Bogotá falls short in sheer numbers of green, open spaces compared to other capital cities I’ve visited – neglected concrete plazas are a more familiar sight (where the developers haven’t got there first) – but it does a good job at compensating for variety with the grand scale of Parque Simón Bolívar.

image

The rolling expanse of the Parque occupies 400 hectares due east of El Dorado International, around 6 km from the city centre. My only previous encounters with it had been various open-air concerts laid on free of charge by the Alcaldía de Bogotá, which means I’ve managed to see Calle 13, Daddy Yankee and the unforgettably named Willie Colón, but nothing else of the park beyond teeming music lovers and battalions of policía.

image

This was a big oversight on my part in retrospect, because it’s great. If a park should be the lungs of a city, Parque Simón Bolívar is the rattly oxygen tank to an emphysematous, phlegm-spluttering Bogotá. Truly an island of fresh-aired respite and tranquility. (Low-flying aircraft excluded.)

Aside from the abundant greenery, there are boats to hire to potter around the lake, bike and jogging tracks, and probably ample dogging to be had in the more isolated shrubberies, I don’t know.

I’m most intrigued by the call of Ciclomisa – Cycle-Mass (the Catholic sort) – every Sunday morning. I’m envisioning priests on unicycles wafting incense and incantations towards the faithful. Who are presumably doing laps of penitence.

I thought I saw a waterborne confessional booth mounted on a pedalo out on the lake but it might have been a trick of the light.

I digress. Come to the park and chill out, it’s delightful.

Advertisements

image

Today is Día sin carro (Car-free Day) here in Bogotá, meaning that all private cars are banned from the roads during daylight hours.

The scheme’s been running since 2001 and by most estimates should take 1.5 million vehicles off the roads. While that excludes taxis and buses i.e. some of the more dangerous drivers and noxious vehicles, respectively, it must have a significant impact on overall levels of airborne nasties choking the city’s 9m residents.

A great idea: if only for one day.

Once a week would be a worthwhile experiment, but I suspect affluent/influential bogotanos‘ aversion to the oversubscribed public transport network makes it less than likely.

Reporteros Sin Fronteras / Reporters Without Borders has released its 2012 assessment of worldwide press freedom.

Image

It’s perhaps not surprising to see Colombia ranking a lowly 143 out of 179 countries polled given its simmering history of conflict – the lowest in South America by some margin – however the overall trend appears to be improving.

Notwithstanding, 130 violations of press freedom were recorded by FLIP, including two murders – this might compare favourably with the maelstrom of kidnappings and killings to the north, in Mexico and some other Central American countries, but it still doesn’t sit well with Colombia’s rehabilitated international image.

It’s still apparently much safer to be a Colombian periodista than político, however. Since I last put ink to screen, regional elections took place across the country (a corollary of which was a 48-hour ban on alcohol sales – we wisely stocked up and threw a party).

A staggering 41 candidates were assassinated during the electoral campaign, a figure not widely reported outside these borders.

Happier blogging to follow with written and photographic chronicles of my life, times and travels during my latest period of blog-neglect.

Cuídense.

In spite of its altitude and undulating perimeter hillocks, the majority of Bogotá sits on a plateau that’s as flat as a pancake. Or a patacón if you happen to be Colombian. The topography, combined with chronic traffic congestion and a severely overstretched public transport infrastructure, makes the bicycle the thinking man’s choice of carriage. Desperately wishing to mimic such wisdom, I jumped on the two-wheel bandwagon soon after arrival.

Given the terrain and my expected usage, I thought I’d plump for a fixie over a mountain bike. Flat terrain demands a heavy frame to keep up momentum no? Plus they look achingly hipster-cool, and the sheltered bogotano denizen has not yet learnt to despise this demographic. I was safe.

Budget constraints ever salient, I plumbed the depths of what money could buy. And to a great extent, you gets what you pays for.

While it might look bacano, corners had most certainly been cut in terms of part-quality and assembly so as to bring it down to the price I eventually paid. Assembly is no responsibility of the bike’s manufacturer, but the design and quality of the original parts – which, incidentally, have dwindled in number due to nigh-on continuous repairs – leave much to be desired.

Nevertheless, I feel I’ve reached something of a stalemate with my bike. Most of what can go wrong has gone wrong already: today’s puncture repair stop and entertaining pedal-mechanism-disintegration were genuinely unexpected. For the most part it’s settled into a pattern of serving me in begrudging, but mostly reliable, good faith.

I ride around 50 miles per week on the iron steed, my regular commute to the university campus being roughly 5km and taking around 20 minutes depending on traffic – and headwind. The commute could be almost entirely completed on cycle lanes (ciclorutas) were it not for their placement exclusively adjacent to busy roads (see below) with attendant dust/emission issues, so I divert through the leafier back streets wherever possible.

The cicloruta in the next photo runs along the left-hand side of this multilane artery - fume central

Best to avoid facing entire classes with 7am pink-eye, I say.

The ciclorutas of the city vary in quality considerably. The best are well-signed, well-surfaced, and set away far enough from the road to mitigate the worst of the choking, lead-ridden pollution. Many however are incomplete, apt only for guesswork navigation when they abruptly end, or at best continue in unpredictable directions. The network printed on city maps is imaginative at times.

Smoothly dropped kerbs are inconsistently applied where cicloruta meets street (punctures and buckling), rubbish, invariably littered with broken glass (more punctures) is often strewn across the path after a resourceful street urchin’s had a good rummage but hasn’t tidied up, and of course the cicloruta is a popular parking spot for hawkers, vendors and sleepy drunks…

…and then there are the pedestrians! As a naturally brisk walker, the slow, meandering let’s-walk-five-abreast gait popular among bogotanos is frustrating on foot. When one of these unwieldy gaggles straddles the whole cycle path and ambles into the cross-hairs of a speeding cyclist with limited braking capacity (blame the workmanship), trouble’s brewing.

My recently bought clown horn is, in reality, no laughing matter, as it often warns of mere seconds before I will plough through a crowd of the offending party’s nearest and dearest and cause serious bodily harm. Needless to say I haven’t yet carried out this threat, but I feel the full-tilt menace of a honking fluorescent spectre bearing down on families and lovers alike will eventually teach people to share the pavement better. One would hope.

But while it’s still quicker, cheaper and greener than any other means of transport , I won’t be giving it up any time soon.

I’ve been awfully quiet of late, ample opportunity to offload a few gallons of pressurised mind bilge into the swirling cesspit of the interwebs if ever there was one.

Life in Colombia continues apace, as I’m led to believe it had done for some time before my arrival.

The crackly white noise of my radio silence belies a glut of travel, to the tierra caliente (tantalisingly close to Bogotá and of a different climatic species altogether) and yet further afield to hedonist’s playground, Medellín. The onset of the rainy season has put paid to any further questing for the time being, due to a mixture of washed-out roads and the realistic prospect of a boatload of rain on arrival wherever I might still reach.

Nigh on three months have elapsed of a fumbling foray into teaching and for the most part it’s going swimmingly. I’ve honed my preparation technique to a level where I’m no longer spending equal time planning as teaching – far from it – and I feel my presence in front of the baying learners is now buoyed more by respectable methodology and knowledge, rather than the floaty but putrid carcass of crass bravura.

But as previous dispatches might hint at, the restive student body is positively convulsing now, and so I find myself treading the fine line between work and strike-breaking as the student paro rolls on for another week. Most of the buildings relevant to me on campus are barricaded to enforce the strike, while my employers continue their undeclared policy of information blackout to make sure I’m as disoriented as many of my students.

Phone shot = low quality

Nacho students demonstrate on Avenida NQS Bogotá

I’m giving informal classes in various outdoor spaces around the campus if students turn up and want to learn, however this situation is only tenable for so long when a) going about business-as-usual during a strike clearly undermines the cause and b) the weather’s bloody atrocious.

The strike also threatens to jeopardise my already laggard salary payments. I see this as an issue for the university and not the strikers , so it’s by no means a criticism of their rightful consensus to walk; neverthless, it is at very least going to result in a robust exchange of views should my rent be late, again, next month.

Time will tell. More wholesome bloggy goodness to follow soon, and on less contentious ground I hope to tread.