Thus begins a new chapter, both here on the blog and in the life.

First impressions of Bogotá have been generally positive.

As is clear from the air, it’s a sprawling leviathan of a city.

The city limits envelop over 600 square miles of the Andean high plateau at an altitude of around 2,600m / 8,500ft. Within these limits reside approximately 8 million people, and another 1.5m-2m crowd into the wider metropolitan area. In terms of population and geographical scope, it’s closely comparable to London.

In many ways this is a city that grew up too quickly; by rough estimates, the population has doubled in the past 20 years.

Contributing factors are myriad, ranging from industrialisation and ensuing urbanisation, to the decades of politically motivated violence that has blighted rural Colombia. The latter is particularly salient: estimates put the number of displaced persons nationwide at between 100-300,000 in 2010 alone, and at between 3-5 million (circa 10% of the present population) since 1960. Evidently this is an ongoing but little publicised humanitarian crisis [PDF].

While the incidence of crime in Bogotá is not what it once was – the shocking murder rate of the early 90s has fallen by 75-80% – unsurprisingly in a city where a third of the population lives on under $2 per day, acquisitive crime is still a significant problem.

As with many large cities on the continent, the recent explosive growth provoked largely by internal migration (forced or otherwise) has been haphazard, and the urban landscape bears witness to its desperate expansion.

Old  Bogotá remains visible only in a few places – not that it was of any imaginably comparable size relative to the enormity of the present day: both the historic neighbourhood of La Candelaria, and the highfalutin’ residential areas near the Zona Rosa still retain the low-rise, low-density model – respectively through deliberate conservation and (one assumes) powerful, moneyed residents.

From my Lilliputian perspective, you’d be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of buildings in the rest of the city that are more than 30 years old. Hardly surprising when you look at the city’s demographic history, but certainly an eye-opener for the European visitor.

In spite of the tsunami of concrete that’s washed over the plateau, two weeks into my nine month stint and I’m still of no fixed abode, albeit actively seeking one.

I now occupy the nebulous frontier between worker and volunteer (engineered as such for visa expediency), which means I’m in the country on a visa de cortesía and without a formal contract of employment. My monthly pay-cheque, an ample sum of dinero relative to cost of living, is not in fact a salary but a stipend para sobrevivir. This was all heavily stressed by my overlords, who are incidentally by no means my employers: at their insistence.

So somehow, I’ve morphed from generously salaried office boy to a not-for-profit individual.

Of course, however accurate that statement might be, it’s a pessimistic expression of the benefits that I’m reaping through my decision to take leave of the corporate world.

Notwithstanding, the crunchy kernel of the issue is that without a contract of employment and the financial backing of a bona fide employer, my all-consuming desire to live in a swanky high-rise penthouse in the centre of Bogotá remains unrealised due to the surety demands of local estate agents.

As a fundamentally lazy optimist, I remain hopeful that everything will resolve itself without my having to expend much more energy in the meantime.

The day I actually unpack, 24 days after leaving home some 5,000 miles north-east of here, shall be a happy one indeed.

A side order of photos to accompany the blog is pending determination of where in Bogotá a big shiny DSLR will stay in my possession, and where it might provoke a lively debate over ownership.

Listo.

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