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"Like Commonfolk?!" - The Day We Survived Public Tours

Guest appearance by Jessica Meagan

Yesterday, Colombia celebrated the Feast of Corpus Christi. The actual day was Thursday, June 15 but Colombians like to observe holidays on Mondays. They apparently just like holidays in general - Colombia observes 18 public holidays, second only to India at 21. The next two Mondays are also holidays. These people know how to live.

The #bitchesinbogota shook off our beer / wine / vodka hangovers, and headed down to Parque de los Periodistas (Journalists' Park) for the highly-recommended Bogotá Graffiti Tour. The tour company began in 2011 when an Aussie and a Canadian decided they wanted to share Bogotá's unique and prolific art scene with the world; they got drunk a few times, picked their favourite walls, and the rest is history. This tour is now frequently the highest-rated activity in Bogotá; after doing it, we know why. There was some initial apprehension: the bitches had to mingle with other tourists. We all share an aversion to public tours; our lack of patience and general dislike for others makes tours insufferable; however, we sucked it up given the strong recommendations. And we are SO glad we did.

There's no way I can do this tour justice - you should just come to Bogotá, and experience it for yourself. But I will try and hit the high points.

In 2011, a 16 year old artist named Diego Felipe Becerra was shot and killed by police while painting at night. His death and the subsequent cover-up (the various trials are ongoing, even today) sparked outrage in the community and empowered artists. The government slowly began relaxing its approach to graffiti; however, the efforts were inconsistent. Enter, of all people, Justin Bieber. After a 2013 performance in Bogotá, Biebs received a police escort to tag a wall. Understandably, the artists who had been on the receiving end of fines and police brutality for years lost their collective shit. They organized a 24-hour "graffiti marathon", which received strong support from the local neighbourhood.

Until recently, the police / government and the graffiti artists have enjoyed relative, albeit uneasy, peace. Graffiti has been legalized in some areas of Bogotá, and there have been many city-sanctioned collaborations with artists. Unfortunately, the recently elected mayor of Bogotá is less supportive of graffiti than his predecessors. Enrique Peñalosa Londoño was mayor from 1998-2000, and was re-elected in 2016. His government is undertaking an effort to restore the historic La Candelaria district to reflect its Colonial roots, which doesn't include graffiti. Within the last couple of weeks, the government has painted over a number of walls in the district. Our guide pointed out the two major flaws with this approach - first, the government is essentially creating a blank canvas for graffiti artists, and cutting down the costs significantly by handling all the prep work. Second, the government likes to share the location of these blank canvases on social media, making it easier for artists to plan retaliation projects. So it sounds like the next few years should be interesting for Colombia's famed street art.

Our guide, Jay, was excellent - he used the art as a springboard for providing fascinating insight into the socioeconomic and political influences of Colombia. To recap it all here would take too long. Instead, I recommend just booking a trip to see it for yourself.

Here are a few of my favourite pieces:

This is a collaboration between four artists: Dj Lu + Toxicómano + Lesivo + Guache. Dj Lu is a fine arts graduate who keeps his identity secret as he's concerned his politically-motivated pieces will jeopardize his "day job" as an architect and a professor. Toxicómano is actually a collective defined as a "group of antisocial scientists in a fight against stupidity, ignorance, morality and faith through healthy visual attacks." Lesivo is one of the community's most controversial figures; his work is often removed also immediately due to the polarizing messages. Guache is one of Bogotá's most famous artists; he often explores indigenous themes in his work. Together, these four artists created a beautiful piece that represents many facets of Colombia's socioeconomic issues: corruption, greed, irresponsible tourism, unsustainable resource extraction...the list goes on.

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Deela Roca is incredible. One of her pieces was on a wall the government painted over; everything was white-washed except for her art. I hope they just couldn't bear to cover it up.

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Kiptoe is an American artist who, while on a South American tour, made a repeat visit to Bogotá because he fell in love with a Colombian girl. He dedicated a mural to her - "Hasta que nos encontremos de nuevo." / "Until we meet again." Turns out I'm a sucker for romantic gestures.

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After the tour, we trotted up the street for a bike tour of Bogotá. We were certain we would be "over" the public tour thing after the graffiti tour, so we opted to pay an extra 10,000 pesos (~$6) per person for a private tour. Imagine our surprise when we showed up for a tour with 30 of our closest friends...

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Our faces when we don't get to go private.

One benefit of being in a large group - strength in numbers. Like I mentioned earlier, there is no right-of-way in Bogotá. However, while one tourist doesn't pose much threat to traffic, a horde of clueless people on bikes is reason to yield.

We started in the Plaza de Bolívar, which is at the heart of the city. The square is surrounded by historical buildings: the Palace of Justice, the National Capitol, the Primary Cathedral of Bogotá, and the Liévano Palace, seat of the mayor of Bogotá. Then we rode to the Paloquemao market, where we sampled a number of local fruits and vegetables, to varying degrees of enjoyment. As expected, the produce is incredible here - full of flavour.

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Still super thrilled with being part of the general population.

After the markets, we got back on the bikes. Our guide turned to us, and stressed the importance of staying together, and not stopping to take photos over the next few blocks. We were slightly confused, until we realized we were riding though Bogotá's 'red light district.' To go from avocados to prostitution is quite the jump, but we rolled with it (literally - we had no choice). We got to witness an older white man in a Mercedes propositioning a very young girl, multiple drug deals, and quite a few people taking naps in the street.

Adjacent to the red light district is the Cafe de la Fonda coffee factory, which walked through the roasting process and offered coffee for sale. Geri and I are actually doing a very robust coffee tour later this week, so expect more details then. The tour also included a trip through the La Merced neighbourhood, which features very European architecture, and the Símon Bolívar park, which is a large greenspace with sports and entertainment complexes.

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We were also introduced to tejo - a 'sport' involving throwing rocks at gunpowder. Think of it as cornhole with explosions. Adopting this would certainly change the dynamic of quite a few tailgate parties.

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Overall, the bike tour was okay. We had the benefit of socioeconomic / political context from the graffiti tour, which helped. We would have appreciated more explanation on the tour, but that's difficult to provide in such a large group.

We really crammed in the activities yesterday, as we left the bike tour and immediately went to Doña Elsa's house for some authentic Colombian cooking. We also booked the cooking tour through Bogotá Bike Tours. We obviously needed to source some vino tinto, which Mike from Bogotá Bike Tours both found and purchased, as a "sorry" for the bike tour mix-up. Thanks Mike!

Elsa is a wonderful lady who guided us through the preparation of ajiaco, a traditional soup typically made with chicken, three varieties of potatoes, and the Galinsoga parviflora herb, commonly referred to in Colombia as guasca. Cindy and I got a little overzealous, and ended up grating a variety of potato that was supposed to be cubed. But other than that minor incident, the food was delicious and Elsa was incredibly accommodating.

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No night in Bogotá is complete without a couple more bottles of wine. But the bitches took it easy, as today was another big day of activities - something I will let Cindy recap for you next time.

Posted by imalazyj 20:16 Archived in Colombia

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