Bogotá has a bit of a marmite quality about it. People seem to love it or hate it. For a long while I certainly fell into the latter category, though in time I have acquired a taste for it.
They say you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone… well my story has become a Tale of Two Cities. I’ve recently had to leave Bogotá and return to London indefinitely as my mum’s ill. I travel back and forth between London and Bogotá as my boyfriend Javi is still over there, and I often find myself pondering the things that I perhaps took for granted and didn’t appreciate enough when I had them, when I was living in Bogotá.
1. Eating breakfast with a view of the eastern mountains every day, the morning sun blazing through the living room windows. London doesn’t have mountains.
2. Eating ajiaco once or twice a week. When I first arrived in Colombia, I didn’t really ‘get’ ajiaco. I didn’t understand how to eat it, I didn’t get why you’d eat rice AND potato together in the same soup, and I didn’t see how the slice of avocado or the corn on the cob at the side of my soup bowl fitted into the equation. But eventually I got it. In time. And now I miss the taste of Bogotá, and going to the market and choosing the perfect avocado to eat with my ajiaco.
3. I’ve found Colombians to be big sushi fans, and the best sushi I’ve ever eaten has been in Colombia. From WOK and Canoa restaurants to Hanashi Sushi ordered from domiciliosbogota.com, it’s mostly been delicious, and often with a Colombian touch – perhaps some grated mango splayed on top or plantain filling. To get the same quality in a London restaurant I’d pay at least double the price.
4. I always looked forward to Sundays in Bogotá. Sundays meant ciclovía, so the roads would be quieter, the air would be cleaner, and my boyfriend and I could go for a stroll along the street down to the centre or up to Chicó or Usaquén and have a chance to just enjoy the city. People are more relaxed, doing activities they enjoy such as cycling or skating with their families; people are happier on Sundays.
5. The cinema in Bogotá is so cheap compared to other countries. An expensive ticket to see a film at the Cine Colombia in Andino shopping mall would cost about £7. If you go to the Cinemark at Atlantis shopping mall just a few blocks away from Andino, pick up their loyalty card for free and enjoy new releases for as little as £1 per ticket. I miss going to the cinema with my boyfriend in Colombia.
6. Even when something seems expensive in Colombia, now that I’m back in London I realise how affordable everything actually was; £7 for a posh baguette at the chic-est French café in the city wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in London. Sure it sounds like a lot if you can get a huge three course lunchtime meal (a corrientazo) for £2. But being back in London, I realised that I usually didn’t need to worry about what I was spending on food (or on most things) when I was in Bogotá, because money goes a lot further there than it does at home if you have a good job.
7. I can’t walk to work in London. In Bogotá I lived a 20 minute walk away from where I worked, mainly because the public transport system and traffic in Bogotá is so chaotic (where you work should be a huge factor in helping you decide where to live in Bogotá!). I lived in a central, trendy part of the city and many places were within easy reach – even if I was feeling lazy and decided to take the bus, a return journey would cost £1. Here I live in a nice part of south east London but I have a half-hour train journey, spending £4.80 (off-peak), to get to central London to meet my friends for a drink. The affordable cost of living for me in Bogotá is something I miss a lot.
8. There’s something exciting about Bogotá; Colombians have had to learn to be survivors, and on every street you’ll see someone with their juice cart, or mochila stall, selling obleas or shining shoes. Starting your own business is a possibility for everyone in Bogotá and many expats move to Colombia to do just that. The art scene is flourishing – you only have to look around you in the city and within five minutes you’ll have come across a stunning piece of street art by Rodez or Nomada or Pez or Guache. Budding writers feel inspired, perhaps as the ‘Lost Generation’ of artists and writers in 1920s Paris did. Whether it’s the beauty or the ugliness, the chaos or the art and history all around you, something or other will inspire you in Bogotá… if you’ll just let it.
9. Put simply: I miss my boyfriend. I spent 18 months living in Bogotá, and now that I’ve had to leave my Colombian life and my life-partner there behind, I realise that where I live will never be as important as who I’m with. Even during my darkest days in Bogotá, I never considered leaving because in spite of everything I was so happy with Javi. Clearly personal circumstances have necessitated my move back to London, but, as complicated as my relationship with Bogotá may have been, it’s taught me that I can learn to be happy anywhere as long as I’m with the one I love.