Photo essay: Thank you for visiting Bogotá
In November 2010, bored with life and afraid to face another Thanksgiving, Brian Leli packed a bag and went to Bogotá. He wandered the streets for seven days, taking photos and writing in his notebook and laptop. (Part one. Part two.)
30 November 2010 Chicago, IL:
All around me are notes and images. Some in notebooks; others on scraps of paper. Some on my computer; others in my head. Fragments. Bits and pieces of seven days in Bogotá.
They are all here: the narrow roads; the markets and vendors; the street lined with nothing but religious shops, all identical, all sitting one next to the other.
There is the old woman who shook as she begged me for oxygen; the old man who walked up to me in the crowd and made the sign of the cross; the students who wanted to know why I’d come, what I thought now that I had, what I would tell others.
Addresses and intersections, coffee shops and translations — English to Spanish, Spanish to English. Museums and churches, the roosters tied to bikes and the men selling esmeraldas — they are all here.
And if one were to ask me now what I feel one should do in Bogotá, I would answer immediately — walk the streets; walk alone in traffic.
Pare means stop. I checked and am sure of this. But the red signs that say “PARE” mean nothing. The same can be said for the lanes. They are there, sometimes, but they too are meaningless.
Bogotá traffic may best be described as a thousand microscopic moves in a close proximity game of Chicken. Cars and buses inching toward each other until one gives and the other proceeds: the winner.
The motorbikes squeezing and shooting through it all. The people jumping on and off moving buses. The horses riding by, pulling wagons, restoring balance — they are all here.
And rising above the din of the traffic, somehow, is the roar of the people. Everywhere are lessons in vitality.
There is the man with a purple and infected leg, kindly fighting an unkind fight. There is the woman selling umbrellas and repeating her same phrase all day. She is on every block, every day; her voice booming. There is the family selling what they’ve made on the sidewalk. There is another standing in front of a monitor in the rain, singing karaoke on a Saturday night.
There are the dogs that will spend most of their lives underfed and running in the rain. There are the army policemen: soldiers, special ops, the National Police, the Presidential Guard. They are standing in place and holding assault rifles and cigarettes. They are young, shy about having their picture taken.
There are the restaurants, cafes, shops and sidewalks — overflowing with people, walking alone in traffic. Walking together and creating a pulse, a current that runs vigorously through the streets.
The calles run east to west. They are intersected by the carreras that run south to north. Should one get lost, one can turn at any point toward the mountains to know that one is facing east. From there, getting back on track is a matter only of basic mathematics. And so immediately, one is free to get lost; one is free to wander. And should one be so inclined, one is free to walk in any direction, given the mountains as a compass.