The flight from Medellín to Bogota was a quick one. I closed my eyes and before I knew it we were wheels down at our last Colombian destination. I didn’t know much about Bogota other than that they had a fantastic street art scene, and we had a flight out of there in two days time. Which is not ideally long enough to explore a new city. (However, we had a time constraint because when we initially checked into our flight at LAX, we were told by the airline we weren’t allowed to get onto the plane unless we had proof of a flight out of Colombia. This was news to me, since had booked dozens of one way flights and never had to give more proof than a verbal of my next destination. Already cutting it close to boarding time, we scrambled and picked a random flight on the 22nd of October out of Bogota to Peru.) It was now the 20th, so with only two days remaining we were going to have to deal and see as much as we could.
The cab dropped us off a few blocks away from our hostel in La Candelaria district, the oldest part of the city. We walked up and down a very narrow alley paved with harshly uneven cobblestone that made me thankful I had my hiking boots on for stability. Well that, and they couldn’t really fit into my bag either. After about fifteen minutes of searching and after being given a few sets of poor directions we found our nice little hostel, Hostel Masaya. It had a central courtyard and a peaceful atmosphere, which made it feel like a relaxing getaway compared to the nonstop party that was Medellín. Exhausted and tempted to just eat at the hostel, we forced ourselves to throw on a couple sweaters and head to dinner. We got a recommendation from the gal at the front desk to check out a restaurant called Madre. Two blocks to the left and a few to the right, we followed the dimly lit road through the old town until we arrived at a large gate enclosing a mini shopping center that appeared to be closed. We were told that it wouldn’t look like a restaurant from the outside but if we waited a minute a doorman would appear to unlock it and let us in. Sure enough he did just that and we were led to the back which appeared much like a speak easy. Very hip decor with exposed walls and craft beer on tap. We sat down and proceeded to order what I think was one of the best meals I had in Colombia. A perfectly seasoned mouthwatering filet mignon with a sweet yet savory sauce to compliment. We felt like we hit the jackpot, and we’re now the perfect amount of full for a solid nights sleep.
The next day we signed up for a graffiti walking tour. Our guide Ray, knew many of the local street artists on a personal level and was able to give us the inside details on the meanings behind many of their works. Ray started the tour talking about the different types of graffiti writing: from tagging and typography to forms of stencil work and muralism. It was like I was in art school all over again, but this time taking it to the streets. Surprisingly enough many of these artists had previously been or were currently illustrators and graphic design professors, who had a double life outside the classroom.
He informed us of the main street art crews and that after he pointed out their main characteristics we would begin to identify them on our own. Firstly, there was the APC, or Animal Power Crew, who combined many of their different techniques into beautiful collaborations, and second was the Bogota Street Art Crew who’s members included some of he city’s most famous artists. These artist’s personal styles and mediums ranged from free hand aerosol, pictograms, stencils, roller brushes, acrillic, muralism, splatter painting made by paint filled egg shells and ping pong balls, or even reloading fire extinguishers to get a different effect.
The main wall he focused on was a deeply political piece done by some members of the APC. He broke it down section by section describing each scene and style it was created in. The first was done with the freehand aerosol technique and depicted the poor carrying the rich along with burdens of society. A simple yet profound piece as you looked at the objects hanging from the mans back.
The next section was done by the most famous and recognizable of the artists, DjLU. A current university professor and architect who uses intricate layering of stencil in his art to depict his mixed media like collages. He combines this layering with the use of pictograms of ambiguous objects in nature. War bugs with machine guns for wings and martini glasses with weapon stirrers symbolizing war for profit. Also, the ever popular grenade pineapple, symbolizing the play on words that piña in Spanish can mean pineapple or grenade. The scene DjLU was depicting had two parts, representing exploitation and what he called a war false positivo. Ray then asked for a show of hands if anyone of us had any idea what Plan Colombia was. All hands remained at our sides. He encouraged us to do our own research but also preceded to tell us a little about its intent vs actuality, and how this American military aid initiative turned out to be for the worst.
Plan Colombia was a total of 8 million dollars put into place by the Clinton administration in an effort to help combat the Colombian drug cartels. However, 80% of that money ended up going back to the U.S. being that they were one of the main distributors of weaponry. The money and weapons fell into the wrong hands as the plan awarded monetary compensation for the dead bodies of guerrilla members which led to the murders of hundreds of people, including innocent civilians. In many cases homeless were taken out to countryside, killed, dressed in guerrilla uniform and photographed for the media to show that the rebels were being killed and the problem was being alleviated. But in actuality, the initial objective of lowering narcotics trafficking were never met. What it led to was un answered violence. To this effect the plan Colombia was wrongly broadcasted to the world, which is why it is known as a war false positive. In the left section of the mural there are images of the homeless, which make up a huge population of the city. Colombia, believe it or not has the highest number of displaced people, even higher than Syria. Yet when one thinks of a city with such a high homeless population we often think of the city to be dirty. When actually there is hardly any plastic, metal, and glass garbage on the street because it is all picked up and used to create food and housing. A type of self recycling and street cleaning. A transitional program for social benefit to help the homeless population.
The third wall panel’s main focus was how exploitation ruins lives. Depicted was a consumer trapped by money and his possessions. Below it, a pig nose Ronald Reagan with demon horns and coffee bean bags filled with money instead of beans. Presumably the artist’s and many other Colombian’s feelings about the relief efforts of that time and the sweeping under the rug that it didn’t exactly go as planned.
What was also interesting to learn was that even with its giant graffiti art scene, Colombia actually has one of the highest areosol taxes. Meaning that these works of art aren’t just thoughtless pieces. They have taken time and money to create and put their art on display. That being said, residents of Bogota are pretty respectful of the art once it is put on the walls. Choosing to put their tags elsewhere instead of writing over the murals. The art scene has exploded and hit its stride here in the last few years with sponsor works allowing even more spaces for application.
One of my favorite walls was a graffiti re-creation of an image taken by a photographer in series done to show how the other half lives. The couple kissing are actually lying down in the street around trash. Depicting the homeless culture and that despite circumstance and situation, they have found love.
After the tour we headed to Bogota’s version of the cable car and up to the top of Montzerat. As the glass car rose up the side of the hill the city began to stretch as far as the eye could see. People had told us how much bigger Bogota was than Medellín, and we didn’t believe it until we were high above it. On top of the hill was a white church, a garden, and an an unbelievable view of the city. Buildings that appeared to go on for miles looked like a fake backdrop even with the naked eye.
After some time admiring the city from above, we headed down for some lunch as a cafe recommended earlier that morning by Ray. A French Colombian fusion of a cuisine. And once again, absolutely delicious. We were two for two with recommendations now.
That afternoon, we met up with two friends Damien from our previous hostel, and Carlos, our paisa friend we had met during a night out in Medellín. Carlos worked for a fashion designer and was in Bogota for the week on business. He invited us to a fashion show that night and of course I jumped at the opportunity. This was a B Captial event that took place in a giant multi story warehouse a thirty minute cab ride out to the west side of town. It included pop up shops, flash mob fashion shows, food trucks and a party on the third floor put on by the brand Diesel. It was fun experience getting to peek into the Latin fashion scene for a night. I was even pleasantly surprised to see the models rocking sneakers with their dresses, because of course backpacking with my limited wardrobe, I was too. Accidentally, trending.. I’ll take it!
My body needed rest, but the boys insisted that it was our last night in Colombia and we needed to finish strong. Damien was heading back home to Detroit the following day and decided to go all out getting a couple bottles of alcohol at the bar. With my eyes half closed from exhaustion we took sips, danced the merrengue, and swayed our hips to the reggaeton songs that we had nearly memorized until the lights came on. To my surprise, the last song they played that evening, or morning rather, was the Black Eyed Peas – “Where is the love”, which I felt couldn’t have symbolized my experience in Colombia more. Where was the love for this beautiful country? Hidden under years of fear, they were just starting to begin to feel it again from the rest of the world. I was swept by the passion and pride of Colombia and I encourage you to visit as well so you can to feel all this country has to offer.