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One of the most popular questions many long-term ‘visitors’ to Colombia get thrown at them by the locals is ‘Por qué Colombia?’, ‘Why Colombia?’ or more specifically in my case ‘Why Bogotá?’ Most who ask this are quick to suggest an answer themselves, the common retort being ‘a girlfriend’. But no, that’s not the reason for me.
In this land of ‘beautiful and plenty’ on the ladies front – granted I’m still a little confused as to how some of them operate – I’ve yet to be overly enthused to commit to just one. A lot of that is really down to my honesty – and perhaps frugality. For if you were to play ‘romance’ the way many men here do, then that would mean committing to a number of women at the same time. In fact, it could be said that most of the girls here expect as much (you might like to equate this behaviour as taking the ‘best bits’ out of the Muslim and Christian religions). However, I’m just not in the ‘commitment’ mood at this moment in time, full stop.
So then, why indeed Colombia? Well sticking with the reasons why I didn’t come here, making sack loads of money is one of them. There are plenty of other countries across the globe you could head for – it would appear anyway – where you could make and save much more money doing more-or-less the same thing (English teaching that is, my main gig up to now). In terms of Bogotá, my home on-and-off for over two years, you don’t come here for the glorious weather and/or laid-back coastal lifestyle. That it’s a gas-guzzling, construction site of a city; gets more than its fair share of ‘cats and dogs’ rain; has a population of about 7 million, and is perched well inland at an altitude of over 2,600 metres account for that.
It would certainly though be a complete untruth to say that I’m here against my will or wholly by accident. What is true, however, what I termed my ‘second coming’ to South America, in June 2011, was aimed more at Chile than here. That was because I wanted to give myself a more concrete reason to return to this continent than just willy-nilly travelling and I initially found the grounds for that in signing up as a volunteer for an English language media group in Santiago.
Though perhaps tellingly enough, I firstly spent two weeks in Bogotá and its surrounds before hitting overland for Chile. Now that wasn’t just because it was far cheaper to fly into here from Europe compared to Santiago – the chance to catch up with some friends from my first visit to Colombia (February 2009) being a much greater reason.
Cheap flights back to Ireland were nonetheless the biggest factor in my brief return here in October 2011. This time, a ten-day stop though all it was, I encountered a less pleasing aspect to the country. Namely being completely ignored – well apart from a highly aggressive tirade down the phone that is – by somebody who I had thought was at least a friend, if not something a little more. Apparently, this is how women from Santander roll, right? (Further evidence is available on request your honour.)
However, after a necessary four week stop in the home country, back I came, in a ‘see what happens’ style approach. An initial spell of wandering around to less-visited spots in this physically stunning country with its amazing and diverse wildlife helped me get over that aforementioned ‘defriending’ by someone who had been a strong initial reason in tempting me back in the first place. (She is part of my life once more, however – I can be quite forgiving and lenient at times.)
It was always likely that I’d return to Bogotá – Colombia’s ‘city of opportunity’, the best place for a local or expat to find work. It wasn’t that I was really stuck and needed money immediately but I figured I’d give living here a go for a bit. So after a slow, admittedly somewhat reluctant start, I managed to find some steady, semi-profitable English teaching work coupled with occasional editing of various Colombian produced English documents. Not forgetting the odd bit of relatively enjoyable TV extras work; something different anyway, a change being as good as a break and all that.
Even a longer visit back home this year, again for a family wedding, wasn’t enough to persuade me not to come back. (In fairness, not too many people are willingly electing to stay in Ireland right now.) In theory, once I decided I was leaving Ireland again, I could have picked anywhere; I’m not quite at the Oscar Wilde ‘the world was my oyster but I used the wrong fork stage’ just yet; I think.
Bogotá, however, seemed to be calling me you might say – although I wasn’t and I’m still not sure what exactly it was saying. Whisper it, but another ‘Santandereana’ was a partial reason for my return. And yet again, true to form, it’s all gone awry. Sucker for punishment and all that.
It hasn’t derailed me though – on balance it’s good to be back in my ‘second home’. Yes, Bogotá may not be the most obvious of ‘must-see’ places Colombia has to offer – I’ve seen a fair share of this natural paradise to know this – yet for some rather unfathomable reason, it still has a hold on me.
One thing is for sure, at this remove anyway, the Colombian tourism board’s old slogan of ‘the only risk is wanting to stay’ – be that subconsciously or not – is certainly ringing true. I’m just not sure why that is.
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