What People Think Bogotá Is (a clip from Mr. and Mrs. Smith)
Note the palm trees, warm-weather clothing, general sweatiness, and dilapidation.
What Bogotá Actually Is
If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say I spend approximately two-thirds of my life in Bogotá underwater. That’s not to say there aren’t deliciously alluring aspects of the city – there certainly are – but palm trees and glowing warmth just don’t happen to fall among them. Surprised?
And yet…Colombia-As-Tropical-Paradise aggressively persists as the all-hailed, golden myth among foreigners. If we’re appealing to the math-minded among us, I’d take a quick look at the simple equation A + B = C. Applied to Colombia, if Colombia is on the equator and the equator is warm, then Colombia must be warm.
Not quite. The key factor we’re so desperately missing here is my newest, and occasionally disdained, acquaintance – Altitude. In the US, we’re deeply tied to the idea that temperature functions from North-to-South; the North is cold, the South is warm, and altitude just doesn’t make the cut. But Bogotá, teetering on the peaks of the Andes at 8, 600 feet, pioneers an entirely new concept of temperature extremes. While coastal regions of Colombia may be warm, many higher parts of the country are deluged with rain, chilly weather, and a consistent temperature year-round. In Bogota, a city devoid of seasons, that consistent temperature happens to be cool.
Temperature misconceptions aside, the real issue at stake is not our ability to act as global weatherman, but rather to recognize perpetuated media stereotypes for what they are. It’s far sexier for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie to become one hot, sweaty mess under the searing tropical heat than to huddle together for warmth under an umbrella, although the latter may be far more accurate. I freely admit that, before coming to Colombia, I held tight to my preconceived notions of paradisiacal warmth. While I had been firm in denying wanton allegations that all Colombians were drug dealers, I certainly didn’t do all my research. If I had, I would have filled my suitcase with more sweaters and fewer sundresses, more umbrellas and less SPF 500+.
If anything, I often find myself hesitant to correct friends when they ask “How are the palm trees?” “Are you surviving the jungle?” or “Do you live in a cabana?” Perhaps I’m so enchanted with mythical visions of my Colombian life, that I shy away from bursting anyone’s bubble, least of all my own. Because in bursting my bubble, I would have to admit to myself that, while much of Colombia has been an eye-opening experience, life in a foreign country is not always an adventure, not always one long vacation, and not always a confirmation of your most dearly held, preconceived notions. Instead, I lead a life reminiscent of that in the United States, though tinged with different cultural hues. I still go to work, I still see friends, I still have a love-hate relationship with the gym, I still find myself wandering through an overwhelming city teeming with new restaurants, new clubs, new people…and that life, the one that seems so at odds with our exotic daydreams? It’s not so at odds after all, and instead my yearning for grandiose exoticism has evolved into a quiet appreciation for the small cultural gems of my day-to-day life.
Yet, when push comes to shove, who is to blame for our wayward misconceptions, or is anyone to blame at all? Blame is a tough word – one that implies closed-mindedness and an outer shell hardened to change of opinion – one that makes yourself always right, and everyone else always wrong. If the only Colombian news we receive in the US dabbles in beach landscapes, palm trees, and tropical climes – or guerrilla warfare, drugs, and rampant violence – what are we expected to believe? Is it our fault for swallowing the pill we’re given, and does that give us a right to blame? Or is it our responsibility to do our research, abandon false images – no matter how appealing – and accept a country for what it is, not what we so blindingly want it to be?