A Fulbright Teacher in Bogota, Colombia, A Special Series – Transmilenio — The North Star Reports – by Laura Blasena. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal
When I found out that I was going to be living in Bogota for this school year, I immediately started googling Bogota and the Transmilenio. While Medellin, another major city in Colombia, has a famed Metro system, the capital of the country does not, and a huge chunk of the population relies on the Transmilenio bus system in order to get around the city.
(I even took the time to watch this rather corny video about how to use the Transmilenio. It’s surprisingly accurate about how to use it, but was completely inaccurate about the number of people you have to fight through at each station for a bus.)
There are actually three different public transport systems in Bogota, but they are often referred to synonymously under the umbrella term “Transmi and Sitp”.
First, there are the actual Transmilenio buses. These buses are my personal favorite, because you have to swipe your Transmi card to get into the terminal and, once inside, it operates much like a subway system, with various doors for different buses that have different routes throughout the city. The added bonus of the Transmilenio buses is that there are also usually police officers milling about in the station. This doesn´t do much to stop theft that occurs on the buses, but it does prevent vendors who hop onto the buses (selling anything from food to stickers to music) from getting to aggressive if somebody doesn´t want to buy from them.
[Photo: This is what the inside of the terminals look like. At certain times of the day, they are so crowded you can’t walk through, but at other times of the day they are completely empty. While it’s certainly more interesting when it’s crowded, I didn’t want to risk having my phone stolen by taking a picture.]
The second type of public transport is the Sitp buses. These buses function much like the Transmilenio buses; you have to swipe your Transmi card to get into the bus and they have routes that the drivers are not allowed to deviate from. However, since these buses have to drive with traffic they are incredibly unreliable. I once stood at a bus stop for thirty minutes waiting for a bus that never showed up.
The third type of public transport are called “collectivos”. Like the Sitp buses, they are public buses, but they function as relics of a very old, confusing, and unregulated transportation system that existed before the Transmilenio system went through a huge period of regulation and change. These buses do not have scheduled stops—instead, you if you see a collective and you want to get on, you wave your hand and hope it stops to let you on. They do not have set routes. Instead, they each feature a plaque at the front of the bus with the names of neighborhoods that they drive through.
[Photo: Red Transmilenios follow a very strict path. In most places, you have stand in one of the caged terminals, but along certain roads you can just hop on from the terminal.]
As a foreigner with very little knowledge of the neighborhoods in Bogota, I´ve avoided collectivos and have yet to take one.
The cards needed to take the Transmilenio are also particularly interesting. The majority of those of us who live in Bogota have red Transmi cards. I, however, have a blue card that was given to me by a professor who was in the process of leaving the university when I arrived. I have no clue where to get these blue cards, or if they are still given out, but the card continues to function so I will continue to use it. I´ve heard that certain cards will allow you to pay below the normal fare rate of 1,800 pesos (about fifty cents), but I haven´t ever been able to verify it. (I have also been told there are green cards. I don´t know what´s different about these cards or where to get them, but they apparently exist.)
About our special correspondent Laura Blasena: Ever since I was a little Kindergartner I’ve always wanted to be a teacher.
I graduated from St. Scholastica in the summer of 2015 with a double major in Elementary Education and Spanish Education after student teaching as a 5th grade teacher and also as a Spanish teacher at NorthStar in Duluth, Minnesota.
While my future plans before graduation were initially to become a classroom teacher, I decided to wait a year to begin teaching in the United States and have chosen to work as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Bogota, Colombia. In Colombia, I will be working with a university as an assistant in the language department, attending classes, running conversation clubs, and offering the perspective of a native speaker.
I’ve always loved to travel. In college, I participated in several study abroad trips, visiting England, Guatemala, and Mexico. (I loved visiting Mexico so much that I even went back a second time!). I’m looking forward to the travel opportunities that I will have while working and living in Colombia.
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The North Star Reports publishes edited essays from our students, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. Students have reported from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, Colombia, Norway, northeastern China, Nicaragua, Micronesia, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, El Salvador, England, Finland, Russia, Cyprus, and Haiti. We also publish student reviews of books, documentaries, and films, and analysis of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches, and report on their interactions with the North Star Reports students and teachers. We thank The Department of History and Politics and the School of Arts and Letters of The College of St. Scholastica for their generous financial support for The North Star Reports and The Middle Ground Journal.
Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica.
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