“Colombia, tierra querida,” I exhale as the plane lands at El Dorado International Airport. 18 hours and 6,753 km later, I have finally arrived in the motherland.
Our first stop was the capital city of Bogotá. Bustling with people and cars, this big city is the economic and cultural centre of Colombia.
After sitting on an airplane for more than 10 hours, a bike tour was the perfect way to begin an adventure around the city.
So we got on bikes, put on helmets, and began pedalling.
In just a few hours, my knowledge of Bogota expanded tremendously. This concrete jungle filled with traffic, street vendors, never-ending construction, colonial architecture, and graffiti was beyond mesmerizing.
Mike, our bike tour guide, was so passionate about his work. As a social activist, he spoke about some deep issues I was not expecting to hear on a bike tour.
Identity, or the struggle of identity, was one of the topics that captivated me. A large number of factors, including Spanish colonization, oppression of Indigenous peoples, European influence, and the diversity in each region, have created an identity crisis for Colombians.
So how do Colombians deal with this? By embracing their differences. The history of welcoming ethnic diversity within the Colombian population has made the country home to a wide range of cultural expressions. And while some ideologies between Colombians are certainly not the same (I’m talking politics here), there’s a strong urgency for peace.
Violence and government corruption continue to be pressing issues, yet there’s a movement and an energy from the people that can not be ignored. The Colombian people don’t just want peace, they demand it.
This urgency for peace is something that has united all Colombians; They believe they will achieve it one day.
Which artist does the best job of celebrating the bodacious, full curves of a Colombian woman?
If you’re thinking of a Latin reggaeton artist, that’s not what I was going for.
The correct answer is Fernando Botero (also known as the most famous artist and sculptor from Colombia).
In the Museo Botero, we had the chance to see Botero’s paintings and sculptures. The art museum itself was charming, contained Botero’s personal art collection, and admission was free.
Botero donated more than 200 artworks to this museum so that the Colombian public could enjoy it for free. This really impressed me because it demonstrates that the art scene in Colombia is highly appreciated and meant to engage the public.
Art is for everyone to celebrate. And whether you see Botero’s art as unique, satirical, or downright hilarious, this art museum was worth the visit.
Out of the chubby naked women, chubby fruit, and chubby animals, my favourite paintings were the Mona Lisa and El Ladron (the thief).
This next place I visited had a “goldmine of information.”
Museo del Oro, South America’s most famous gold museum, features 55,000 pieces of gold from pre-Hispanic cultures. This place was literally dripping in gold!
Before coming to the Museo de Oro, I thought gold was just used as a way to show off your wealth. I was expecting to see gold jewelry and big golden ornaments dating to the Spanish colonial times. But boy, was I wrong.
The gold artifacts in each exhibition were not for decorative purposes. In fact, they were archeological artifacts that taught us the history and societal norms of pre-Hispanic cultures.
To pre-Hispanic cultures, gold was not a symbol of material wealth. To them, gold was a sacred metal that received the Sun’s energy. Gold was a source of fertility, and was used in religious offerings.
For example, tunjos (gold offerings) were thrown into the Laguna de Guatavita (Guatavita Lake) by Muisca chiefs between 600 and 1600 CE. One of these tunjos was the Balsa Muisca, also known as the El Dorado Raft. This tunjo gave birth to the legend of El Dorado.
While it might sound crazy how throwing gold into a lake will bring fertility to anyone, I was impressed to see this museum celebrate, preserve, and exhibit the culture and history of Indigenous Colombian cultures.
My next destination is Caño Cristales. As I sip my cafe con leche, I imagine what this river of five colours will be like. My expectations are high, since it’s considered to be “the most beautiful river in the world.”
Ready to leave the city, I reflect my final thoughts on Bogota. To be honest, this is definitely not a city you fall in love with right away.
Just like me, you will probably lose your patience in the traffic jams.
You will probably feel a tiny bit suffocated by all the people in the city centre.
You will probably notice that the air quality is not amazing.
You will probably complain about how cold it is.
And yes, you better watch your personal belongings when walking on the street.
Bogota is a huge, sprawling mass of metropolis. So there’s a reason why things are the way they are. My advice? Don’t let those little things take away from your experience, because Bogota is where you’ll find a perfect blend of urban life, history, art, and culture.