Yesterday, I moved from the hostel into an Airbnb in a pretty swanky part of town, Chapinero – north of La Candelaria region where my first hostel was located. I almost gasped when I entered the apartment. All-white marble floors, accented by black wood and leather furniture, the makings of a home magazine. The apartment itself is so nice, I don’t even mind the fact that I may spend the next few days inside working.
The allure of the shining sun and new neighborhood outside was calling my name this afternoon, so I took a stroll to explore what I will refer to as “Bougie Bogotá”. One can easily understand why once you leave. High-rise buildings line the street, wide sidewalks, freshly manicured lawns checker the landscape. There’s a plethora of restaurants with hip names, healthy locally sourced ingredients, gourmet burgers (a true sign of the come-up), and even gluten-free options (in the land of bread, can you imagine!).
The availability and also affordability of a wide range of not only fruit but VEGETABLES truly caught my eye and grounded me in the reality of my surroundings. Just like in the U.S., food disparities (wouldn’t say ‘desert’) exist in Colombia. Bogotá is quite a big city, and like other big cities, geographic disparities exist, but in a land where agricultural production is much closer than in other countries, I was surprised to see such a stark difference.
Chapinero and the surrounding areas to the North have large 24 hour grocery stores with fresh properly stored meat, and an abundance of vegetables in addition to a wider variety of branded, packaged food items. At the corner of the street from this Airbnb there is a large vegetable only supermarket providing a much wider array of vegetables than I have seen since my time in Colombia. Like in the U.S. healthy options are closed for those in lower-income areas, and that is doubly disastrous when the national food consists of many fried options, starchy carbs and meat. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good chorizo and arepa set, but I would love to have a set of mixed vegetables on the side as well.
In addition to an explosion of food choices (restaurants included), you can tell there is a heavy expat influence. I have come across artisanal cafés with loads of English books, U.S. franchises like Subway and Papa John’s, and the names of some stores are even in English (Food hub, etc.). There is also a number of different fitness centers – a boxing ring, group fitness gym, step studio – and the sidewalks are clean and wide. Unlike in La Candelaria, I feel comfortable walking the streets at night as they are relatively well-lit, semi-occupied and receive a decent flow of traffic.
However, I miss the close-knit sense in La Candelaria. There is a university nearby where I was staying, and on Friday night, people congregated around, a mini band formed and they spent the evening playing and singing along to old school Joe Arroyo songs. The rolling hills of La Candelaria, the Sunday boom of La Septima, the winding misleadingly numbered streets, and the proximity to Monserrate add to the unique nature of the neighborhood. As much as I hope this character persists, I can’t help but acknowledge my desire to see better food options in the neighborhood and cleaner streets. I have slowly but surely moved away from romanticizing lacking infrastructure and acknowledging that some things….like sanitation and healthy food options, are inherently good and should be desired and provided to all people.
Nevertheless, La Candelaria and its quirks and Chapinero and its bustle bring to light the Bogotá of today. Modern, expanding, accommodating, housed still in Colombian culture and tradition.