The Goodbye is an occasional series about women leaving a place behind. Are you moving and feeling nostalgic? Fill out this form, and you could be part of the series.
Home has always been a tricky concept for me. My family had already moved five times by the time I turned 10. We finally settled into our current home in southeast Michigan in 2003, but I never lost my nomadic instinct. At 17, I moved hundreds of miles away for college. And after graduating in 2017, I moved farther still, this time to South America.
My postgraduate fellowship took me to Brazil and Colombia, where I planned to work with agents of social change and connect my academic interests in Latin America and civil society with grassroots work. I thought I would spend the majority of my time in Brazil, with a couple of months in Medellín, Colombia, to learn about sustainable development.
Given that this is a goodbye to Bogotá and not Medellín or Rio, you might be able to guess:
While fellowship experiences emphasize interacting with different types of people, I hardly connected with anyone in my early days; this, plus my friends being time zones away, drove me into a deep state of loneliness. What’s more, without any clear structure or pre-established definition of success, I felt disoriented and unsure of what I was working toward. I ended up shortening my stints in Rio de Janeiro and Medellín, deciding to nix returning to Brazil and instead spend more time getting to know Colombia. I landed an internship at a nonprofit organization in Bogotá, excited by the prospect of meaningful work and the city’s familiar, cold weather.
If I was looking for adventure, Bogotá certainly delivered. In my first month, I lived in three different Airbnbs with two friends — also recent transplants to the city — sleeping wherever we could fit ourselves: couches, shared mattresses, living rooms and, at one very bizarre point, in an 8-year-old boy’s abandoned bedroom. As trying as those weeks were, I am grateful for them: Such close quarters and intense moments of upheaval sparked confidence, and guaranteed that my friends and I would share a close bond right from the start.
Bogotá’s buzz pulled me in from the get-go: It was gritty, New York City-like in its tension, but somehow still managed to be laid back. To my surprise, I made new friends quickly and serendipitously — despite warnings I’d gotten from other Colombians about the cold nature of bogotanos. I learned to balance the solitude I had nurtured in months prior with this steady flow of new connections and a seemingly endless list of things to do.
In between my stressful, prestige-chasing college years and the meandering early months of my fellowship, I had restricted myself to certain ideas of who I was, what my limits were, what I was capable of doing. Bogotá’s artistic milieu proved to be fertile ground for testing these assumptions: I learned to brush off last-minute cancellations and say “yes” to impromptu invitations to concerts; I confronted my camera shyness by modeling for a photographer friend’s latest shoot; I found fulfillment and meaning outside of professional and intellectual pursuits, and embraced my bogotano friends’ spirit of gozadera, or of enjoying the moment. In sum, I began to reconsider what it means to lead an interesting, enriching life.
This period of time didn’t come without its fair share of troubles, however. In professional settings, I initially struggled with the unstructured nature of work, and was unsure I would be understood by colleagues. But being thrust into roles of responsibility taught me that I can effectively communicate my ideas across linguistic and cultural barriers; what’s more, it’s made me more sure of myself, my opinions and my instincts. Paradoxically, being exposed to a different way of living — one that places less emphasis on professional achievements and more on personal happiness and spending time with others — has made me less of sure of what I want to do next, and what kind of lifestyle I want to have.
My biggest fear about leaving Bogotá stems from the unknown: While I feel steadfast in my love of this place and who I am here, there’s a great deal of uncertainty in what lies ahead. When my contract came to an end, I looked for other exciting job opportunities to stay in the city — desperate to cling to the mix of wonder and stability I had found here. In the end, I came up empty-handed, and a strict visa policy is forcing me to return to the United States before I am quite ready to go.
I’m not sure if 11 months in one place is sufficient to call it a home; in fact, I think home as a place still eludes me. But if I start thinking of home as something I can carry with me — a set of experiences lived, emotions felt and memories shared with people I love — Bogotá certainly qualifies.
Bogotá’s proximity to several tierra caliente (warm climate) towns and natural parks is, in my view, what keeps its more than 8 million inhabitants sane. And no place is as famous for weekend getaways as Villa de Leyva, a pueblo patrimonio whose whitewashed colonial facades and cobblestone streets have changed little since its founding over 400 years ago. While the town boasts several activities, I’ll miss the journey there in particular. Watching the vast Bogotá savanna give way to Boyacá’s rolling hills of patchwork farmlands gave me a lasting appreciation for the Andes’ ecological diversity.
I lived in six different apartments during my time here, but I always drifted back to this hip subsection of Chapinero. I’ll miss the calm, residential respite it offered just a few blocks away from the congestion of la Carrera Séptima, and the unique glimpse it offered into the changing nature of the city. Red brick high-rises tower over 20th century tudors, while upscale, experimental restaurants compete for space with arepa hole-in-the-walls and grunge rock bars. I’ll particularly miss bars like Rin Rin and El Mono Bandido, the site of after hour drinks and several comical, failed first dates.
What Bogotá lacks in proper green spaces it makes up for with its ever-present Eastern Hills that seal the city off from the rest of the Andean highlands. I’ll miss waking up to the imposing view of these mountains and being reminded of my smallness. Few capital cities offer such convenient access to nature, and I’ll regret not having taken more advantage of the hiking trails inside this urban forest.
I was never sure how long I’d stay in this city. The persistent possibility of leaving, plus overpriced gym offerings, dissuaded me from ever investing in a gym membership. Instead, my main source of exercise happened on Sunday mornings and afternoons, when major city streets are closed to car traffic and opened exclusively to pedestrians, skaters and cyclists. I’ll miss the freedom of being able to move around such a huge city so painlessly, and pausing my bike rides for fresh orange juice and empanadas at any one of the stands along the route. Ciclovía serves as a reminder that, despite all its public transportation woes, Bogotá has gotten some things right.
This recently renovated food market gives the short-term tourist and city native alike an affordable way to sample Colombian cuisine, and its communal dining setting pays tribute to the neighborhood’s working-class roots. Colombian food is not known for its spice, but you can find dependably well-seasoned menús del día at this market’s Pacific coast stands. Although I was never able to visit the region, I did develop an appreciation for its fusion of flavors through dishes such as sancocho de pescado and paella del pacífico.
A short walk away from La Perseverancia, this art gallery in the bohemian district of La Macarena was my first foray into Bogotá’s art scene. Its exhibitions gave me greater insight into contemporary Colombian socio-political issues than any newspaper article or feature might have. Always an appreciator of the arts but never its sharpest critic, I’ll miss the friendly, knowledgeable team that welcomed my amateur art perspective with open arms, and with whom I became fast friends.
I have a love-hate relationship with this restaurant: I hate its overpriced menu and atrociously slow service, but still find myself enchanted by its kitschy ambiance. I shamefully must admit that this was our go-to spot in our first few weeks in the city; my roommate was in love with its energy, and we didn’t know any better. A hybrid between “Alice in Wonderland,” “Moulin Rouge” and your favorite college bar, Andrés is almost always packed with wealthy partiers (or rumberos) and clueless gringos, all glowing under the restaurant’s bright lights and the influence of its hedonistic charm. For those looking to take their Saturday night plans to the next level, its big brother establishment in Chía is well worth the trek.
Visiting Bogotá? See Hamna’s recommendations mapped out here.