Category Archives: Travel

Finding Jesus on a Bogota Street

Colombia’s capital city, Bogota is awash with churches; it would be a struggle throwing a stone without breaking some stained glass.

Generally, I have found Catholic churches in South America to be less severe than their European counterparts, maintaining colour and vibrancy while still reveling in delicious gaudiness.

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But, visiting Bogota’s Primatial Cathedral, I was surprised to find the iconic Baroque structure light on ornamentation. This included artwork, there was a shocking lack of iconography.

This was a disappointment. I am always intrigued at the almost perverse morbidity of long-dead Catholic artists in depicting their saviour in the highest states of duress.

I actually discovered the most striking images of God’s only begotten son out on the street.

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The street was where homeless artists ply their craft, creating haunting images of Christ for mere pennies from passers-by.

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The use of chalk ensured the Son of Man was put to death each night, trampled out of existence by thousands of walking feet before his eventual resurrection the following day.

How I Found Myself In a Football Riot In Brazil

Brazilian football fans are presented as passionate and fun-loving, a fanbase that dance in the stands with their faces painted, and turn games into one giant party. I recently discovered this isn’t a complete picture.

Leaving the Tijuca Tennis Clube on Sunday, sporting broken ribs and an insatiable desire for pizza, our group managed to walk into the middle of a pitched battle between Brazilian football hooligans.

Brazil’s most popular team, Flamengo were playing Sao Paulo based, Corinthians that afternoon. Whilst not a local derby there exists a passionate rivalry between the two teams.

As we reached the end of the street, in the square across the road, chaos was unfolding before our very eyes.

There was none of pseudo macho posturing or the usual ‘come-on then’ rhetoric that is predisposed to the idiots at home, I didn’t even see a single ‘wanker’ gesture. Fists were flying from all angles. Many of the angry looking men had acquired weapons of sticks and bats and were using them to bash each other.

Whilst we were close to the action it seemed a relatively safe vantage point, that was until a mob decked out in Flamengo’s red and black charged in our direction.

As they entered the street, there was a collective ‘shiiiiiit’ from our group as we sprinted to get away from these weapon-clad brigade of hate-filled mentalists. Broken ribs or not, I moved like the Flash.

There appeared a very realistic possibility of being beaten by a large blunt object had we failed to react. We weren’t the only ones who’d come to this same conclusion, a middle aged woman, apparently more attuned to the danger, had taken off slightly earlier and left us in her dust.

Other fleeing people took refuge in whatever shop or business they could find as shutters slammed down.

We made it back to the Tijuca Tennis Clube, figuring a venue full of grapplers would be the safest place in Rio. As we reached the entrance in an effort to help an acai vendor save his stock, the doors were shut on us, we had to plead to be let in.

The word soon went out and jiu-jitsu athletes started pouring into the street, many appearing far too eager for an opportunity to choke out some football fans.

Making it home later that afternoon – after eventually acquiring pizza, to discover this violence was just the tip of the iceberg following serious disturbances within the stadium.

Brazil might have some of the most passionate and fun-loving fans in the world, but they are equally passionate about punching each other in the face.

God Bless the Dead?

I am always shocked by how quickly things return to normal in the favela. Tuesday morning, the sun was shining and people went back to their day-to-day routines; besides an increased police presence, the was no sign of the explosion of violence that had occurred the day before. There was no visible evidence of the running gun battles between police and the local traffickers which had left three young men dead in the streets.

So, I was surprised to find on Thursday that everything was closed again: bakeries, general stores, bars, and restaurants were all locked down. Walking through the community I feared the worst,  maybe the ‘tiros’ was about to start again. Arriving at the academy for training, I discovered the reason, it was the funeral of the dead traffickers. Everything was closed as a mark of respect.

I have written about this before, the strange relationship between the traffickers and the residents of Cantagalo. These young men had brought terror into the heart of the community, they had put the lives of everyone in danger, caused all of those owning and operating small businesses to lose an essential day’s wages; led to residents being effectively held hostage in their homes or trapped outside unable to get to their families.

I personally struggled understanding why their deaths should be commemorated. Yet, they were looked upon by the community as their own. They were once the innocent children of Cantagalo, and regardless of their choices in adulthood, they had left behind grief-stricken parents, wives, girlfriends, young children and friends, all who wanted to celebrate their lives and the rest of the community showed their solidarity by joining them.