Our South American Neighbors - G. Southworth

Bogota and Columbia—
South America's Northwestern Corner

[Map] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth

In the most northwestern corner of South America is the republic of Colombia. Jutting out from the top of it like a handle is Panama. This small country of Panama used to be a province of Colombia, but in 1903 it became an independent republic. And one of its first acts was to sign a treaty with the United States of America which allowed Uncle Sam to dig his great ditch, more dignifiedly called the Panama Canal.

The opening of the Panama Canal means much in increased commerce to Colombia and to all the other countries of South America.

Study the map for a moment. On the west, Colombia has about one thousand miles of Pacific coast line. To the north the Caribbean coast is nearly as long. Surely the country is splendidly located for commerce. Venezuela and Brazil form the republic's eastern boundary while Peru and Ecuador lie to the south.

The size of Colombia is more than twice the size of France. But where Colombia has only thirteen persons to the square mile, France, before the World War at least, had nearly two hundred. Or to compare Colombia's figures with one of our states, Colombia is nearly ten times as large as the state of New York, yet her entire population is not much greater than that of New York City.

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


As to climate, Colombia is a country of the Equator and lies entirely in the torrid zone. As one approaches from the great Pacific, the very sea seems to steam. Fortunately, however, Bogota, the capital and chief city of the republic, is more attractively situated on a high and fertile plateau, 8,564 feet above sea level.

Due to its elevation, Bogota has a remarkable climate of perpetual spring. Imagine a temperature of from sixty to sixty-five degrees all the year around. Roses and lilies are in constant bloom; the baskets hanging about the upper balconies of the city's pretty homes are never without their orchids and sweet-scented violets. Strawberries, apples, pears, peaches, pineapples and bananas are always in the markets. Bogota is fortunate in having an extremely rich surrounding country which supplies her markets with all kinds of good things to eat. And a remarkably pretty countryside it is, too, dotted with prosperous looking little farmhouses, sleek cattle and busy workers in the fields.

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


It is said that in the thin air of the capital city, the heart works at extra speed, and so the human machine wears out more quickly than in the lowlands. It is indeed true that very old people are seldom seen in Bogota.

The population of the city numbers about 144,000, largely descendants of the Spaniards. There are also many Indians. Negroes, so well represented in the hot coast towns, are not often seen in the capital.

With its telephones, electric lights and street cars, Bogota is a modern city. And with its National University, observatory, picture galleries, public libraries and schools, it has the reputation of being one of the most cultured of the South American capitals, the Boston, as it were, of Colombia.

The national language is Spanish, the daily newspapers are printed in Spanish and the capital city is a Spanish-speaking town.

Surrounded by all these Spanish characteristics, it is easy to remember that the republic once belonged to Spain, and as the land bears the name of the great explorer, Columbus, it is not hard to remember that he was its discoverer. Sent out by Spain, Columbus sailed along the coast of this particular part of South America in 1502, some thirty years before Bogota was founded by another Spanish expedition.

The Spanish-built houses are set very close to the street, the lawn or garden being in the open square, or court, called patio, about which the house is built. All of the well-to-do homes are built in this way, and usually have two stories. The upper story often has several balconies opening upon the inner court of the house. Some of these balconies are used as sleeping porches.

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


The homes of the poorer people have only one story. The houses are built low because of earthquake shocks which are common throughout Colombia. The buildings are brilliantly painted in yellow, green or white and nearly all have red tile roofs.

Among the parks in Bogota the one in the center of the city, known as the Plaza Bolivar, is the most beautiful. With its gardens of gay flowers and its many tropical trees, it is indeed luxuriant. The park is named after General Simon Bolivar, a Venezuelan under whose leadership not only Venezuela but Colombia, Ecuador and Peru won their independence of Spain. It was Bolivar's ambition to liberate his country from Spain and what he did resulted in the independence of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru and the foundation of Bolivia.

Colombia's President lives in a handsome building, called the Presidential palace. The Capitol where the two houses of Congress meet faces the beautiful Plaza Bolivar, as does the large cathedral.

The city of Bogota is built in terraces, as the ground rises abruptly towards the east. The streets, like those in neighboring Quito and Lima, are narrow and are paved with noisy cobblestones while the sidewalks are of smooth stone or brick.

Because of the narrow, hilly streets there are few carts or wagons in Bogota. Donkeys are the beasts of burden and these strong little animals are the carts, the drays and the trucks, all in one. Bread, vegetables and fruit are carried about from house to house upon them, and at the market, scores of donkeys stand and wait until their masters sell the produce they have brought in from the country.

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


These masters are mostly swarthy Indians. The men dress in coarse cotton, often wearing gayly colored ponchos or blankets about their shoulders. The Indian women wear baggy, nondescript clothes, always dark and uninteresting looking. All wear high-crowned Panama hats, for the sun is bright in Bogota.

In Bogota, as well as in all the capitals of South America, men of the better classes follow European and American fashions in dress. Although the women wear European and American hats and suits, almost all of the young girls use the black silk mantilla edged with broad lace. This is coquettishly draped over the pretty little head, drawn tightly over the left shoulder and as tightly about the waist.

On Sundays all women wear these black mantillas to church. There is nothing which suits the piquant Spanish face, clear olive complexion and abundant hair of the Bogotanian so well.

Like most capitals, Bogota's importance depends upon its country's commerce. The products of Colombia are varied, for with high mountains, level table-lands and fertile valleys, the republic has almost every variety of climate and soil to be found in the world.

In the mountains, which are an extension of the mighty Andes, are enormous coal and iron mines. Bogota itself rests on a great coal deposit. As yet these mines have not been developed to a great extent. To-day the republic's agricultural and forest products lead in value, but it is believed that in the future Colombia's vast mineral resources will prove to be her greatest possession.

Platinum, a metal more valuable than gold, was first discovered in Colombia. The country's output of this metal is now second only to Russia. Gold and silver are mined extensively. Copper ores are abundant, and when better methods of transportation are provided, the country will make a name for itself as a great copper producer.

Because of the enormous cost of railroad building, due to the mountainous character of the country, there is one thing which Colombia sadly lacks, efficient methods of transportation. When compared with the great railway lines of the United States, for instance, the railway facilities of Colombia seem to belong to another age. Traders may well complain, as they so often do, that "practically everything in the country is inaccessible." Why, it was not until recently that the journey from the coast of Colombia to the capital could be made entirely by train and steamer. Formerly a part of the distance had to be covered in the saddle. And to the unadventuresome, the journey had little charm.

The wonderful Muzo emerald mines, although only seventy-five miles from Bogota, are so hard to reach that of their 140,000 acres only a very small proportion has as yet been used. In spite of this, however, Colombia is famed for its emeralds and supplies a large per cent of the world's demand.

So much for the minerals. Now for the forests.

Colombia has more timber for its size than any other country in South America. In the mountains there are many kinds of cabinet and dye woods, including mahogany and Spanish cedar. Much of this cedar is shipped to the United States to be made into cigar boxes. In the most tropical forest regions are hundreds of rubber trees. Comparatively few of these have been tapped. This, too, because of the difficulties of getting to them and of transportation.

In the lead of the country's great agricultural products is coffee, coffee of a very excellent quality. Brazil may surpass Colombia in the quantity of her exported coffee, but Brazilian coffee cannot surpass that of the smaller republic in quality.

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


Other products of Colombia's soil are wheat, oats, corn, potatoes, beans and tobacco. In the warm low valleys, sugar-cane, cotton and all kinds of tropical fruits are grown. Herding is an important industry, thousands of cattle, sheep and horses being raised.

There are still two other things to be noted in Colombia and perhaps they are the most distinctive of all. These are orchids and alligators. Orchids are a beautiful and rare flower, much sought after by florists and owners of wonderful gardens. The native Indians in Colombia know best where these exquisite flowers grow, and are, therefore, valuable guides to foreign orchid collectors.

Alligators live in large numbers in the warm waters of the Caribbean and in the delta of the Magdalena river. The killing of alligators for their skins has become an important industry in the northern part of Colombia.

Alligators are valuable, for every ounce may be turned into a marketable product. The scrapings from the useful hides can be utilized in making glue. The teeth, a perfectly white ivory of medium hardness, are easily worked into an endless variety of small articles, such as thimbles, buttons and cigar holders. Even the grease, which constitutes a large percentage of the body, is used by the natives who believe it is excellent for diseases of the lungs. Another use for the leather has been found in the upholstering of automobiles and carriage seats.

Barranquilla, the chief receiving and shipping point for Colombia's trade, is on the Magdalena river and is connected with Puerto Colombia on the Caribbean Sea by a railroad eighteen miles long. Barranquilla is an ugly, colorless town built on the sands, and its sand-choked harbor might bear many improvements. Yet when the republic builds new railroads and enlarges her foreign trade, Barranquilla, with all Colombia, bids fair to have a flourishing future.

Questions for Review and Study

  1. In what way does the Panama. Canal help the commerce of Colombia?
  2. Describe Colombia as to coast line, size and climate.
  3. How does the climate of Bogota compare with that of the coast.
  4. What is the population of Bogota and what language is spoken by its people?
  5. Who discovered Colombia?
  6. Give a word picture of Bogota.
  7. What part do donkeys play in the life of the city°?
  8. Name the products of Colombia.
  9. With all her possibilities, what has so far prevented Colombia from developing her mines?
  10. Why are alligators valuable and what use is made of the different parts of their bodies?
  11. Name and describe the chief shipping port of Colombia.