Our home base in Bogotá probably doesn’t pop up on Trip Advisor’s top ten places to stay. When I walk around the neighborhood in Minuto de Dios or in La Palestina, I am something of an enigma. Seeing me on the streets of Minuto is like having a Sasquatch sighting.
The look people give you is not malicious or rude, it is more quizzical. I think they are wondering how I ended up here. Even though this area is not a popular tourist destination I wouldn’t want to stay anywhere else. Staying off the beaten path has given us an experience we would not have gotten elsewhere, and it has given us a different perspective on life in Bogotá. In Bogotá, neighborhoods have historically been separated into zones. Zone 1 is the poorest and Zone 6 is the richest. I would say that our area hovers between zone 3 and 4. We are surrounded people who are up by 4am each morning to ride a bus for two hours that is so packed you see peoples faces smushed against the glass. Many of them work 6-7 days a week for just enough money to pay for the basics. Many of us would be walking around with our shoulders hunched and our eyes cast to the ground after 12-13 hour days, not to mention the 4 hours of travel each day, but everywhere we go we are met with smiling faces.
There is a college and art museum about three blocks away from our apartment, which brings life to the area day and night. During the day the art museum is filled with skateboarders and BMX bikers.
At night laughter and singing floats down the streets, escaping from the local restaurants, cafes and karaoke bars. Karaoke here is much different than back home, everyone in the bar sings along with the song that is on the screen, no one is front and center. The square outside of the museum holds festivals and arts and crafts shows, bringing people out from all over the neighborhood.
Just down the road a paved soccer court fills with college kids and people playing in their suits and ties, trying to leave work in the rearview. Local mom and pop stores dominate the terrain instead of huge conglomerates like Walmart. There are even stores that provide things as specific as paper and ribbon. You can go play pool at a dive bar around the corner and get a beer for about a dollar. Fresh fruits and vegetables are readily available at small bodegas on each block, where the store owners call you neighbor and they always remember your name or your face.
I love this place, the people, the food, the smells and the sounds. I would love for other travelers to experience Minuto de Dios and La Palestina, but at the same time I want to keep it all for myself. I have not seen a single english speaking tourist in the area since we got here four months ago, and I hope it stays that way. I like being in a place that does not cater to tourists, where you have to work on your Spanish with the locals, where the people work hard, and live life with passion. As you embark on your own journey, I encourage you to stay in a neighborhood that takes you out of your element, that opens your eyes to the real city, and forces you to immerse yourself in the culture.