|The darker side -- entering La Perseverancia|
We did of course point them in the direction of previous posts we've written, detailing how we find the external perception of Colombia and how 'dangerous' it is a little frustrating and very often inaccurate to say the least.* Also the amount of solo travelling we've done around this physically stunning country, most of it detailed on this blog, is, we hope, sending out a positive message that this country is very much 'open for tourism' (and, for some, business) and generally safe.
However, as pointed out in Fighting for 'Free Bogotá', it would be remiss of us to write that there is nothing dangerous at all about this country. A message some of our detractors seemingly wish we would portray. There are though plenty of other English language web sites and blogs about Colombia that set out from the onset not to include one negative word about the place, even if that means bending reality at times.
In any case, what we wrote wasn't inherently negative about Bogotá. In every big (and small) city in the world there are dangerous neighbourhoods where, as a taxi driver once told us about a particular part of Dublin, 'even the dogs hang around in packs and watch each others backs.' Also, we tend to, especially owing to the types of places we like to drink in, take more risks than most other visitors/foreign residents who come to this city.**
We are where we are, we do what we do, and we have our beliefs, likes and dislikes. Right now, for convenience, price but above all, the friendliness of the locals (part of that being the free beers we often get) we find ourselves socialising regularly in La Perseverancia. As stated in previous posts, this area is at this moment in time, as the locals put it, 'muy caliente' (literally 'very hot' i.e. dangerous).
In the last number of weeks this view has only been further reinforced in our minds. For if we're being honest, we put the 'little' early morning incident mentioned in Fighting for 'Free Bogotá' down to stupidity on our part. Plus, very often when Colombians tell us certain areas are dangerous our first reaction is to shrug it off, believing that they're still thinking of rougher times in the not-to-distant (but distant all the same) past.
However the kind of things we've encountered over the last few weeks give an idea of this 'darker side': There was the pretty lame attempt – but an attempt all the same – by two young thugs to rob us in broad daylight in the area; the friendly locals insisting they escort us home for our own safety at night; police officers standing guard outside a tienda we were drinking in, in the afternoon, because we were foreigners and 'at risk' (we find this a little hard to believe, but it's what we were told); plus being witnesses to two local women getting mugged, again in the middle of the day. All these have firmly illustrated the real dangers existent in this part of the city, day and night.
|Officer 'Wrong Way'|
Yet this could be one area to, literally speaking, start a 'fightback'. If enough people, particularly the locals, those who might be seen as community leaders (it's debatable if such figures exist in certain lower-class barrios, or if they do, to what extent they encourage a law-abiding lifestyle), confronted such scum rather than turn a blind eye, it might evoke some sort of change of behaviour, for the better.
From what we've witnessed and anecdotally, few assailants, especially in these daytime 'raids', are carrying firearms; usually, if anything, they just have knives. And usually you don't have to look too far on Bogotá's streets to find some sort of a stick that could be used to confront anyone carrying a blade; something to put more than an arm's length between you and the would-be attacker.
More police on the beat is another deterrent and at times they can be hard to come by in La Perseverancia, but it's not a panacea.
Of course there are a range of social issues that must be tackled as to why some people get involved in criminality and, for one, with such a huge disparity in incomes in this city and questionable priorities by the ruling classes, Bogotá and Colombia in general has a long way to go in addressing those.**
We're not looking for an unattainable utopia (although it's not a bad goal to aspire to), we just want things to improve; and there's certainly scope for that.
Those who would like us to believe that Bogotá/Colombia is a peaceful paradise are plain delusional; nowhere is. They're also helping nobody by peddling such a notion.
*For a start see Dangerous Colombia Part III.
**On both fronts i.e. an idea of the places we like to socialise in and the inequality issues, check out No somos Colombianos, pero... (We're not Colombian, but...).
For some other issues that need addressing in Bogotá read Bogotá's 'broken windows'.