Surviving the Driving

Trip Start Oct 10, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Colombia  ,
Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Muggings are not common in Bogota. Sure there are a few, but as my host Lili informed me, that´s because the victims put themselves in compromising situations. It´s their own damned fault. Like the couple that tried to walk up to Cerro Monserrate the week before I arrived, an undertaking for which the Lonely Planet warns: "Take it for granted that you will be robbed along the way". And they were, well deserved. Or there was the girl that was out walking the streets of the Candelaria neighbourhood - an area that has had its share of problems at night. She was mugged in broad daylight. But I´m sure she was flashing her camera around and deserved what she got. Or their was the girl, the day after Lili had assured me of Bogota´s safety, who had her Ipod stolen on the bus - while she was listening to it. But I guess she wasn´t holding on to it tightly enough; her own fault. And of course there was my good friend Pete Etherington, on his one day in Bogota with my other good friend Adam Moody. The two had sidled up to one of the city´s many beautiful plazas to watch a street performer. As a distraction one of the muggers had the brilliant idea of spitting in Pete´s face while the other took his wallet. But Pete must have asked for it. He hadn´t been on his guard for the infamous spitting muggers. All of these examples happened within a week and just one degree of separation from yours truly.

Even Lili herself had stories. Her own mother was followed home from the bank and mugged at gunpoint outside the door of her house as she frantically searched for the key. You might think that all of these examples would start Lili questioning her assumptions of safety in Bogota. But before I can mention this glaring disconnect, Lili tells me her own story about how a savvy Bogotan handles a mugging attempt - she tells them to fuck off.

She was alone on an overpass when it happened. A scruffy looking man approached her and demanded her money. Lili, as all Latin Americans do, first demanded proof of danger. In response, the man pulled out his makeshift weapon - a pair of oversized scissors. When the expectation is a big knife or a gun, a pair of scissors doesn't exactly instill fear despite the damage they could potentially cause. Lili's response to the threat was to scream profanities at the man, scream that she didn't have any money, scream that what kind of person would try and rob a young women of her few dollars, scream that he was a dispicable human being. The man was so taken aback and surprised by her endless screaming and bravado that he actually apologized to her and slinked back off into the shadows. Imagine getting an apology out of a mugger!! I rate that about as unlikely as having a good laugh with your best buddy over the "misunderstanding" of him repeatedly sleeping with your wife. Needless to say, I was very impressed but still not entirely convinced that her example proved that Bogota is particulary safe.

Luckily the National Police rule Bogota with an iron fist in an attempt to dissuade any such anti-social behaviour. Lili and I experienced this firsthand, with her brother-in-law Diego. Being the shit-disturbers we are it was a good thing the police were there to quickly diffuse a volatile situation. We had bought tickets to the soccer game, believe or not my first one on this trip. When Lili told me they didn't serve beer in the stadium I was surprised but secretly excited because banned booze means a riotous party. So instead we had a couple of beers before setting out, literally two, just enough to take the edge off. 

We headed out the door into the pouring rain with an umbrella to cover us in the open-air stadium. As we headed through the security-check at the stadium entrance they grabbed Lili's umbrella from her, informing her that it could be used as a weapon. As Lili opened her mouth to protest the smell of beer leapt from her mouth like a fist, landing square upon the nose of the shorter security guard. We were immediately escorted to a back table, where two army officers stood with cases that I was sure contained large sums of cash. So you might see how I was extremely disappointed when the cases were opened to reveal breathalizer tests. As this topic was far beyond my spanish comprehension the officers turned their attention to Lili and Diego. The two were tested on the spot as I watched on, quietly laughing at the officers who thought these two were drunk, as hundreds of boisterous face-painted men stumbled in behind us. When I saw the scores - 0.045 and 0.001 - I figured we were free to pass. So I was a little confused when I noticed we were back outside the stadium.

It took some explaining from Lili for me to understand that we had been kicked out. As of that very night, there was a zero alcohol tolerance at the games since someone had fallen off a balcony to their death a week prior. Of course no one was actually informed of this when they bought their tickets for the game. From the reaction of Diego and Lili this seems like a rather classic let-things-get-way-out-of-hand-and-then-try-to-fix-it-all-at -once approach from the Colombian armed forces. Plus the bastards refused to give us back our umbrella.

Now the last thing I wanted to do here was to worsen the reputation of this already scolded city (although I'm sure that's entirely what I've done). My personal experience was quite contrary. I stayed for seven days and didn't have any threating incidents, and I am apparently the kind of guy who goes looking for those kinds of incidents. Bogota is home to some great, funky neighbourhoods like the Candelaria, plenty of good restaurants and bars, and some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. Just don't go asking for for trouble.
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