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Bogota has a birthday

“What do you love about Bogota?” asks the street mime who’s found his tongue – and a microphone – to talk to his audience.

“There are many beautiful women,” is the reply, from a boy of around six. There is an ecstatic applause and a mother waves her arms in the air with joy.

“And what about your favourite thing?” a little girl is asked.

“I love all the trees,” she says. Another applause. I wonder if she is in the same city as me.

I am among the small crowd at Plazoleta del Chorro de Quevedo in Colombia’s capital. A large banner on the stage says Fiesta de Amor por Bogota – Festival of Love for Bogota. It is 6th August, the anniversary of the founding of the city in this very square, and tomorrow the new president, Juan Manuel Santos, will be sworn in. As a result, the whole of downtown Bogota is in party mode. Yellow, blue and red balloons, the colours of the Colombian flag, hang from every street corner. ‘Chorro’ means ‘fountain’ but the only thing flowing here today is the sound of the reggaeton from the loudspeakers, and probably a number of beers.

Already this afternoon I have watched a huge flag being paraded through the streets by schoolgirls, listened to indigenous panpipe music and seen an army band performing in the main plaza. All the museums are free because of the festival but who wants to spend their time inside? I pick up a wafer with arequipa (a dreamy milky caramel filling, on special offer for today only) and watch as a young shop assistant climbs onto his roof to erect a flag by a statue of a bull, being sternly directed by his boss. It is apparently essential that the flag can wave without covering the bull’s face.

As I squeeze myself further around the edges of the plazoleta, I walk past traditional handicrafts of jewellery and knitted woollen shoes, an accessory which I imagine not to offer much protection for your toes in busy places like here. I arrive at a small canopy bursting with young Bogatanos, all of whom are singing and swaying side to side, their eyes glued to a small karaoke screen. The music sounds familiar. A young man in a knitted woollen hat spots me.

“You know Shakira?” he asks. I nod and he coaxes me into singing along, but I struggle as I cannot see the words through the crowd. I sing the bits I know and he laughs.

Having embarrassed myself enough, I leave the plazoleta and begin to walk towards my bus lane, which is quite far today because so many roads are closed. I stop for a coffee (another excuse for arequipe) and take it out onto a bench. As I look around I suddenly become aware of an abundance of trees, all flaunting leaves of the brightest of greens. Then, seated in the shade of one of the trees, there looks up a beautiful Bogotano woman. I smile.

Happy birthday, Bogota.

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