Of course the car full of my family is a taxi, this is Colombia!
It was all supposed to be relatively easy. At Panama City airport Bronson and I would use the free wifi to figure out our next legs – his from Bogota airport into the city’s old town, mine from Baranquilla two hours to Santa Marta. Except our flights left from a wing that was still being built, so no wifi and no info.
Hey ho, I’d wing it old school style. I figured there would be buses from Barranquilla airport no problem, but it turns out there aren’t. Suddenly I found myself hustled into a taxi with all the sudden misgivings a seasoned traveller experiences when the language is just out of reach and their new compadre is slightly in their face and speaking loud and fast. Luckily, I’m in Colombia and the colombianos are really nice. Frank was a tad on the strange side, when I eventually figured out that he was taking me to the place where the buses leave from and how much it would cost me I relaxed and we chatted a little about the usual topics – the Olympics, how many children he has. Or rather, I blundered along in my hideous Spanish and tried to understand his singsong syllables. Then he took photos of me on his phone. “Bonita!” (pretty) Thanks Frank.
After a traffic-heavy drive through the twilit industrial grey of Barranquilla, we reached a hectic intersection where Frank announced I should stand and wait among the cars crowding the pavement and simply wave down a coach to Santa Marta. Simple no? Yeah, “no” was what I was thinking too, when suddenly I was being bundled into another vehicle. “Familia, familia buena!” (family, good family) insisted Frank. A huge bellied man who was almost as wide as he was tall, with a smile that split his face into sunshine grabbed my backpacks, flung them onto the tray of his 4×4 truck and ushered me into the back next to his mother, wife and seven year old daughter. His son was driving. And so for the same price as a bus trip (about four pounds) I was making friends with a Colombian family, practicing Spanish for a few hours (yes, you guessed the journey would not take the same time as a scheduled bus) and getting a journey it’d be hard to forget.
After five minutes we stopped to put mother onto a bus to Bogota. The guys got out and came back with ice tea for us girls. With mother gone there was a bit more room. As it got dark we passed the time by trying to chat and with lots of smiles, Gabriella the little girl showed me how she could put her feet behind her head, that sort of thing.
Then we stopped to buy fish.
About 20 minutes outside Santa Marta is a little town called Cienaga that spreads out in shanty style to the road. Countless stands line the approach, several with enormous fish piled high, their tails flopped over the edge of the tables. But the family didn’t have enough cash, so Mr Sunshine got out to negotiate while we went on an ATM hunt. After an extensive tour of the entire town – a real eyeopener with dusty pavements, a rustic bingo hall in session, signs and stuff hanging from every building, the mission was accomplished and we headed back to load up the car with fish and father.
Just inside the city limits a worried noise emanated from the dad, echoed then by the mother. Gabriella looked up at me from under the towel-blanket we were sharing with an “oh dear, what are you going to do?” look on her pretty little face. During much rustling through handbags and pockets on their part, I had enough time to come up with a sentence in Spanish asking what had lost. Turns out it was the card I gave them with my hostel address, but fortunately I’d stayed there before so I could direct. Smiles of relief from all parties. Father carried my bags right into reception, I handed over a note, said heartfelt goodbyes and sagged against the reception desk.
And thus completes the tale of half my journey from Cuba to Colombia yesterday. After all that, and dog tired, there was no room at the inn. This was a good thing as it meant I could sleep in the TV room for half the price of a dorm bed – a room to myself at half the cost? Yes please!
Can you even imagine how much I have to write about after two weeks of no internet and so many extreme experiences? You’d better get comfy!