We left Bogota on saturday around lunch time. This way, we knew we wouldn’t encounter extra traffic. We had 341km/211mi of traveling to get to Salento, in Colombia’s zona cafeteria.
Anik, my directionally impaired navigator, assured me we’d pull into Salento in time for a nice dinner in the van.
It took us 2 hours simply to get out of the city. Bogota’s infrastructure leaves much to be desired. The highways still have traffic lights, which causes traffic congestion and amplifies the poor air quality. The numerous outdated buses and the diesel and gasolina they use, produce a brownish gray haze in the horizon, which would cause them to more than fail North American emission standards.
By 3:30, with all of us starving, we stopped just outside of Bogota for a plate of meat, meat, and a bit more meat. The kids and I loved it. Here, the owner of the restaurant advised us to be very cautious on the road because it was the night before Colombia’s big election.
Back in the van, and just a few hours of non technical driving away (as per Anik), we came around a curva peligrosa and were flagged down by the policia. The reason for our being pulled over was obscure at first, as we were simply following traffic.
At this point in our trip, we’ve been pulled over by many gun carrying muchachos, but this one came around like he was the new sheriff in town. By now, we have the routine of pulling out the copies of our SOAT insurance, passports, and license down to a science. When he came to my window, I politely handed our paperwork over with a smile, the universal language. Apparently, muchacho didn’t speak smile. In the midst of interrogating us, when he came to the question of where we were headed, he digressed to the big, beautiful, pink trout we had to eat when we got to Salento. After the small talk was out of the way, he pointed out that we had incurred the “infraction” of speeding through dangerous curves. As I repeatedly told him that I was just following the cars ahead, the policia kept pointing out the “infraction”. He started asking what the speed limit was in the US on highways, through curves, on dangerous roads etc… He then asked “what do you do in Los Estados Unidos when you feel sorry for something (compadecer), when you’re regretful”. At this point, we realized that he was fishing for a bribe. We immediately decided to start playing the “No entiendo” card. He seemed a bit confused and kept repeating himself “what do you do when you get pulled over and you feel sorry for your infraction?”. After a while, we answered “we get a warning”.
At this point, he asked me to get out of the car and follow him to the radar gun and camera. He showed me that I had been going 84km in an 80km zone. I responded that it was only 4km/2mi over and that I was following everyone else. He got the ticket pad and showed it to me. I told him “no entiendo” and pointed to the van as I walked back to it. He let let us sit there a few minutes, at which point he came back to the window and told us that just this once, he’d give us a warning. I shook his hand and smiled, and we continued onto our non-technical drive.
This surely won’t be the last time we get pulled over. For now, playing the dumb gringos with the innocent gringo children seems to work just fine. Note: if traveling abroad, bring children. They’ll save your ass many times over.
At this point, the drive was on nice smooth, straight, flat, easy roads, just as Anik had predicted. By 5:30 (getting dark), we reached Ibague and Anik stated “we have 60km…one hour left, I say we go for it”. This is the point where Anik’s navigation skills failed us utterly. Luckily, we filled up our 1/4 tank of gas, just in case.
Just as it was getting dark and a thunderstorm was rolling in, the road started winding at an incline not seen in the United States. Once again, trucks and buses were playing chicken with each other, blind passing around sharp curves. Half an hour in, and six kilometers later, I asked Anik to look at the GPS on my phone. At this point, I informed her that the curves were numerous and that this would take much longer than an hour. It was obvious that we were past the point of no return, no camping, no stopping.
The road went on and on and up and up to 11,000 ft, passing dozens of broken down, smoking tractor trailers with their hoods raised. Now, remember, this is a two lane highway with steep sharp curves and sheer cliffs, with zona geologica (landslides). By 9:30pm, we still hadn’t had dinner and still had 40km to go. With the kids eating crackers, and ours bodies stiff with the breathtaking curves and passes, we drove on. We arrived in Armenia at 10:30 and decided the 25 km drive to Salento was too much. We found a hotel on Lonely Planet and drove to that part of town. Everything in the neighborhood was barred up, including our hotel…
Across the street from the hotel was a food cart called Hamburguesas Caliche’s which turned out to be an indigestion producing, soy sauce laden, giant burger patty, with ham, bacon, cheese and a quail egg, all atop an arepa. It was really good.
We finally made it to Salento by 11:30, and woke up the following morning in Paradise.
The rain in this regions isn’t rain, it’s as Simon would say “a nightly deluge of water”. At 2am on the second night, I was awaked by a steady drip of water in the face caused by one of two leaks the van had sprung. Anik and I shared half of the twin sized bed to make room for the bowls and towels to catch the leaks. Although the bowls were effective, with our tight quarters, I rolled onto them twice, making for a very moist sleeping bag.
I woke up the following morning, unable to move due to some undefined sickness…aka…diarrhea from a bad piece of fruit or from the soy sauce laden hamburguesas. I sent Anik into town for silicone to repair the failed silicone in the rain gutter. Problem solved.
The roads, the leaks, the policias, and the tight quarters have so far made this trip less than dull. This past week in Salento, having not moved the van, makes me ready again for our push to Ecuador. I sure hope the van starts.