If you want to party with reckless abandon, with a sudden touch of salvation go to Bogota, Columbia.
I visited the capital city of Columbia in 2007 when I was 19 years old. Its political unease has coined it one of the most “violent cities in the world,” with of course, some of the most beautiful people. It is located high in the Andes Mountains, it has foggy days and rainy nights. In the North resides the wealthy, and in the south lives the displaced and poverty stricken. It boasts historical and modern architecture, art museums, universities, and colonial catholic churches. The traffic is wild and the streets are lined with graffiti covered deeply rooted trees. Drug lords, prostitutes and thieves was something I was willing to bare, to find out where my coffee came from.
I met Anthony the night before on a blind date. We talked over a candle lit dinner for 4 hours. We were both Italian, living in Palm Beach and he was just shy of 20 years older than me. He was a 3rd generation hairstylist. I decided I loved him and he said “Lets jump on a plane to Bogota tomorrow.” These were the days I was an exuberant amount of anxiety medication, and everything seemed like a good idea at the time. My lack of responsibility and yearning for adrenaline rushes found me on a first class flight out of the country. I called my mom from the airport, told her I was off to South America with the man I may marry. She was trying to contact the FBI, certain I was being sold into sex slavery.
The taxi dropped us off at his brick colonial with black iron gates and matching window bars. Beggars and peddlers swarmed to us as we stepped out. Anthony owned the building and rented it out to Americans getting plastic surgery. He made a profit through the patients and had some sort of set up with the doctors. There I met Joe, who was staying in the basement apartment for the month and was getting jaw reconstruction surgery. Joe had been smoking crack, but is 15 years sober and the price to get his jaw fixed in the US was a whopping $30k, here it rang him just under $8k. Joe had two drop-dead gorgeous Colombian models on each side, with their legs wrapped around him. They looked more like the Hindu goddess Lakshmi, than a party of 3.
I decided to wear my gold, sparkly cocktail dress, Anthony’s Gucci fur jacket, and my quilted Channel purse. We drank champagne and smoked French cigarettes. The night club we visited, treated us like royalty. Waiters and hostesses complimenting and doting on us. A line of gorgeous to mediocre women standing in a line, waiting to be “picked.” All wearing outfits that belonged at a strip club, smiling at us. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on. I was trying to give them a rye look back, but my forehead still frozen from the Botox a surgeon who casually stopped by beforehand injected me with..to give me a more chiseled South American look. While Anthony clapped oowed and awed in delight.
The club bored me so we decided to take cable cars up to Monserrate. It was a church with a shrine on a mountain in the city. If I had known then what I know now, I would have crawled up the mountain on my knees with the rest of the old women. It is a religious pilgrimage taken by believers and tourists alike. Legend has it, if you crawl up the mountain you will be granted a miracle. I stepped out of the cable car into the cool air, I felt light headed because of the elevation. My jaw dropped and I was filled with awe. The doors of the church were wide open. The whole courtyard was swarming with hundreds of monarch butterflies, flying in and about. Almost seemingly kissing you and granting wishes. Falling and taking a rest on the crying, exhausted and lonely. I walked down the aisles of the mysterious and golden church and fell to my knees. The most torturously beautiful statue I have ever seen. Of Christ, beaten, bloody and in pain. Lying on his side, trying to stand up. My heart clung to my rib cage and I was overwhelmed with a rush of love, despair, and loyalty for this heavenly statue. Tears ran out of my eyes, as I felt an intense yearning. I prayed for forgiveness for everything I’ve done since the 8th grade. Every rotten, terrible thought and action.. I begged for redemption. Then I decided to make a desperate wish… A prayer… A hopeful and wild suggestion…
“I love you. I’m so sorry this happened to you. I pray that you had the strength to get up.. I pray that if you could.. Somehow give me the strength to get up, find my way out of this life. Send me to the light, show me my purpose and my path.. Help me heavenly one.”
The next day we took a boat over to an island. The creamy colored Columbians with their sharp black eyes and hair turned into dark brown island people. How strange to see such different colored Columbians in one country. We fished our lunch right off of the shore and drank coco locos while we scuba dove. We were surrounded by women with diamond studs in their teeth.. I wasn’t quite sure where all these women were coming from..but oh my, did they come.
That night we bounced around Columbian bars, accompanied by a bodyguard who carried an AK47. We partied in our house until 4 am, crowds of people, clouds of smoke, illicit drugs and drunken hazy nonsense. When I drink, I believe I can speak Spanish, so I engaged one of these party girls in conversation. No older then 20, long lashes and chocolate milk eyes.
Seniorita, Are you being paid to be here?
“Yes, 86 American dollars.”
“For the night?!”
“For the week…
Why do you do it?”
“Senora we are poor, don’t you see the people out there. We have no money, and my family has to eat.”
I pulled the $10 out of my pocket and gave it to her.. thinking of the hauntingly low number in my bank account, the fact that I had no idea how to dial the United States and I didn’t speak the language, made me feel as alone and desperate as these young girls. I wanted to save her, bring her back to America. Maybe she could live in my loft. I turned my head, when she rummaged through my purse and stole my watch, and again when she took off with my case of red bull.
Anthony was laughing and throwing fruit around the apartment as I wandered onto the balcony. I was buzzing and I had a sense of deep and beautiful sadness, is the best way I can describe it. I dangled my 5 inch pumps over the edge and wondered how wonderful it would be to jump right off.
Pondering it and trying to walk a straight line as close to the edge as I could, astonished by my own lack of fear… I wondered if people would miss me, if it would have mattered at all, if my family would ever know what happened to me…
With that ,all of a sudden I was filled with the exact same light that I felt at Monserrate… and a voice, I can’t quite say I heard it in my head, but more of felt it in my heart, said.. “Girl, get down..” All of these certainties filled my head.. I was certain that this Gucci fur jacket, Channel bag and designer clothes meant nothing. How silly I was to put such precedence in materialistic things. I realized Anthony was a jerk, and these girls( although they lived very sad lives, were not people I belonged with) that I needed to be home with my family who loved me, immediately… And get the hell out of Bogota. I’m still to this day not sure if it was a heavenly intervention, or a drug induced hallucination.. but I am certain I’m glad it happened. The following conversation went like this..
“Anthony take me back to Miami.”
“No, I thought we were going to stay the rest of the week.”
“Anthony take me back to Miami or I am going to smash my face off of this counter, and run to the American Embassy and tell them you’ve kidnapped me.”
I was on a one way ticket back the next morning.
When I got back to Palm Beach, I hibernated in my room for a month. I was decompressing the substances I abused from partying and cried it all out. What a crumby life I felt I had, and felt even more terrible for the crumby lives of the girls I left behind.
When I finally left my house to go down the street for some cigarettes, cheap wine and doritos- I locked myself out of my apartment. I sat on the curb waiting for my roommate while a bunch of fire ants made their way up my shorts. What else could possibly go wrong for me today? With that, a sudden onset of nausea hit me like a brick and I leaned over and threw up in the perennials.
Everything in my body grew tingly, and I knew, as sure as I knew my name that I was pregnant.
The statue, or Christ, or whomever you want to call it has answered my prayer. Or what the locals call it… my miracle. Thoughts, like film ran through my head. I knew I could not possibly go back to the life I was living, and must move forward onto something else, something greater. Everything was different now, I literally felt the path of my life shift. The Christ hadn’t given me anything I had asked for but, everything I had asked for… He had given me something to stand up and finally live for.
Thank you Bogota and all the prostitutes… you were the crossroads in my darkened night… and thank you Jesus for finally leading me back towards the light.