Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Bogota, Pt. 4: In Harm's Way

Warning: Violence is not typically depicted in Garth's Blog. That being said, the last part of this entry from Sunday night (originally posted as "The Bodyguard") references a couple of rough encounters I had in Colombia.  One part of the story could be upsetting to some readers, but there's nothing offensive here.  Everything was under control.  If I were to share the true context of my experience with Hernando, it would be apparent that the situation was not as grim or foolish as it sounds.  Had that context been specified, the facts of this story would be re-read in a different, much more positive light.

I'll post another adventure from Colombia in early March, after I fly home from a quick visit with some friends in Europe.  Enjoy the story and the pics!

Armed soldiers were stationed at random streets throughout Bogota... but only in some neighborhoods.  This recruit is guarding government buildings behind the Colombian President's house. 

The Sunday flea market in Bogota was a worthwhile diversion this morning. I returned in time to upload last night's "Big Welcome Party" blog post (link) from the Musicology Hostel. My fellow backpackers had vastly different ambitions (if any) for the day than mine, thus I set out for a solo exploration of Bogota.

Solo was the plan, anyway.

The plaza on the way to Mount Monserrate, a hike for another day

Exploring the neighborhoods of Bogota

Barely an hour into my jaunt, I ran into my volatile Colombian friend Hernando for a second time. He was having an undignified moment, one which could happen to the best of us. He excitedly accepted my invitation to come along with me on the journey.  Note: Like hitchhiking or any other risky activity I may practice in a foreign county, I do not advise engaging in this behavior nor would I EVER allow today's events to happen if traveling with my precious family.

Hernando felt greatly indebted to me after the dramatic circumstances of our first meeting (omitted here from the public version of Garth's Blog). He declared himself to be my personal bodyguard inside what he claimed was the most dangerous city in the world.

Little did I know that Hernando would later save my life. Twice.

We took turns calling the shots.  The Gold Museum had closed before we arrived.  Hernando compensated by excitedly showed me some of his favorite spots, discoveries that he had made since arriving here in Bogota.  He indulged me in a few of the touristy sites, too.

Buying fresh produce, baked goods, and sweets from Colombian street vendors

Street performers entertain spectators on the streets of Bogota

The Plaza de Boliviar, featuring a statue of Simon Bolivar surrounded by the National Capitol, Palace of the Justice, Lievano Building, the Palace of Narino, and the 19th century Catedral Primada cathedral

Hernando repeatedly resisted my intentions to hike to the top of Mount Monserrate at dusk. He rightly feared that it would be too dangerous, an objection that would soon prove to be ironic.

It was tempting to ditch Hernando and hike up Monserrate myself. My inner conflict sprang from the awareness that he was a fellow traveler who clearly needed a friend. Someone to listen.

Setting aside my plans, we sat down in the back of a 16th century cathedral to quietly talk. Hearing his troubled life story moved my heart to compassion.


A scary situation soon overshadowed my good intentions. Hernando insisted on running a quick errand, which was completely legit and legal.  As we walked we suddenly found ourselves crossing a very rough neighborhood, even for a city with a reputation like Bogota.  Disclaimer: Many travelers agree that Bogota's reputation as an extremely dangerous city is outdated. I rarely felt unsafe in most areas that I visited.

Things turned ugly as we attempted to leave the district. Hernando had been warning me all day about knife wielding "stick 'em guys," who will "cut you and carve you up for no reason."

Indeed, they will.

On two separate occasions, we were approached by such people. When confronted with the threat of violence, my preferences will either be peaceful resolution or evasion. Hernando preferred a more direct approach...

The specifics of these encounters will be left up to the reader's imagination. Many of us will never understand what moves a person to attempt to harm another human being. Fortunately, nobody was seriously injured today. I am still thanking God that neither of these situations further deteriorated..

Happy ending: We made it out alive!

It goes without saying that I parted ways with Hernando after that. He made his way back to his hotel room, and I returned to the Musicology Hostel.

Blogging with my new phone from one of the Musicology Hostel's outdoor common areas.  Remind me why I bother bringing along my laptop and tablet on vacations anymore?

Someday I may share Hernando's story on Garth's Blog. He gave me his permission.  Key details are being withheld for my own personal reasons, as well as sensitivity to his family.

If granted a do-over, would I have persuaded Hernando to not cross through that neighborhood? That would have been wise. Would I take back the time spent demonstrating to Hernando that he is a valuable person, loved by God?  Not a chance

After all, Mount Monserrate will still be here tomorrow!

Coming next on BlogSpot...

Hiking Monserrate and Saying Goodbye!


Anonymous said...

Just read this today, man. Sounds dangeress and honestly, irresponsible to your beautiful wife and child. Love you man but start thinking.

Garth Hamilton said...

Thanks for the concern. I was definitely using my head (and my heart) on this one, even though both are downplayed in my narrative here. Considering that I care deeply for my family and friends, I would never put myself in a situation that I couldn't get out of. There were numerous ways out of (and ways to have avoided) this particular situation.

Also, I could've included a couple of details in this blog that would clear up much of this controversy. However, suffice it to say that Hernando benefited from my actions much more than I am sharing.

If put into these two broader contexts, the decisions I made on Sunday in Bogota would make more sense to the reader. As is, I believe it's still a pretty cool (and completely factual) story.