Perched on the thirteenth floor of the Gran Manzana apartment building in Bogotá, I can see and feel the life of this city. Tall brick buildings hover over and stare at me through rows of flashing windows. I stare back. Some windows reveal little, shuttered by drab curtains or gauzy hammocks. Others expose shadowy apartments containing unmade beds and lonely plants. A man in a bathrobe across the street and several stories down gazes in my direction. I look away, landing on a top floor, a penthouse with red Chinese lanterns that wave in the wind.
Below me, the traffic along the Carrera 13 ebbs and flows, the hum of moving vehicles occasionally shattered by the roar of a truck or the sudden clamor of honking taxis. The currents of this wide avenue, lined with elegant leafy trees, rush south towards the mountains that tower over the eastern edge of the city. There, La Macarena, my first and favorite neighborhood, rises with pride from the carpeted green slopes. With nostalgia, I make out the same bull-fighting stadium and climbing brick towers– designed to mimic the mountains behind them– that greeted me when I arrived here ten years ago.
Other parts of the scene are unfamiliar. Where Carrera 13 meets Carrera 7, a pedestrian path lined with carefully planted flowers and shrubs leads to a large glass box, the entryway to a brand new subterranean bus station. Passengers, eager to avoid the chaos and grime of the traditional bus system, flock to this station and happily wait in line to board the fleet of red Transmilenio buses that will transport them through an underground tunnel. They do not seem perturbed by the fact that, after a only block of zooming through this tunnel, they will emerge onto the traffic clogged Carrera 7 side by side with the same buses they had been hoping to avoid.
Nearby, new apartment buildings with green exteriors laden with plants echo the flowers that decorate the entryway to the Transmilenio station. Pedestrians wearing surgical masks pass by quickly, hardly noticing the burgeoning jungle around them. Only the thick cloud of smog hanging low to the streets concerns them. Bogotá, with all its contradictions, continues to tug at my heart.