Some of my favorite adventures so far have been ones that I could not give you an exact geographical location for until I got there. My geographical understanding of Latin America continues to increase. Last week I took a last minute trip to Bogotá, Colombia, and it turned out to be the perfect getaway.
I originally planned on staying in Caracas for spring break, but I quickly realized that I needed a little more than endless downtime at home. I love exploring, and I was able to do so much of it in Bogotá.
Bogotá, from what I have been told, has evolved much over the past several years. It is becoming such a cultural destination. To me, it felt like a combination of cultural encounters. The city seemed to combine traits of Latin America, Europe, and the United States, and there was much diversity of people within the city.
Just yesterday I was thinking back over this trip, trying to gather together the bits of experience in order to create a stronger sense of understanding. I could not help but wonder if the city would have felt a little different if I had not lived in Caracas for the past year and a half. Would the European and Stateside city undertones be a little less, well, vibrant? Would I only see one culture instead of a cultural myriad?
In this, it felt like an ideal getaway. The food was fantastic, and, for me, food is such a part of any experience. The sights were a breath of fresh air, and the freedom to walk around and simply be a tourist was ideal.
The truth is, I love being a tourist, but I want to be the type of tourist who does not merely bring a monocultural expectation. I want to be open and engaged in wherever I am.
I also love simply getting lost in a city and wandering around until I find one of those idealistic destinations on my list. My first day of actual exploration was spent wandering around, finding myself in little cafés and restaurants completely unplanned, finding myself standing in Plaza de Bolívar, and stumbling upon a candy-cane striped church.
I discovered a few distinctive cultural differences between Caracas and Bogotá, as well as some similarities, while I was there.
First, arepas and empanadas in the two counties are different. I did not necessarily think they would be the same, but it was fun to discover how they are different. I do not know that I could choose a favorite.
Another difference is the transportation systems. In Caracas, the main means of transportation is the metro underground and the bus above ground. In Bogotá, the bus and metro are seemingly combined into what is called the transmilenio. There is some controversy over the effectiveness of the transmilenio, but I enjoyed it, even if it was confusing for me because I was able to see more of the city this way.
A similarity between Caracas and Bogotá is the use of distinctive keywords. For example, I was not sure if both countries used “chao” to say goodbye, but it seems that they do.
There was also that ever-present warmth about the people in Bogotá, just as there is in Carcas. My favorite encounter occurred while riding the transmilenio into the heart of the city. A sweet lady was sitting beside me, and she attempted to start up a conversation. My Spanish is the bare minimum, so I told her I do not speak much of the language at all. She just smiled and said, “Esta bien. Me gustan los extranjeros.” (“That’s okay. I like foreigners.”)