On one of these clear afternoons, with the sun barely winning its everyday battle with the noticeably low clouds, we decided to climb Monserrate, a white church which towers 10,341 feet above sea level, high atop a mountain located on the east side of the city. The natural church rests on the edge of a cliff, watching over the city like some sort of historic, religiously significant guardian. It hovers like the North Star, making the drive to the foot of the hill a relief for the novice taxi driver or misplaced tourist.

We arrived at Monserrate Station and were funneled into our funicular for the steep, eight minute ride up the mountain. There are people who, to this day, hike up its side as a pilgrimage of sorts, but doing so takes nearly two hours and looks about as fun as shaving without a mirror while wearing mittens.

Stepping out as we finished the climb, to put it nicely, was a brutal experience. The dry, paper thin air, the burning sun 1860 feet closer than when we ascended, and the altitude sickness that had settled in since getting off the plane, was now at an all-time high. We climbed the 20 or so steps to the church’s front door, lined by two chest high stone walls separating us from a steep, rolling drop back to the city.

For my hamstrings and quadriceps, each stride felt like I was sprinting on a treadmill.

Peering over the wall’s edge, standing eye to eye with low clouds rolling along mountain tops in the distance, we began taking pictures of the vast city below. In no time, an attractive Colombian woman who worked for the city approached us (these helpful and friendly advances happened approximately a dozen times during our stay), map and informational pamphlet in hand. We stood there smiling, welcoming her help.

My friend, Nick, who we were staying with, had a decent grasp on the city, as he’d been living there for the past seven months, but we humored her anyway. With long black hair and purple glitter on her finger nails, she didn’t look like a city worker should. The young woman began to point first on her map and then to the actual location below us, where she suggested we go to get the most out of her beautiful city. The pride in her voice, even as she struggled to appease us in English, was unmistakable.

She pointed out the Estadio El Campin, the city’s main soccer stadium, and the Parque Metropolitano Simon Bolivar, a sprawling landscape that boasts a man made lake and outdoor arena capable of sitting 60,000 people.

“Moby plays tonight. Next month, Aerosmith,” she said, smiling.

While we didn’t take in the vast park, the soccer stadium was too good to pass up. While waiting in line for a Sunday afternoon match, we quickly took note of the security level. For Colombians, it seemed worse than what they go through getting on an airplane; one told me it was like visiting a prison. For the three of us, though, it was a quick pat down.

We were from the United States, and therefore, with no assumed allegiance to either team, no threat to riot.

Our days were spent exploring touristy culture spots, such as the Museo del Oro (or Gold Museum), and the Plaza de Bolivar, an enormous courtyard found a few blocks from the President’s home. Machine gun toting guards walking up and down the perimeter.

The day after our walk through the center of the city, a Labor Day parade demonstration took a violent turn. Store fronts were smashed and vandalized, over 200 arrests were made, and 16 people were reported injured. A not so gentle reminder that despite murder rates dropping 40 percent from 2002 to 2008, the aftermath of the country’s well documented violence and criminal activity is ever present.

The hundreds of thousands of people who choose to weave motorbikes through the cities incessant traffic, are forced to wear bright vests, highlighting their license plate in an effort to dissuade the well known drive by assassinations of the past. But dark reminders can also be seen as signals of reform.

On nights, we regularly ventured to Zona T, a pedestrian mall twice the size of Quincy Market that’s lined with bars and clubs pulsating salsa and reggaeton to the hundreds of wandering night goers drunkenly stumbling about.

One bar that we stopped at for a drink on the outdoor patio served us beer in solo cups resembling small red buckets for 5,000 pesos, roughly $2.50. I remember entering the bathroom, which was located right behind a bald DJ, looking up at dead flies stuck in the ceiling’s light, bouncing with the comical, booming bass.

On our final night we sat in the beautifully illuminated Parque de la 93 passing around a bottle of aguardiente — a popular South America liquor which literally translates to “Burning Water” — people watching and chatting (to the best of our ability) with friendly Colombians who noticed we were from the United States. Things felt peaceful. The feeling was comfortable and homely, reminding me of Colombia’s new official slogan — a necessary attempt to change their worldly view — “The Only Risk is Wanting to Stay.” As we sat on a bench watching leisurely 20 somethings stroll by, I felt like I never wanted to leave. Today, pleasure and danger go hand in hand. Just like everywhere else.

Photos by Michael Pina.

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About The Author

Michael Pina is a Blast correspondent

7 Responses

    • Carlos Ramirez

      I think Blast is the name of the magazine, I believe so hence the “Blast correspondant” line.

      By the way, great article

  1. Laura M

    THANK YOU!!! THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! I am 23, and enven though i remember the violence and fear we felt I also know the change, and the beauty my city has to offer, thank you so much for sharing it with the world!

  2. MG

    You have to be the biggest wimp to EVER come to Colombia! You have the most BIASED and cry baby writing style that I have ever seen in all my years as writer. Please keep your writing to the Blog-sphere of opinions and uneducated/ill-experienced commentary.

  3. Paula

    Colombia is the best place in the world!!! Seriously, Colombia is passion! The only risk is wanting to stay!

  4. danielabond1

    I read your post its really awesome… It is very informative for me. I got many thing from it. Kindly tell me more detail about it. I will be share with my friends about your blogs. Keep posting, Thanks.

  5. Felicity

    Colombia is a great country. We have a very rich and diverse culture. It is a modern city where you can find everything you would in any other touristic spot. Bogota has lots of museums, parks, and universities, thus it is called “The Athens of South America”. Everyone is so welcome to come!
    Felicity- Bogota HotelsDeals Corredor Turistico


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