed over me. It felt like I had accomplished something, even though in reality all that happened was I rode my bike through a seedy sector of a metropolis that many inhabitants avoid.
Later that day, I returned to my apartment, away from the smell of cheap beer and the sound of blaring club music.
I wish I could say that was the last time I rode through Santa Fe, but that would be a lie.
Instead, I continued to go back (albeit without Gabriel), riding through the cramped streets ripe with potholes, just so I could witness the depravity a little longer.
But I never stopped to say hello.
Even when people called after me, shouting pleasantries like gringo and pendejo, I ignored their invitations and proceeded onward.
I only wanted to be part of that moment, not live in it forever.
Which reminds me:
Certain places have characteristics that allow one to go back in time.
Whether it’s the murky water of Thailand, the crisp air of Tokyo, or the constant smog of Beijing, each place possesses traits that at some point down the line will transport a keen observer to the past.
In Bogotá, it’s not the buñuelos, street vendors, or leaky sewer systems that elicit nostalgia. It’s not even the long nights at small bars, getting lost in a bottle of Smirnoff while the popular song La Canción rhythmically hums in the background.
Rather, it’s the pace of the city. And in Bogotá, despite the fact that eight million people live there, it still engenders feelings of being back home.
For example, I was always surprised at my ability to blend in. Despite being well over six feet tall, rarely did I get anything more than a casual glance from vertically-challenged onlookers. Even as I strolled around different parts of the city in my bright red jacket, no one ever went out of their way to harass me.
My last few weeks in the city I met someone.
Each time we met, I walked two hours from my apartment near the airport to her spacious loft in the center of the city.
While the feelings of intimacy and companionship marked some of the highlights of my trip, I derived just as much satisfaction from the walk to her place.
Each visit, I went the same way, to the point that I soon didn’t need to use a GPS to find my way. And each time, the walk became more enjoyable.
What I wouldn’t do now to walk through the empty mornings when everyone is fast asleep, or the early evenings that carried a soothing energy right before the city turned dark and gave way to the trappings of the evening.
Bogotá is one of those places where you can be anywhere you want while the sun is up, but once the sun goes down, things generally turn for the worse.
Whether it’s random people on the street urging you to visit their bar filled with available women, or less fortunate individuals becoming more aggressive in their pursuit of the few loose pesos jingling around in the pockets of foreigners, nightlife in Bogotá is not without its petty misdemeanors.
I still laugh though because since returning to Minnesota, I’ve been reminded that the most dangerous place in the world is, without question, the United States.
Already this year I told you about how some importunate individual tackled me on my bike. He was wearing a skirt that was zebra-checkered, and had a look in his eyes that suggested he wasn’t normal, that at some point in his life someone had did him wrong and now he was out to inflict pain on everyone else.
I can still remember the way his right hand grabbed my shirt collar, and how he tried to rip me off my bicycle, yet when our eyes made contact he apologized and walked away as if nothing happened.
That’s just one example, but I could give dozens more that would confirm the current dangers that are prevalent in our proud nation.
But that’s not what this story is about.
As the snow outside sets in, daydreams of returning to the vibrant warm weather of Bogotá persist. I want to take another crack at happiness even though with each failed relationship I endure, the idea of “forever after” seems antiquated.
It’s three hours from Minneapolis to Fort Lauderdale.
Then another four before the wheels touch down in Bogotá.
At that point, my plane will land, and after clearing customs the taxistas will go ballistic.
I can already hear them clamoring for my attention.
But then again, maybe that’s just a dream…