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Full Circle

Day 213: Bogotá

Michael Palin - Full CircleIt's hard to understand Bogotá. In one way I feel very much at home here. Oma Libros, a bookshop and café I discovered yesterday, is like an Aladdin's cave, combining under one roof all the things I've missed since leaving Santiago - books, tapes, good fresh coffee and English language newspapers. The Italian restaurant next door is as good as any of my favourites in London. Yet, this morning, when I step out into these same streets it's a Sunday and the steel shutters are down and private security men, all in black and looking like something out of an Oswald Mosley rally, are patrolling properties, pulling aggressively on the chains of large Alsatian dogs.

The centre of town, around the Plaza Bolivar, is full of gorgeous interiors reflecting the panache of a city whose full name - Santa Fe de Bogotá del Nuevo Reino de Granada de las Indias del Mar Oceano - shows the seriousness with which the Spanish regarded this part of their Empire. But as my companion, a Colombian lawyer, points out less than ten years ago, on this historic square, the army blasted a guerrilla group out of the Palace of Justice with the loss of one hundred lives, 'decimating the legal profession', as she puts it, and reducing the standards of law, if not order, at a stroke.

There is a strong middle class in Colombia. The economy is in better shape than in much of the rest of South America and yet the newspapers carry the news this morning that Samper, the Colombian President, has been refused a visa to visit the US because of his alleged associations with drug barons. Central Bogotá has fine museums and galleries and old houses restored with a striking sense of style, while a few blocks away everyone turns a blind eye as 'los limpiadores' - vigilante death squads - go about their business 'cleansing' the capital of undesirables at the rate of a dozen a week. There are the most up to date gyms and health clubs and yet only in Bogotá would you hear of a jogger being mugged, and his blood taken. I don't understand it, and I need someone to help me.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 213
  • Country/sea: Colombia
  • Place: Bogotá
  • Book page no: 277

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