Thursday, January 18, 2018

Off-Limits Colombia

Stay out of the dark regions!
The U.S. government approves of its citizens visiting Colombia - but not all of it. Four departments, located on the Venezuelan border and Pacific Coast regions, are supposed to be off limits.

While the U.S. directive generated protests from some of the forbidden regions, it actually generated relief from many more Colombians, who were happy that most of the country was in the 'visit with caution' category. That certainly would not have been true a few years ago.

Of course, the reality is much more subtle and complex. Colombia's Pacific Coast does suffer lots of violence, so why are only two of its departments on the no-go list? The region has been attracting growing numbers of tourists in recent years thanks to its fishing, surfing and spectacular whale watching, and nobody's told me of having had any problems there. Why didn't the U.S. State Department instead advise potential travelers to go there only with an agency which knows the area? After all, you can just as easily fall victim to crime in Bogotá by wandering into the wrong neighborhood.

Even more radical are the rules controlling the movements of embassy employees, who are still prohibited from riding buses and from traveling without permission in all but a few parts of Colombia.

Times have changed, and it's high time that the U.S. government changed its attitudes to match.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

A Sad End for Samurai

A search rally for Samurai in the Parque Nacional. He had lots of friends.

You might have noticed the posters around town, or even encountered one of the search rallies. But no, Bogotanos are not taking up the ancient Japanese sport. Rather, 'Samurai' is the stage name of Hernández Beltrán, a prominent Bogotá hip hop musician who disappeared in mid-December.

Samurai's fans held on to hope and carried out a massive search. Fate was against them and Samurai, however. A few days ago, a badly decomposed corpse discovered Jan. 4 was identified as Samurai's. He had been murdered with blows to the head with a blunt instrument - perhaps in a fight.

Samurai became one of Bogotá's last homicide victims of 2018, in a city which still has way too many of them.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Marijuana Nation?

Selling medical marijuana products near La Plaza Bolivar.
With 50 million people, Colombia has about 0.657894% of world population.

Yet, the latest United Nations plan alloted to Colombia an incredible 44% of the world's legal medical
Pot products for sale in Bogotá.
cannabis production.

No, it's not that all Colombia suffer from ailments treatable only by medical marijuana. Rather, I suppose, Colombia was one of the few nations to bother to apply for the U.N.'s marijuana allotment. Add to that the warm tropical climate with lots of rainfall and humidity that favor pot production, as well as a government which has legalized medical marijuana and criticized the War on Drugs, and Colombia looks like a pretty nice fit for industrial marijuana plantations.

A lot of Colombian pot apparently will head north to Canada, where growing conditions aren't so good.

Coca and pot products.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Monday, January 15, 2018

A Changing of the Art on Calle 26

A healthy food mural across from Parque del Renacimiento, by Lesivo.
If there's one thing we know, it's that Bogotá has too many parks, police, soup kitchens and schoolbooks - and that's why the city is spending public money painting street art where there already is great street art.

Here are the old murals on Calle 26, sponsored by the city between about the Cementerio Central and the Universidad Nacional.

Street art is great, but Calle 26 had lots of it already.

Why not paint somewhere else, where there isn't great art already?

An indigenous woman, painted by a Peruvian graffiti crew.

A jaguar, icon of Colombia's wildlife, and a coal miner, by Toxicomano. 
The image of the coal miner, incidentally, comes from a famous photo of a West Virginian miner who died young from black lung disease. The mural, by Toxicomano, declared that 'Water is worth more than gold.' Illegal gold mines have destroyed innumerable rivers and poisoned many people, particularly on Colombia's Pacific Coast.

The assassinated comedian Jaime Garzon, dressed as a maid, by MAL.

'Land, peace and bread.' A tribute to the 1917 Russian Revolution.

A woman and child, a few blocks from the Universidad Nacional, by a graffiti crew from Lima, Peru.

Suffering? But she's smiling! A bent over woman appeared to be communing with nature, also by a Peruvian crew.
And now they're going, going, gone....

If they were determined to spend the city's budget on more murals, then why not paint empty walls, of which Bogotá has many???

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, January 14, 2018

When it Rains, it Hails

Manuel holds a handful of hail during an involuntary pause during a bike tour.
Patches of hail outside the
Museo de Oro TransMilenio Station.
Bogotá has experienced an unseasonal amount of precipitation in recent days, some of it frozen. Despite the altitude, it never snows in Bogotá, but it does hail, suddenly, violently and even painfully for those of us who have experienced its impacts directly.

Poor tree wasn't born to be hailed on.
A TransMilenio bus rolls thru the weather.
The hail melts away quickly, washed out by the often torrential rains. But those rains inundate the city, many of whose streets appear to have been designed by people who didn't believe it rained in Bogotá. Intersections turn into pools, and streets into streams.

Water-cycling across Carrera Septima.
On Carrera Septima, a recently-built bike lane floods.
Amphibious bicycling in Santa Fe.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Holiday Respite For Our Lungs

The holidays, when schools and businesses shut down and many Bogotanos leave town, allows a temporary respite for our lungs. El Tiempo illustrated this yesterday with dramatic side-by-side photos of Bogotá's air on a 'normal' (poisonous) day and during the holidays.

The Virgin of Guadalupe's normally hazy view of Bogotá is temporarily replaced by a clear one during the holidays.
The views from the intersection of Avenida Ciudad de Cali and Calle 13.
A bus belches smoke yesterday on Carrera Septima, near the Ministry of the Environment.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Egipto's Three Kings Festival

The Three Reyes crowd, with the Iglesia de Egipto in the backgrond.
This weekend, the poor neighborhood called Egipto above La Candelaria is holding its annual party, the 'Three Kings Festival,' considered the symbolic end of the Christmas season. 

Lots of crowds, music, alchohol, cholesterol and calories. If you're into that, then take a walk uphill.

A view uphill into Egipto.

Partying in the street below the festival.

Pouring chicha, a traditional drink made from fermented corn.

Grilling up the meat!

Chicharrones. A moment in the mouth, a lifetime in the arteries.

Hiking thru La Candelaria up to Egipto.

Lots of police and security.

Meat everywhere.

A party on the street nearby.

Quite a crowd!

A safety officer on the watch.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Who Owns the Sidewalks?

A cop watches as vendors gather up their goods on a side street off of Carrera 7.
One of Mayor Peñalosa's most prominent and polemical policies, clearing public spaces of illegal vendors, may have hit a roadblock.

Courts ruled recently that vendors who sell on a particular spot for a considerable time acquire rights
A car occupies a sidewalk in the Los Martires neighborhood.
If you park your car on a sidewalk long enough,
does that make you the sidewalk's owner?
of possession for that piece of pavement, something like eminent domain, and can't be driven off without a sort of due process. By the same token, the court ruled, by permitting vendors to use sidewalks as their retail space for years, it is implicitly saying that they have a right to be there, and authorities can't suddenly change the rules.

This is an age-old battle in Bogotá, and one which the city won't ever win. As long as there are poor people here and the sidewalks offer access to many potential customers, vendors will occupy them, even if they are forced to play hide-and-seek with the police.

A cop escorts a vendor off of Carrera 7.
It is true that many street vendors are a nuisance: They clutter and block sidewalks, compete with tax-paying formal businesses and contribute to an atmosphere of anarchy and disorder. But they also serve many functions, providing a livelihood to poor people and easy access to products for the rest of us. I've bought headphones, books, socks, fruit and shoes on the street (or sidewalk).

If only authorities could distinguish between 'good' vendors who don't block pedestrians and
don't compete with neighboring shops, and those who do do damage to urban living. Unfortunately, making such a distinction is nearly impossible, and therefore

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours