Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Visit to Egipto

A youth, who doesn't look like a choir boy, walks down an Egipto alley.
Egipto is the poor and troubled neighborhood right above La Candelaria. Tourists and even most Bogotá residents don't venture here because its narrow alleys make it a refuge for muggers and teen gangs.

The Egipto Church. 
But Egipto also contains many centuries-old buildings, beginning with the Iglesia de Egipto, whose first structure was built in 1556. And, while Egipto's residents may have few material belongings, they do have great views of downtown Bogotá. Take a look at Egipto's annual Three Kings Festival here.

A colorful door. 
An exposed adobe wall. 
I visited a bit of Egipto the other day with Cristian, a young man who is trying to develop Egipto's cultural scene thru rap dancing and mural painting. While most Egipto residents are certainly honest, hard-working people, the neighborhood also has lots to overcome. Cristian and police officers told me about violent fueds between gangs on neighboring streets. Sometimes, these fueds get handed down, Hatfield-McCoy style, from father to son. A friend of mine used to live in Egipto with her two young daughters. She was the caretaker for a handsome colonial home with a large open area, where we planted a vegetable garden. But she came home too many times to find gangs shooting it out in the alleyway in front of her door. And then her home was burglarized, so she moved away.

A rainy street with our escorts.
A few years ago, a Colombian and an American began buying up houses in the lower section of Egipto, right above the Avenida Circunvalar. Meanwhile, the city has been widening the Circunvalar and one of La Candelaria's private universities has expanded into Egipto.All of that has generated resentment among some residents, who suspect that the city wants to force out the poor and gentrify the neighborhood. That's certainly may happen. But it's also true that investment would provide jobs and likely reduce crime, which impacts residents most of all.

A resident walks downhill, with central Bogotá below her. 
But Cristian said the neighborhood's become less violent in recent years. Several decades ago, residents say, a gang called 'Los Gasolinos' descended from Egipto and attacked and robbed trucks crossing over the hills. The Gasolinos also displayed a Robin Hood side by distributing part of their take to Egipto's residents. Perhaps that was also their way of thanking the neighbors for hiding them.

Cristian and I walked thru some Egipto alleys with a police escort.

A colorful, but dangerous street. Many of Egipto's streets are  cobbled, and often too steep and narrow for cars. 
A carpenter's shop, alongside the church. 
A notorious stairway alongside the church. A friend got mugged near here. 
A tribute to Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, a leftist, populist politician assassinated in 1948.
It's possible that Gaitan once lived in this house. 
Cristian stands before one of his murals, 'Emigrantes', or 'Emigrants.' Cristian believes that migrants to the north are often stereotyped as criminals. The message, he said, is that migrants can contribute to their adopted country. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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