Why I Hate Downtown Bogota

UPDATE 2010 – I don’t hate downtown Bogota. Things have changed since this was written. See Life is But a Dream in La Candelaria.

I’ll use ‘bum’ to describe professional panhandlers, thieves, addicts, and hybrids of those three.

Read how I got mugged in Bogota my first week in La Candelaria if you haven’t already.

My first girl in Peru, Rosa, visited last weekend. I showed her Monserrate, La Candelaria, Plaza Bolivar, and museums – the city’s points of interest located downtown.

We took the TransMilenio from Chapinero and got off at Avenue Jimenez. As soon as we hit the avenue I saw two bums having a meeting in the median. One of them had a bat in his hand. It wasn’t literally a baseball bat, but a piece of wood 2 x 2 inches in thickness, about 3 feet long. It wasn’t as long as a baseball bat and the wood wasn’t as dense. But in effect, a bum was walking around with a mini-baseball bat.

UPDATE 2010 – I’ve learned why bums carry bats. It’s not to rob people, although they may be used for that. Dogs HATE bums, so bums carry bats to defend themselves from dogs.

This walk is safe during the day. There are dozens of cheap stores and informal markets, and restaurants further up the hill.  I noticed most people on the street were dirty bums.  Rosa said, “Que miedo. Mucho mendigo.”  Kind of scary, lots of bums.

Further up the hill Rosa exclaimed, “¡Ay, mira!” She pointed across the street at a bum trotting barefoot down the hill (I say trotting, but he was probably running as fast as he could). He had long, nappy hair with a beard and wore only shorts. He was so caked in filth he looked more black than white. I could see more dirt than skin. A true skank, half-naked, running down the street.

In La Candelaria I showed Rosa the beautiful La Candelaria. I was approached by a professional panhandler with a hard-sell. He asked in native English if I was American. Native English. He tried to shake my hand, explaining he was from Queens. Bums that speak native English: where else in Latin America? The funny thing is he’s not the first native English-speaking bum I’ve come across in Bogota.

After La Candelaria, we walked to Plaza Bolivar. I noticed a young, dirty, gangster-bum with his hoodie up (although it was quite hot out) ahead of us on the other side of the street. He turned his head to give a dirty look to every person he passed. I decided to maintain a slow pace so we wouldn’t pass him. I didn’t want my back to him.

We arrived at Plaza Bolivar. Rosa took pictures, then we took a taxi to Monserrate. The taxi driver started talking to Rosa when he realized she was Peruvian. What does she think of Bogota? She said it’s beautiful but it seems dangerous. Lima’s not a safe city, and downtown Lima at night certainly isn’t the place to be, but it isn’t Bogota. Mucho mendigo. The taxi driver explained downtown has improved. He said the 90s were a nightmare. You could get mugged, stabbed, or beaten up in broad daylight.

We went back downtown so Rosa could buy tourist stuff. A dirty bum with his hand out sat against a wall on the sidewalk. His beard didn’t have a trace of grey, nor did his long hair. But his body was already too decrepit and void of vitality to beg on his feet.  When he saw me he said “¿Un pancito gringo?” A piece of bread, gringo?  What they mean is they’d like a little money to buy a piece of bread. American bums don’t say “Piece of bread?” because gringos will actually go to the store, buy bread, and bring it to them. But they really just want money.  I ignored the bum. He said it again as I got closer. ¿Un pancito gringo? Again as I passed, and again louder after I had passed him. Shut the fuck up!

The sun was going down so we started our walk back to the TransMilenio. I saw a filthy old bum with a disgusting beard hauling a huge plastic bag over his shoulder. He dropped the bag when he saw my big bald head and big gringo frame to start his sales pitch. I quickly shook my head to save his time. He picked his bag up and walked off, turning his body in a way so that his bag of trash hit me.

I was fuming on the bus ride home. I’ve grown desensitized to bums, but I still get angry at the more triflin’ ones. I was happy to get back to Chapinero. I looked at the clean and normal people on the Chapinero streets with profound appreciation.

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  1. You really seem to care about those in need. I like how you handled the situation in the run down hostal in Cusco. It seemed to me that they were in need of a little cash but you were unwilling to forfeit a 150$ train ticket Aguas Calientes. You managed to frighten them, do more damage then the damage you had already done, and then flee the scene to blog about it in a jokingly manner. Bien Hecho! Do you have a name for this type of helping the poor. You are making a mess from city to city in your redneck fashion. Thanks for helping the generalizations about dumb Americans, you represent well! Can’t wait to hear more about your generosity.


  2. “The worst part about it is that I could literally kill most drugged-out, out-of-shape bums with my bare hands.” – man your such a nice guy for not killing them

    But I hear ya I HATED all the homeless people there, the hard sell guys you really do want to hit


  3. what a jackass…

    sorry but i dipped out on some aprovechadoras before. in now way will i be charged for something i didnt do… nor would i in colin’s case stayed locked in my hostel all night and day.. fuck that… lol…


  4. This is kinda long, but i posted this on your friends blog and found it vaguely relavant here. It describes how an aprovechadora tried to work her game on me and i beat her… anyways the following is verbatim from the other blog…

    If there is anything I dislike about Perú its how the delicious food often tears apart your insides and how the shower heaters suck!

    My first visit to Lima I stayed in a very nice house in Miraflores. The shower I thought had one of those massaging heads that you could turn to a different setting. I attempted to turn the setting but was in for a “shock”. Really you dont even have to touch the heater but put your hand in the water streaming directly out of it and you can feel the electricity in the water. It was kinda fun to mess with for a minute then I quickly decided I didn’t like electricity in my shower…

    My second visit in Lima I stayed in San Borja. The house was ok but there were cats and dogs that created a lovely fragrance daily. It was tolerable until little gifts were being left literally on the welcome mats. Needless to say they weren’t paper trained i guess or trained at all for that matter.

    The shower another story. There was a colombian girl staying there. According to the owner the colombian girl paid for replacement of the shower head a week into my visit. I never experienced any problems with the shower head in that time frame, but, whatever.

    Three more weeks pass and a wake up and hope in the shower, lo and behold, it’s freezing! I chalked it up to maybe having the switch off. Came home from work and checked it out. Nope, switch was on. I delayed talking to the owner of the house a few days for the fact i was sick and didn’t feel like dealing with her as she was full of charm and i actually hadn’t seen her around much and didn’t feel like seeking her. Anyways, after a week of cold showers (likely the cause of my cold) I talked to her about it and she tried to claim that I broke it. I tried to explain how under normal usage a shower heater could break? Anyways she said that I would have to pay for it (50 or 75 soles according to her) and also leave the house a week earlier than I had paid for. Fine. I’d leave. For the next week I went to work and mainly stayed out at a polleria or some corner store eating and drinking beers or actually using “neighbornet” since most the time she had the internet turned off and always off at her midnight bedtime.

    The night before i was suppose to leave I stayed out in Los Olivos at a karaoke and a restaurante with some friends. I arrived home around 2am to give me enough time to pack my stuff, 2 suitcases, laptop, backpack, take a shower and tip toe out to the street at 4am.

    With all my stuff i went to the polleria I drank beers at. It was quite a dive so i knew there wouldn’t be anyone there on a weekday. I ate and had some cola. I went to the juice bar at 7. Hung out there and then i moved into my next room. Within two weeks in that place the water heater broke. To avoid another shower heater problem i tolerated cold showers for week until my date to fly home arrived.

    Sorry, but to make a long story short the heaters are horrible. I ditched out on an aprovechadora. And thats about it. In the end I though it was funny she was trying to charge me for it. I know landlord/tenant rights in america and didnt figure they differed in Lima. My friends and there families confirmed that. I hate being taken advantage of in America so the last thing I wanted was to be taken advantage of because i’m a gringo.


  5. The bum from Queens isn’t a native speaker exactly. There’s another one who sells drugs in the Zona Tolerancia who’s got a perfect Jersey accent, and there’s a few more running around.

    Remember what Colombians were doing in the US in the 80s and 90s? And remember that the U.S. tends to give long prison sentences for such things. What you’re seeing are native Colombians who did 10 – 20 years in U.S. prison and are deported back, and have no remaining family or connections.

    I hate that “un pancito” crap too. And don’t fall for the one where they ask you to buy them milk. I can’t remember the details how, but they use milk to cook up some kind of bathtub crack. I’m sure if you ask your friendly neighborhood bazucero, he can explain it.


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