Anonymous in Bogotá, Colombia

That Time I Got Caught in a Protest in Colombia

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One of my main objectives in traveling to “dangerous” places is to avoid danger and, by way of example, disprove such labels.

I set out in Bogotá, Colombia this morning with the intention of doing just that. By the end of the day, however, I was trapped in a women’s bathroom with a dozen other people, covering my nose and mouth for fear of breathing in tear gas.

Initially, my day went swimmingly, all though I did notice a huge number of police officers — to the tune of no less than 1,000 — as I strolled through La Candelaria, Bogotá’s historical center. To be fair, this part of Bogotá is more than a little sketchy, so for perhaps the first time in my life, I felt as if the police were my friends.

 

Upon arriving in Plaza de Bolivar I realized that the Bogotá police hadn’t filled the streets to protect me and my gaudy camera, but indeed to pre-empt May Day. For those of you who don’t live in socialist countries, “May Day” is a socialist holiday of sorts that occurs on May 1 of every year, and involves citizens protesting governments. Or something? Again, I didn’t really think much of it.

 
 
 

I continued making my way through the streets of La Candelaria, convinced that every officer I passed was in place to prevent the sketchy people standing between the two of us from harming me. Ironically when I snapped a photo of this dog, no police were around to prevent an (admittedly harmless) beggar from begging me for 2,000 pesos colombiános. I wrapped up my stroll through La Candelaria with shots of some of the amazing architecture in the neighborhood.

After that was over, I headed west down Carrera 3 — in Bogota, streets called carerras run east-west, while calles run north-south — in search of Monserrate, a hilltop park that’s purported to provide the best view in Bogotá. The walk to Monserrate begins with a row of reflecting pools that seems to extend forever.

Bogotá is different from most of the other South American cities I’ve visited in that typically the “downtown” area of a particular city is the “bad” part. Hostels tend to exist only in “safe” areas. I wouldn’t say that the area either La Candelaria and the area between it and the entrance to Monserrate are unbearably sketchy, but much of the imagery I took in on my way to the mountain entrance was foreboding, to say the least.

The climb up Monserrate is relatively strenuous, although you won’t bat an eye if, for example, you scaled Machu Picchu. If you do need to stop, most of the places where you can do so make for great photo ops. In addition to the view you enjoy from Monserrate, the peak is home to a tranquil garden filled with flamboyant religious imagery, quaint cafés and a church.

 
 
 
 
 

If you walk past all this, you end up in a decidedly more local, less “nice” market, which is arguably more interesting anyway.

In total, I spent about three hours at Monserrate: One hour getting to the top, an hour and a half exploring what’s up there and half an hour getting down. You see, I made plans to meet the lovely Megan of Bohemian Trails at a coffee shop called Juan Valdez at 1:30 — and at 1:00, I was just beginning my descent down the mountain.

Eventually, I found Megan and the coffee shop and we began a lively discussion about traveling, writing and how much better we are than everyone else who does those two things. (I kid, kind of). I noticed a sketchy character wearing an “Anonymous” mask and snapped his picture. What followed after this was a blur.

 

I remember that a huge mob of people from the street ran inside a café, and people who’d already been in the café were ducking and running for cover. Megan and I assumed this meant that someone in the street had a gun.

It wasn’t until we’d changed locations within the coffee shop no less than a dozen times that we asked what the problem was. The police, it seems, had thrown tear gas at protesters in the manifestation in order to get them to disband. Here we thought we were about to be robbed at gunpoint, and it was tear gas! This is not to say that tear gas isn’t serious, but I felt no tears coming on, personally.

I would learn after this ordeal that May Day probably isn’t the best day to begin a trip to Colombia. Oh well! Here’s to hoping this is the most dramatic thing that befalls me during my stay here.

About The Author

is the author of 732 posts on Leave Your Daily Hell. Robert founded Leave Your Daily Hell in 2010 so that other travelers would have an entertaining, reliable source of information, advice and inspiration at their fingertips. Want to travel more often? Subscribe to email updates today!

 

informs, inspires, entertains and empowers travelers like you. My name is Robert and I'm happy you're here!

 
 
 

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Bohemian Trails May 1, 2012 at 8:04 pm

Love this article! Perfect summary of our crazy day haha

Adam May 2, 2012 at 4:30 pm

Here’s hoping it’s all downhill from there! It’s funny how we don’t do or think much about May Day in the US, but it’s such a big deal in so many other places in the world.

Margarita Monroy July 30, 2012 at 7:34 pm

I’m very sorry about what happened to you here in Bogotá. Someone should have told you not to get right in the middle of the conflict in such a day. You should had spent in a whole different place nearby, for example go out of the city. Either way I hope your next visit is not such a traumatic one, and the church you don’t have the name for is called “Nuestra Señora del Carmen”
Cheers!

Robert Schrader July 31, 2012 at 12:38 am

Thank you for the kind comment Maggie!

Alejandra C. August 28, 2013 at 9:14 am

Colombia is not a socialist country, believe me, it´s ridiculously elitist, has one of the highest inequality rates in south america and a very conservative government. When you visit you should be aware of the newspapers because the manifestations usually affect the downtown area.
Regarding you photographs, I always enjoy them so much! love the effects you make changing the time of exposure. The one of the guy in the anonymus mask is so good! You had the chance to see how people are fighting for their wrights, unfortunately, they don´t always do it in a non violent way.

Alejandra R October 8, 2013 at 1:30 am

I agree with Alejandra C. Also I wanted you to know that “carreras” are the ones that go from South to North and “calles” go from east to west, this is important for the ones going to Bogota…

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