Third Installment of Colombia Trip (Part Three)
We drive away, saying good-bye to the family running alongside, and I settle in again. I was told the bus takes me to Cali, and from there I then find another bus to take me my destination of Armenia. I have lots of time to play out in my mind how this will go. I ask the driver how long before we reach Cali and he tells me the hours, added up to 11:30 PM. I’m wondering will there be a bus that late? When will it leave Cali? What will I do in the meantime? Who might be hanging around the bus terminal at night? When will I actually arrive in Armenia? It was feeling like never. But I’m in a great mood, watching the towns roll by and the beautiful scenery. All forms of thoughts run through my mind. I know I need to eat and sleep, but I am too wired for either. I just sit and vibrate.
We drive through El Bordo and Popayan. Along the way, we pass a cattle ranch. Don’t might dismiss what I saw too lightly. This ranch went on for miles. Very large 1000+ lb beef cattle, longhorns and all. And again, I remember… Good beef! While I always found Colombian food to be quite bland, I always appreciated the quality and several specialties I learned to make and have enjoyed all these years. San Cocho. Empanadas Colombian style. Arepa.
Chorizo! The best in the world is right in Armenia! I have never had better anywhere. I learned to make it when I was there and make some for myself now and then. I can eat several of those (Armenian), but all the others I have tried I don’t even finish one. Not bad, just not the same and a letdown. Every country and region has its own specialties, and those are my favorites from Colombia. And of course, delicious beef.
We pulled over the bus around 9 PM at a roadside restaurant (open air of course). There were another dozen or so buses also stopped. I went in and saw a big charcoal pit with slices of beef of the coals. That’s for me. It was AMAZING! Keep in mind I hadn’t eaten since Monday morning, but it would be good anytime I am sure. It came with rice and beans, skipped the rice. Had a delicious cucumber salad, ate all of that. I declined the soup. Hungry but not that hungry. 8000 pesos and I’m ready ($2.70, with juice). I get a bottle of water, con gas, and get to the bus. A restaurant worker is busy cleaning the huge windshield so I have to wait a few minutes. I get on the bus, and in about an hour of driving, I doze off.
I’m semi-sleeping, and thinking it had been some time. I decided to open my eyes and see what is going on. It is 2 AM. My brain is foggy (more than usual to all you wise guys) and things aren’t registering yet. I look at signs, and I see Armenia with an arrow to the left. I see Bogota with an arrow to the right. We turn right. Wait a minute, this doesn’t sound right for Cali.
I walk up the aisle, staggering from tired and bus movement. I sit on the step by the driver and ask him where we are. He didn’t say Cali. He asks where I was going and I told him Armenia. He groaned and gave me an “aye no”. He seemed to be at a loss. He slowed down the bus. We were heading up a long winding hill, with a ton of trucks going the other way. He got to a spot that leveled out and he came to a stop. He got out and stood in the road. Not 5 minutes later, he waved down a bus, then called for me. I grabbed my pack and got on the bus, sitting in the jump seat. We drive a while back down the hill until we reach Calarca. He is going left, and I need to go right. he says good night and good luck. I get off.
It is after 2 AM, and I am standing in Ghettosville. There are several dozen people wandering around. This was the shack end of town. Tin roof and plywood sides. No one seems to have a real purpose to be up that late. There was a crew of guys trying to get money from the truck drivers by hitting the tires with a stick when they came to a stop. Listening for a flat tire. They then ask the driver to be paid. about one in five got something. I watched the scene as I decide what I am going to do. I know about where I am as I recall this area. Armenia is a few miles away, up a hill. Too far to walk, but I can’t really stay around here. At some point, someone will get ideas not good for me or them. I start walking looking for someone to give me a ride. Low and behold a “taxi” pulls up from a side street. I jump in front of him so he can’t pull out. I ask if he can take me to Armenia.
Now I know my Spanish sucks, But I also know I said it right. He acted like he didn’t get it, so not taking a chance of losing him, I jump in. I tell him where again. I show him a map. He begins driving. After about 3 or 4 blocks he pulls to the side and asks me again. We now spent 20 minutes going over the address, where it is, how he should get there. I’m tired but patient. Not much choice, right?
I want you to know. It was a dangerous location at the worst time of night. On the other hand, I never felt in danger. When I travel I take certain precautions so even if I am robbed I won’t lose much, but in all the years traveling in some very dangerous places, I never have been. First thing? Act like you belong there. Be bold. Say hello and smile. Criminals prey on the fearful. They stay clear of those not afraid, in my experience. That may or may not be true but it worked yet again for me that night.
I don’t seem to be getting anywhere with the driver. Of course, I am keeping an eye out in case he is stalling. He seems harmless enough. My phone isn’t working as I haven’t replaced my SIM card yet. Probably should have done it with one of the hundreds of street vendors offering them at the bus station. Oh well. He pulls out his phone! I give him phone number one. No answer (2:30 AM now). I give him a second. Instead of saying my name and I have a reservation, he is only asking directions and address of the place! I heard him and knew anyone with sense wasn’t about to give out that info to a stranger at 2:30 AM! This is a one bedroom B&B in a family home. They aren’t expecting me for another 12 hours. So, no surprise, they hang up. I learn later there is also an epidemic of phone scammers trying to extort money with a lie early in the mornings, and people are advised to hang up. Just my luck this week. You just have to laugh!
I am really tired of sitting there doing nothing, so I tell the guy to forget the address (which I told him and showed him several times in writing and on the map) and just drive me to El Centro. It’s not a long walk and I was really weary of this. He FINALLY starts to drive.
Let me tell you about his car. It is about a 1998 Mazda 3 series. It’s old. It’s loud, and the clutch slips. The engine has a major miss at low rpm. I imagine it has no compression. It smells. Exhaust fumes. We start climbing the hill and its slipping and skipping. You can smell it overheating. But he is determined and he feathers the gas works the clutch and gets enough to keep rolling. We start to gain speed, and the skipping subsides. We are moving now! I look over and we are up to about 20 kph. but hey, we are moving in the right direction.
Now I have never been to this street. I am working off a 15-year-old memory and so much has changed. But I know where to go when we get in town. The streets operate by number. I am going across the street from a very large school. I am on the corner of Calle 19, which is a main 4 lane road with a center median. How can you miss it, right? I am pointing and he keeps going around the block. Three times. I tell him to stop. I’ve really had enough. He rolls to a stop… in front of the building. I was really happy to be done with this. I paid him and turned to a very dark and locked building.