When we were standing within a safe distance from Iglesia de la Veracruz Catholic Church, Hernán at first pointed out the church. Because he was wearing a microphone, he coded his language to explain why this was of particular interest explaining some words are the same in Spanish as in English. He also warned us to be discreet by not all staring at the same time. In front of the church, a number of working women spent their days and nights there working their trade. This was a prostitute hangout. Surrounding the church is a number of pay-the-hour hotels, providing a place for men to relax for a short break from the workday.
Hernán explained the Colombian contradiction with religion. Considered a Catholic nation, Colombians use religion in an accommodating manner. Both the women workers and their clients know they are sinning, but when the deed is done, they just pop into a church to cleanse themselves. As he explained it, they can dirty themselves as much as they want believing that one stop shopping in a church washes away all the dirt. Now, they are ready to go roll in the mud once again.
Hernán told a story about a hit man who knew killing was wrong. He would go into church to speak to the Virgin Mary, saying, “Listen, I am going to shoot someone. However, you are responsible for whether or not my bullet kills him.” Hence, the responsibility was resolved for the sinner. Given over to a higher power, this religious symbol is now in charge of the crime.
Near to the church is the Plaza Botero where the artist donated 23 statues at the cost of millions of dollars. Botero wanted to give back to his home city, but he also wanted to bring art to the people. This plaza is an open-air museum without an entrance fee. The Botero Museum in Bogotá is also free to enter. While we were here, we posed for a group photo. It makes me chuckle when these happen. We had little time to interact with others in the group and chances are we will never see each other again in this lifetime. Yet, here we are, posing for the camera.
Within Plaza Botero is the cultural center. Belgian architect Agustin Goovaerts, designed this stunning building, but there were so many complaints he left the country. Colombians decided they could continue to design the building bringing it to completion. They never finished what he started; the rest of the building is just a plain wall. The building that is visible to the right is the Coltejer Building, the tallest building in the city and the fourth tallest in the country. Within the building is the largest textile complex in Latin America. The design resembles a sewing needle associating it to its role.
Near the metro stairs are two extensive murals, now protected with glass. Pedro Nel Gómez, a muralist from Costa Rica painted them. Although the murals seem to pan history as you make your progress walking past them, the artist insisted he never planned ahead of time, but just let the art flow.
Interestingly, there was a bomb dropped from the metro station here back in the 80s. It killed a great number of people. Hernán believes that Colombians have short memories and choose to forget these tragedies. This comment held special meaning at the end of the tour.
From here, we walked about five blocks to Parque Bolivar, named for the liberator Simón Bolívar. Bolívar, a Venezuelan military and political leader helping to create sovereign nations out of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia.
On this square, on the north side is the Catedral Metropolitana. Designated as the largest church on earth made entirely of bricks, it turns out this is not true. There is a larger one in Venezuela. Just as Iglesia de la Veracruz has, this church also has a dark side. The street on its left side has a plethora of vendors selling rip-off sunglasses, clothes, movies, and a wide selection of pornography. Hernán said that whatever you want that is not authentic is available here on one day or another. This is an area where he suggests turning backpacks from the back to the front for security. Pickpockets troll this area looking for victims.
Finally, our last stop was Parque San Antonio. At the hour of our visit, it was empty, but we have read that it fills with vendors, people strolling by, and food sellers. By this point, exhausted, I was not noticing much of anything other than the two Botero statues “Pajaro de Paz (Bird of Peace)” sitting side by side. One statue demolished while the other remained intact; this was a short-term mystery. The first bird received major damage when on June 10, 1995 a bomb attributed to FARC detonated under the sculpture during a concert. It immediately killed 23 people; dozens more were injured. The government wanted to remove the
bombed bird, but Botero called the major and asked that it remain as a visual reminder. He then donated an identical bird sculpture to sit side by side with the destroyed bird as a “homage to stupidity,” symbolizing peace, and to memorialize the victims.
This was the time when tips convey our appreciation. I was not surprised that no one abandoned the group. We had the same number at the end as we started with. Ron and I attribute this to the quality of Hernán’s tour guide talents. He is a fascinating storyteller he remains aware of the group when going from one place to another and his openness to people’s questions allowed for some real insight. From here, Hernán walked those of us to the nearest metro station, San Antonio. Here we parted ways, only to have a photo to remind us that each other shared paths in this city.