Bogota

Viva Colombia

I am often asked why I like Colombia, South America so much.  My response is, “Colombia and I share something – we are both misunderstood and quite often misrepresented!”  I am quite happy when people realize that in spite of my progressive politics, unique views about religion, and gay activism – I am still quite a nice guy.  The same is true of Colombia – in spite of the exaggerations of Colombian life portrayed in Hollywood movies, Colombia is quite a nice country!  Seeing beyond stereotypes opens the mind to so many new possibilities!  Also please notice… the country Colombia is spelled with an “o” not an “u” (Columbia).

Like me, Colombia is much more progressive than many realize – sorry, I mean Colombia is more progressive… anyone that reads my blog already knows I am Progressive!    Colombia’s government is a Republic with Democratic elections and three branches of government including Executive, Legislative and Judicial (that should sound familiar to Americans).  The FARC have basically been neutered and the days of drug cartels controlling the country are now mythology.  The drug lords, guerrillas, and kidnappings are great for the movies, but not a part of the typical Colombians daily life.  

I have lived in both of Colombia’s largest cities, Bogota and Medellin.  My opinion is that Bogota is more of a

Medellin, Colombia, South America

metropolitan lifestyle similar to living in New York or San Francisco and Medellin a little more like living in Los Angeles with San Diego weather.  Bogota has the larger population with just over 8 million to Medellin’s 3.75 million.  Medellin’s climate is more ideal with a very pleasant 65 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit (18 – 27 Celsius)  year round, compared to the cooler climate of Bogota ranging from 50-75 Fahrenheit (10 – 24 Celsius).  I have great friends in both cities but I feel the weather in Medellin is more conducive for Multiple Sclerosis, so now Medellin is home!

Colombia’s tourism campaign is: “Colombia, the only risk is wanting to stay”.  This proved to be very true for me!  With an American Passport, 60 day tourist visits and there are other options for longer stays.  I wanted to stay longer and found the way for me to get a resident visa called a pensionado visa ( basically a retiree’s visa to encourage people to retire in Colombia) .  I do have to renew my visa annually, but that is ok with me.  Colombia could be an option for many more, especially for the benefits of the climate for people with illnesses like Multiple Sclerosis.  I invite people outside Colombia to come experience the reality of this beautiful country with beautiful, warm, welcoming people and forget what television and movies portray about Colombia!  This is a country you should experience for yourself!

*** I will be posting weekly (maybe more) about life in Colombia – follow this blog and let’s share the experiences of this wonderful culture!

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Categories: Bogota, Colombia, Life, Medellin, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My Life and the Knife

Day time photo of the location of my robbery attempt.

Talking tough has become second nature to me.  Moving to Bogotá, Colombia, was evidence I was tough enough to challenge the preconceived ideas most people have about Colombia.  I have become accustomed to defending my life decisions and opinions regarding politics, religion, lifestyle and philosophy.  But 8:05pm, Wednesday night, June 9,2010, I had to defend my life as someone attempted to rob me using a buck knife with a 6 inch blade.  I have had self-defense training, but had never needed to use it.  The training was also like 20 years ago.  In the crisis…it came back to me.  I learned I am not all talk – I AM tough!

Buck Knife with 6 inch blade.

I was walking on Caracas Avenida (a main street in Bogotá) between Calle 47 and Calle 45a (avenida is avenue and calle is street  in Spanish).  I was returning a phone call to a friend.  I had been warned talking on my cellphone in English while walking alone could be risky, but I was by the Catholic University of Colombia that had security and I was close to my apartment, so I felt no risk.  Afterall Colombia’s tourism motto is, “Colombia, the only risk is wanting to stay.”

Generally when I walk in Bogotá I am walking with a purpose.  I walk fast, I try to avoid eye contact and I do not talk with strangers.  So, as a guy walking next to me said something to me, I ignored him without even looking thinking he was a bum asking for money.  I continued my conversation and I heard blah, blah – Gringo.  I kept walking and turned to him and said, “I am on the phone!”  He was about 5′ 9″ and looked like a typical college student.  Again I heard blah, blah, blah – Gringo and then he grabbed my phone.

FLASHBACK – A little more than a week earlier, while trying to renew my visa, a guy grabbed my phone.  I was holding the phone in my left hand.  instinctively I used my right hand to latch on to his arm and I stuck out my leg and threw him to the ground.  I am not sure if this was instinct or not, but I gave him a strong kick and shouted, “¡Váyase!” (Spanish for “GO AWAY!”).  He did.  Actually he was running full speed before he was even fully upright! haha

The Krzr phone that seems to be in BIG demand in Bogota!

Now as the guy on Caracas was holding my hand as well as my phone, I think he began to realize I was not just going to let him have the phone.  It is and old Motorola Krzr phone with no real value and now for the second time within 2 weeks someone was trying to steal it.  My God – what would happen if I had an i-phone?  Anyone reading my blog regularly knows I do not have the money to buy another cellphone … I do not have the money to even buy my plane ticket home.  So my rage of I am not letting a thief take something I do not have the money to replace.  This rage helped tighten my grip. This let him know for sure, if he wanted this phone – he was going to have to do more to take it.

This is when he took his stand and in his left hand he raised the buck knife.  My grip on th phone grew tighter because it also my grip on his right hand.  Knowing he could not use his right hand now and my right hand free I drew back and swung my fist.  I made direct contact with the center of his chest.  I heard a solid thud.  He fell back a let go of the phone. Then  he elevated his left hand with the knife.  I had a quick flash visualizing the knife enter my chest and I was NOT going to let that happen!  I no longer was defending my property, I was defending my life!

At this point I threw my backpack to the ground freeing my arms completely.  I drew my right arm back with a white knuckled fist ready to fly.  Pointing with my left hand with the phone still in my grip, I the announced loudly, “You better be willing to kill me!”  If I had been Superman, red lasers would have been shooting from my eyes.  The look on my face, the tone of my voice, I knew he understood me even if he did not understand English.  Our eyes locked. I must have looked cross-eyed because I was staring at the knife and looking in his eyes at the same time.  Again I visualized him charging me and sticking the knife in my chest.  Then I saw he make his next move – RETREAT!  He ran away.

This is the moment I realized my friend had been on the phone for the entire altercation.  The sad thing is his English is not good and had no idea what had happened.  I told him, “A guy just tried to rob me with a knife!” His response was simply, “Que?”  (que is Spanish for what?)  I said I would call him back later and pick up my backpack.  I walked to my friend’s café on the next block and began reporting my story.  One guy there called me a hero, but I already knew I fell short of being a hero.  Once again in my life –  I found myself a survivor!  Okay…. A TOUGH SURVIVOR!! lol

Categories: Bogota, Colombia, Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

I Am A Mexican At Wal-Mart!

When I was living in McComb, Mississippi, it was more and more common to see a group of Latinos at Wal-Mart…. I am not sure they were Mexican or not… but for this story we will pretend they were.  They would move in a pack doing their shopping.  Occasionally one would break from the heard.  I would almost see fear in his eyes until he returned to the group.  When together they would laugh and enjoy their time at Wal-Mart, just like us local Rednecks!  Wal-Mart can sometimes be social and entertaining for anyone – a way to pass some time.  For many they may not understand the simple joy of killing some time at Wal-Mart and maybe even seeing friends to catch up with.  But for some, spending time in Wal-Mart is fun and entertaining. I see these Mexicans finding this simple way to enjoy some time.  They keep to themselves, speaking Spanish, and usually they are having a great time.

I remember at time when I would walk through Wal-Mart looking for things I did not need.  Now in Bogotá, I find that simple pleasure for myself again.  Here instead of Wal-Mart, it is called Exito. Sometimes I am alone in Exito and have a fear in my eyes expressing please do not talk to me! But I spend time looking, reading Spanish packages translating to myself, and sometimes laughing at the similarities between cultures…. I found myself thinking – I am like one of those Mexicans in Wal-Mart back in McComb. There are people who say they should go back where they came from and I see that look sometimes myself.  Sometimes I get a look from someone who says…. I remember exploring Exito and enjoying it.  I see a look of I hope this guy is enjoying Bogotá.

But now, I hope that next time I see Mexicans in Wal-Mart I will give a look of welcome with a smile and maybe even say in Spanish – hello (hola) because I know how that kind of small gesture can improve my day.  I am in Colombia looking for a better life and I hope anyone that seeks to improve their life receives support from the new location whether it is just a new city, new state or even a new country!  I hope they can find a better life also!  As Immagration Reform becomes a topic in the U.S., I hope people will think that immigration is a good thing.  People make changes like moving to a new country to have netter lives.  Like my wish with healthcare…. I hope people learn how blessed some are and we can SHARE!  We can share healthcare and our country.  Try to remember a simpler time in your life and try recreating it… enjoy it again.  Everyone deserves to be happy – even Mexicans in an American Wal-Mart!

Categories: Bogota, Colombia, Life | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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