Preliminary tests done at the hospital emergency indicated a possible long stay. My wife’s nephew knew what to do and showed up with a batch of new books. He knows my penchant to learn more about Colombia. We have often traveled together to places in the country where his work has taken him. Included in the slew of books to pass the time of what turned out to be over a week was “Short Walks From Bogotá” by Tom Feiling.
This is the book I came to Colombia many years ago to write. Unfortunately my arrival was too early. At that time there were still FARC, ELN and paramilitary roadblocks in many parts of the country. Colombians told me such things as, “It is not safe for you here yet.”
It would be a few years before the country would become the “new Colombia” as author, Thomas Feiling, calls it. In my opinion Feiling came at the correct time (2011) to see and tell readers of the changes. And the author knew what to look for in changes as he had been in the country in 2001.
Fortunately for me, though I never wrote my book, I did meet my future wife. Our marriage allowed me to live through and witness the transition of Colombia. Therefore Feiling looks at the country different than I can. While I saw gradual change he noticed the difference between then and now.
The author takes readers along on his travels throughout Colombia and tells the story of its past. He identifies players in the conflict that gripped the country in a manner difficult to understand by many in other parts of the world.
The title is a little misleading. The places he visits requires planes and buses to get to. Even his inability to get a taxi late at night to take him from the North of Bogotá to his room in Candeleria was no short distance requiring many hours of walking.
Along his trips he travels with Colombians. While I found them not typical of the majority who inhabit the country, they are representative of what one can find in Colombia.
The book is 266 pages in length with eleven chapters. Feiling’s journey begins and ends in Bogotá. In between there are visits to the flat areas of Colombia known as the Llanos. He takes the reader along to small towns such as Mompós, San Carlos, Valledupar and other places. You will read stories about how citizens in one town adopted the dead from other place and about the Japanese cowboy who made in fortune in the country’s emerald mines. But Feiling also covers the history of the multiple terrorist groups in the country and their effect on today’s Colombia.
The places he visits are not typical tourist areas. But I do not believe that is the focus of his book. These are places that seem to be chosen to best reveal the changes in Colombia and tell the story. Consequently his book provides a different look into the country than what you find in the writings on our blog site. Though we cover such out-of-the-way places as Miraflores, Feiling gets more into the nitty gritty of those locations that may see travelers, but not tourists for many years to come.
Overall I believe Feiling does a good job of presenting the Colombia as it is now and showing the process that got it there. However I have lived in the country for many yeas and of course Colombia is my wife’s home. Therefore there are areas where we take exception to the author’s presentation of some things. But most are small in nature and come from different experiences. It is one thing to look at the country as a visitor and another as a resident.
However there is a part missing. But it is not the author’s fault. Feiling is British. I am from the United States. My readings, studies and research into past events contain more information of the USA’s involvement. The over 7 billion dollars given to Colombia by The United States making the country the largest recipient of US taxpayer dolllares in the Western Hemisphere is pretty much glossed over. But then again Plan Colombia and the politics behind it would be a book by itself.
“Short Walks From Bogotá” is a good read for many people. I believe my high school friend, Gary, would enjoy it as he has asked questions about Colombia. But anyone who knows that there must be more Colombia than what US media purports should read the book. Feiling’s subtitle pretty much says it all, “Journeys in the New Colombia.”