One of the byproducts of not planning a trip is that expectations drop to ambiguous media tidbits and scattered commentary from friends or fellow travelers, as was the case of Bogota, Colombia. It was the last stop of 3 months of travels through Central and South America, and was a close contender with Peru, Chile and Ecuador. After much vacillating, Colombia won out, partially due to its dangerous reputation that appealed to my illogical sense of adventure despite concerns of being a woman travelling alone.
The US embassy websites did nothing to assuage my concerns but further piqued my interest. While securing travelers insurance in the U.S., a kind woman on the phone explained my benefits should there be an emergency abroad. I perversely, and nervously, wanted to know, “Does it cover kidnappings in Colombia?”
I had set out on my travels alone but, because of the many friends and family at my destinations along the way, I rarely felt alone. I had the best of both worlds at my fingertips until Colombia.
My arrival into Bogota was irrevocably alone and I found myself in an unfamiliar place which I knew little about except for echoes of warnings and danger orbiting my mind. Pensive rain greeted me upon arrival creating the perfect backdrop to view the graffiti art scattered along the highways and roads at high speeds, at once primal, dark and painfully honest yet surging with life and hope around its rough, uncompromising edges. It was my first impression of Colombia, and after seeing the graffiti art in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, I realized it had perhaps more to say about the landscape, the people, the politics and the struggles than a brochure or history lesson could adequately capture.
As darkness descended, the rain downgraded to more of a drizzle but the night sky was amplified by lightning flashes. From my terrace I watched the subdued spectacle, captivated by the energy and light, when I heard the sound of loud music from quite some distance away. The beat of the music consumed me and I was overcome by the urge to dance on the rooftop terrace alone. In that moment I realized that this unfamiliar place had been emanating a euphoric energy, submissive and simultaneously inspired by more sinister energies; the perfect blend of life and death; of happiness and sorrow.
Setting out on foot through the streets of Bogota, I was struck by the lack of Americans and postcards for sale. It gave the sense of being not just a tourist, but a stranger in another land. A taxi driver understood my broken Spanish enough to take me to La Candelaria, the historic part of Bogota. There was a moment of panic when I seemed to be taken in the opposite direction of my desired destination, but there was enough communication to gather that I would not be kidnapped via taxi. When he began taking turns at such high speeds that the tires squealed, I became elated and had to suppress my laughter.
The world suddenly became more vivid and everything came into focus.
I was dropped off where La Candelaria’s heartbeat seemed to originate, brimming with people wandering amidst the venerable structures. I made my way through the groups, peering into shops and trying to absorb every architectural detail without looking like the tourist or stranger I was. A block away was a courtyard, with a view of an imposing cathedral and other buildings. I walked in the erratic ways of a stranger alone in an unfamiliar place, creating unconscious circles for many minutes watching the people sitting on the cathedral steps, the children laughing and playing, the families and groups of people milling about the vendors, street artists, and performers. I ended up near the center of the courtyard where hundreds of birds roamed about when suddenly, one bird took flight. It was followed by another and yet another, then a seeming hundred or more. I was captivated and tried to follow them with my eyes, the spiraling pattern they flew in, circumnavigating the courtyard lifting up high then swirling down. My body followed of its own accord and I found myself staggering and almost losing my balance in unabashed wide-mouthed awe. It could have been a mundane event were it not for the sheer number of birds expressing a version of life in movement and flight with the stately, stagnant cathedral in the background as well as my own state of mind. Suddenly being a stranger and alone was nothing more than the flight of winged birds and just as breathtakingly beautiful. I was a stranger in an exquisitely beautiful, purportedly dangerous land.
I was alive in a moment of flight, thankful for every rapturous moment I was alone.
About the Author: Naomi Fino currently resides in California, loves to travel, write, sew and design, fire dance, and has a healthy appetite for a good “Adventura”. Visit her new blog.