Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Natural History at the National University

A deer and jaguar at the National University's Natural History Museum.
Think of Bogotá's National University and graffiti, radical politics - and maybe even education - come to mind.

From the Animal Bodies exhibit,
this friendly dog. 
But the university's sprawling campus in the Teusaquillo district, known as the Ciudad Universitaria, contains several museums which are worth a visit, especially as part of a look at of the campus's leftist politics, as expressed in its colorful graffiti and frequent demonstrations.

From the Zoom exhibit,
a fern frond uncurls. 
One of those museums, which also include an art museum, a herbarium, even one displaying musical instruments, is the Natural History Museum, which the city might look toward as inspiration for a full-scale museum about Colombia's great human and ecological diversity somewhere in central Bogotá.

As it is, the university's effort is an interesting, if low-budget, museum, which should have particular interest for Bogotá residents (especially if they have kids and do not have queasy stomachs) thanks to its displays about the region's zoological, paleontological and arqueological histories - which receive less than their deserved attention on a continent where the Incas, Aztecs and Mayans and Argentina's dinosaurs hog the show.

Skulls of prehistoric local residents. 
The museum also has temporary and changing associated exhibits, including a current one called 'Animal Bodies' - a zoological version of the famous and grotesque traveling exhibit of preserved human tissues, and another called 'Zoom' of magnified photos of colorful plants and insects.

The National University also has several off-campus museums in Bogotá, including the Claustro de San Agustin, just west of the Casa de Nariño, and the one-time home of martyred politician Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, in the Teusaquillo neighborhood a few blocks west of the Parque Nacional.

The Zoom photography exhibit is scheduled to run one more week, the Animal Bodies exhibit is scheduled to remain thru the end of March.

A more familiar scene at the National University, the Plaza del Ché.

A 6,000-year-old skeleton from the Tequendama area. 
Ever met an elephant in Bogotá? They used to roam here, as this fossilized skull proves. 
A Zoom image of a flower. 
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bogotá's Forgotten Bridges

The Puente Boyaca, visible along the Eje Ambiental.
Have you seen them?
Bogotá's Rivers. 
We've heard lots recently about the demolition and planned replacement of Seventh Ave.'s bridge over 26th St., which has meant pedestrianization of part of Seventh Ave. as well as huge traffic jams in central Bogotá.

Along the Eje Ambiental,
pools represent the Rio San Francisco
which flows in a pipeline below ground. 
But Bogotá also has a historical patrimony of bridges, altho almost all of them are now buried underground.

When the Spanish first arrived in Bogotá the city was predominantly seasonal wetlands, with rivers flowing down from the Eastern Hills and spreading out across the savannah.

The Rio San Francisco, visible
behind the Quinta de Bolivar. 
Over the centuries, the Spanish and later the Colombians built bridges across those rivers. Today, with most of those rivers buried under cement and asphalt, those bridges have disappeared as well. About the only old bridge visible today is the Puente Boyaca, (renamed from Las Aguas in 1905) and now partially uncovered on the Eje Ambiental, near the Las Aguas Church (and the Spanish-Colombian Cultural Center, whose construction never gets going).

A map near the Puente Boyaca
shows locations of historic
bridges, now buried under asphalt.
Today, the Rio San Francisco is alsopaved over except for its upper reaches, and represented by a string of pools down the avenue's center.

But, once the river had 18 major bridges, a map says, across which Bogotanos traveled between La Candelaria - then most of the city - and the city's north.

Last year, during construction of the new TransMilenio line along Carrera 10, workers uncovered walls belonging to an old bridge which spanned the Rio San Agustin near the avenue's intersection with 6th St. The old bridges are considered historical and architectural landmarks, despite their invisbility, and so the TransMilenio designs were altered so as not to disturb the old brickwork. I visited the site, where the Bicentenario Station and a ramp interchange are being built, and could see no sign of the old bridge. The men working on the project knew nothing about it either.
A homeless person's campsite
alongside the Rio San Francisco. 

One of the few rivers still exposed, albeit in a canal, is the Rio Arzobispo, which runs thru the Parque Nacional and the Teusaquillo neighborhood. Like the other rivers, tho, the Arzobispo (said to be named for an archbishop who committed suicide by leaping over one of its waterfalls during the 1800s) reeks from pollution drained into it by illegal hillside homes and homeless people who live under its bridges.

The Bicentenario TransMilenio station. Workers doing excavations here found walls from an old bridge spanning the Rio San Agustin. 

Rivers still flow down from Bogotá's eastern hills - but now flow underground. 

The Rio Arzobispo runs in a canal, but at least you can see it. 

Women cover their noses while crossing a bridge over the Rio Arzobispo. Notice the signs on the bridge prohibiting defecation and urination. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Monday, February 27, 2012

Is the FARC Reforming?

Freedom coming? Guerrilla hostages in a jungle pen. 
 The FARC guerrillas' statement yesterday that they'd stop kidnapping civilians and release the ten soldiers and police officers they are holding in the jungles is either a landmark moment in Colombia's armed conflict or a cynical maneuver by a weakened guerrilla force.

El Tiempo newspaper opines that Colombians should wait and see whether the guerrillas actually fulfill their new vow. They're right.

It's hard to see the guerrillas truly giving up what is one of their most powerful tools for making headlines and extorting labor, resources and money from Colombian civilians. That's because behind the 'vacuna' which many ranchers and businesses in rural and small town Colombia pay to the guerrillas lies the threat of kidnapping. If that threat really disappeared, one of the guerrillas' big revenue streams could dry up.

A recent protest against the FARC guerrillas. 
Even the meaning of kidnapping is malleable in the FARC's world. I once interviewed a young woman who had been taken out of her apartment, together with her father, and held for several years in the jungle, until their relatives paid a ransom. Was that kidnapping? I expect the guerrillas would call it 'paying a war tax.' I once met a radio repairman who'd been forced by guerrilla threats to help them for weeks by building and repairing - unpaid - their jungle radio equipment. Was that kidnapping? I bet the guerrillas would call it 'collaboration.' I also met a woman whose sons had been carried away by the guerrillas to make them fighters. She had no idea whether they were alive or dead. Was that kidnapping? I'm sure that the guerrillas would call it 'recruitment.'

Still, the guerrillas' promise to end kidnapping of civilians and to free more kidnappees is a hopeful sign, if only because it seems to indicate an openness to making concessions in order to open dialogue with the government. But only time will tell whether or not this is a sincere step forward by a group which has caused tremendous damage to Colombia and its people.

FARC hostages, chained by the neck. 
The guerrillas' renunciation of what has historically been an important source of income for them might even be a negative sign if it means that they are earning so much from the cocaine business that they no longer require extortion and kidnapping income.

In any case, nobody should conclude from the guerrillas' renunciation of kidnapping that they have become a humane organization. Kidnapping is only one of the FARC's many human rights violations, which also include planting landmines, recruiting children, driving peasants from their homes and acts which can only be called terrorism, like the recent bombing in the small Pacific coast city of Tumaco. That bomb killed mostly poor, Afro-Colombian civilians - not exactly the country's traditional elite.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Walking Revolution on Seventh Ave.

Cars stay out: Seventh Ave. at 19th Street. 
Seventh Ave. showed off its new look today as a calm, walkable, breathable street, which remains a transit corridor, even if some people will deny that.

Only 152 days left!
The long-delayed demolition of Seventh Ave.'s bridge over 26th St. was done today as part of the two new TransMilenio lines being built on 10 Ave and 26th St. This is one of the last, but also the longest and most difficult steps in the troubled expansion project, which originally was supposed to be finished in 2010. City officials say that building a new and presumably better bridge will take five months - and we all know how accurate their previous projections have been.

This couple with a bicycle and a baby
carriage found a clear path on Seventh Ave. 
But Mayor Gustavo Petro is using the demolition of this major bridge to experiment in 'humanistic' transit planning, by pedestrianizing a stretch of Seventh Ave. Today, the blocks between 19th and 26th Streets and beyond were off limits to almost all motor vehicles. The stretch of Seventh Ave. between Plaza Bolivar and 19th St. will follow, Petro has said. This is a sort of test for a possible permanent pedestrianization of central Bogotá, Petro says.

'Enjoy this new pedestrian
space...Give up hurrying.' 
The pedestrianization is opposed by many retailers, including the National Federation of Retailers, FENALCO. Retailers are concerned that fewer shoppers will venture downtown and that the closed street will be invaded by pickpockets and illegal, informal vendors. But in some other cities pedestrianization has helped retailers, by making shopping safer and more pleasant.

Green means 'go' for cyclists. 

The city has already drawn a bike lane down the center of Seventh Ave. 

Lots of cops keeping order and keeping street vendors away. But will they stay?

But this cyclist wasn't using it...

The only motorized vehicles on this stretch of Seventh were these TransMilenio shuttles. A good idea. 

26th St., seen from 10th Ave. 
The chasm at 26th St. 
...and the remains of the bridge. 

The city built this nice pedestrian bridge detouring around the demolished bridge. 
The city is roofing over 26th St., which will expand Parque de la Independencia and connect it to the Museum of Modern Art. 

North of 26th St., pedestrians ruled, too. 
On 10 Ave., the TransMilenio work has advanced. Hopefully, they won't wait for the bridge to get it operating.  
As always, the chess players were doing their thing. 
The usual vendors are still around. 
Playing foot volleyball in the middle of Seventh Ave. 
19th St. Crowded and chaotic. 
The sidewalk south of 19th St. was busier and crowded with the usual vendors. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Septimazo Returns - Briefly

A street performer dances with a mannequin in the middle of Seventh Ave. this afternoon.

This evening I walked onto Seventh Ave. near Jimenez and, for a few brief moments, it seemed as tho the much-missed Septimazo had returned.

El Septimazo was a tradition in which the stretch of Seventh Ave. between Plaza Bolivar and 19th St. was shut to cars Friday afternoons from 5 to 9 p.m. to make way for pedestrians, street vendors and performers.

Hare Krishnas dance down Seventh. 
But the previous City Hall administration cancelled El Septimazo, with no public explanation. However, the practice of shutting down part of one of downtown's principal arteries had been criticized by car drivers and some retailers, who objected to the competition from informal street vendors, who pay no rent or taxes. There were also concerns about crime.

Amidst its real problems, El Septimazo was also a real celebration of socializing, music and street games.

Alas, today's 'Septimazo' turned out to be only a temporary closing caused by a protest against police brutality. After negotiations, the protesters agreed to demonstrate on the sidewalk.

Soldiers make sure nothing goes wrong. 
New Mayor Gustavo Petro has talked about bringing back El Septimazo, and I hope that he does it. In any case, Seventh Ave. will be pedestrianized beginning tomorrow because of the demolishing of the bridge over 26th St. for TransMilenio expansion work. Officials say that replacing it will take five months. We'll see how that goes.

A cyclist on Seventh Ave. 
During the bridgeless period, Mayor Petro says that the stretch of Seventh Ave. between Plaza Bolivar and 26th St. will be progressively pedestrianized. That will be an interesting experiment. The city has promised to prevent the avenue from being invaded by informal vendors, who take sales away from stores but pay no rent or taxes.

Without El Septimazo, the vendors and performers generally do their thing on the sidewalks.

Hats for sale on a Seventh Ave. sidewalk. 

Want your portrait sketched?

And then the cars reinvaded.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours