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Medellin to San Agustin

Latin transportation from the city of eternal spring to ancient statues amidst soggy hills of coffee

all seasons in one day 66 °F
View To the equator and beyond! on tltisme's travel map.

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We joined a throng of well-dressed people (faded and pre-wrinkled designer jeans, sporty shoes, colorful tops, gelled hair, headphones, and stylish bags) leaving the metro station and entering the busy Medellin bus station at 8 PM on a Saturday night. The metro took us right to the Terminal del Norte where we had come in from Bogota and where our bus south left from. We were well provisioned for this ride after our last extra long bus trip. All our containers full of water and granola, sandwiches, and fruit packed (much of it bought from the all-inclusive, Wal-Mart like Carrefour of Colombia). After some tense waiting and confusion trying to board the correct bus, our main bags were safely stowed below and our essentials kept with us aboard as we tried to relax. This Bolivariano bus played Cowboys vs. Aliens in dubbed Spanish throughout the bus for all passengers viewing pleasure. I tried to follow along and maybe learn some espanol from Daniel Craig's and Harrison Ford's spanish personas but eventually drifted off to sleep as the plot became more ridiculous and my eyes grew tired of focusing on the small TV.
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We, well Amy, had asked the driver how long the trip to Neiva would take, mas o menos (more or less, I have found it is often a decent answer when you are not sure what is being said). We were told about nine hours and arrived groggily in Neiva about twelve hours later, not so bad considering our first long distance bus experience. As we entered the Neiva bus station we were besieged by competing bus employees shouting out every likely destination we could have in mind and attempting to usher us along to their bus (this occurs at every terminal when an apparent foreign traveler arrives though to varying degrees of aggressiveness). We decided to hit the bathroom first (about 15 cents which is a common charge in public restrooms) and check out all the bus options before giving our money to anyone. In the end, we returned to one of the first guys who had approached us but got our ticket for 20,000 pesos (a little more than ten dollars) instead of us his original price of 30,000 for the four hour trip to San Agustin. We were escorted outside and took the last two seats in the back of the small bus as it cranked up and pulled out of the station. We always ask when a bus is leaving but the problem is that drivers almost always say now or soon when in fact it usually takes the bus or van to be close to full before they leave. This has never taken very long and large buses often do run on more or less set schedules as I discovered in Quito when I ran to the bathroom and assumed I had plenty of time since only a few seats were taken but had to run to catch the bus as it pulled out.
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This smaller bus seemed to be half filled with passengers going to Pitalito (the larger town on the main road before going up into the hills around San Agustin) and the other half hopping off along the way and being replaced by other passengers picked up from the roadside. This is characteristic of all transportation we have seen so far, even personal cars and trucks will usually stop to pick up passengers if they have the room. I have to keep reminding myself of the fact that essentially whatever road we are on it is only a matter of time before a taxi, bus, or other vehicle will come along that we can hold up our arm for a ride if we so desire. From an economic perspective this makes automobile transportation much more efficient: most vehicles traveling on the road are full (often overflowing with lashed on cargo and dangling passengers from all possible holds). This practice allows individuals who can afford an automobile to maximize its utility on each trip while providing pedestrians with ample transportation options even on the most remote mountain roads (providing some positive externalities to go along with all the negative ones caused by motor-vehicle use). Though roads are winding, often in poor condition, and driven aggressively there seem to be fewer accidents than you would imagine. I believe this is due in large part to the specialization in driving that occurs due to greater economic and social barriers to owning and operating a motor-vehicle. Professional bus and taxi drivers know their routes extremely well and are more than comfortable passing on downhill curves if the opportunity presents itself. Most people walk and take public transportation everywhere they need to go and may own a motorbike but few own automobiles. Those that do drive are quite competent and I have been impressed with the many uses of honking here, rarely in frustration but often as a warning when approaching a blind switch-back turn or to stop a pedestrian or car from pulling out ahead. Though I have traversed the most insane roads of my life already on this trip I have surprised myself with my calmness and at this point relative comfort on rough and precipitous mountain drives. There are too many breathtaking landscapes and intriguing sights to look at out the window to be worried about the driver anyway. I am sure there are some less than satisfactory motor-vehicle operators on the roads down here but none seem to be lacking in confidence and practice which goes a long way.

Ok, back to the bus trip:
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After one military stop on the road where all male passengers were taken off the bus and patted down for weapons we reached Pitalito. We had wondered if this small bus would indeed take us to San Agustin as we had been told and our suspicions were confirmed when we were rushed off the bus at Pitalito and into the back of pick-up truck outfitted with benches and bed cover (known as a camioneta), while our backpacks were unceremoniously tossed on the rugged roof-rack. We were a little annoyed with our downgrade in transportation comfort but we had the truck bed to ourselves and were excited to be nearing our destination. Our bus driver had said he had paid this truck driver for our transport which we hoped was the case and we kept our eyes pealed on the scenery passing behind us and to spot our bags if they tumbled from the roof.
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We arrived in the the cute, cobbled streets of San Agustin in a slight rain around 2 o'clock on a Sunday afternoon outside the small tourist information center. After encouraging us to stay at a certain hostal a man who looked to be an employee of the centro touristico led us down to the market to find a ride to Finca Campo Bello. We had been told drivers would know where it was but the first few were perplexed and we started to get a little worried as the rain fell a little harder and our packs felt a little heavier. At last the helpful guy found a driver who was going that way and we hoisted our bags onto the roof rack of his camioneta. Amy went to buy a mango to slurp on (50 cents) in the market nearby while I watched the driver and others load more and more sacks of corn, racks of eggs, and other goods on top and into the back of the truck.
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As Amy returned other passengers began piling in until there were seven of us sitting in the back and five men standing on the tailgate as the driver cranked up and pulled out of town. Fourty five minutes of bumping, jostling, and straining to hold on as we crept along a mountain trail we were told to get out. We stood next to a large green house wondering if this was the coffee and pig farm we had signed up to work on for the week. A smiling teenager with glasses emerged from the adjacent house and welcomed us while helping us move our bags inside. We entered and saw a faded Finco Campo Bello logo on the wall and breathed a sigh of relief as we let our bags fall to the floor and took a seat in the offered plastic chairs.
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Posted by tltisme 13:25 Archived in Colombia Tagged bus driving transportation motor-vehicles Comments (0)

Un virus esta andando!

A virus is walking...

The following is the record of our first travel illness. Be forwarned: this blog post is written in timeline form and is epically long. It is occasionally broken down into seconds.

FRIDAY January 20, 2012 6:00 AM: Wake to headache, stomach pains and dehydration.
7:30: Beg for water and lots of it.
8:30: TL returns with water and other reinforcements, then leaves to city for day with Itamar and Mateo to work on green walls.
8:35: Nausea kicks in and I see this is going to be a very long day.
9:00: Commence diarrhea and severe headache, possible fever.
9:05: Feel like shit.
9:05:30: Still feel shitty, maybe worse though.
9:06: Definitely worse.
9:06:05: My blood pressure must be low.
9:06:10: I might die today while TL is in the city.
9:06:12: Yes, I will definitely die today.
9:07:20: I can’t die, TL is already on his way to the city and wouldn’t find me for hours, and there are lots of other reasons I can’t die today.
9:07:30: Ok, I’m not going to die, I’m just sick.
9:08: Look at clock: it’s only 9:08.
9:08:10: Turn over and recount all the illnesses I’ve contracted abroad.
9:15: At least I’m not in the jungle. Si, gracias a dios que no estamos en la selva todavia!
9:15 AM- 1:30 PM: Long period of moaning, diarrhea, headache, nausea, dizziness, chills and sweat.
1:31: Enter Amalia (the woman who lives next door to our little apartment), “!Ay pobrecita, estas sola aca y enferma, te traigo aromaticas!
2:00: Return Amalia with reinforcements, the really good kind: aromatic teas made from all kinds of local plants and delicious fruits.
2:30: Still feel awful but mysterious teas and broths are beginning to work, I am convinced.
3:00: Return Amalia with her daughter Adriana to deliver rice and potatoes to the poor white woman whose husband has left her behind in such a state!
3:00-3:30: Try to eat food and speak Spanish with Amalia while the room is spinning and her daughter stares at me.
4:00: Enter TL, mi esposo (Amalia thinks we’re married) with a two different kinds of postre that I won’t be able to eat.
6:00: Grieve about illness to TL and pass out.
7:00: Arrive Itamar and Mateo with delicious meals for both of us.
7:15: Think about all the times people have taken care of me in sickness abroad.

So the illness turned out to be a virus, which we know quite certainly now, as Amalia entered this morning to tell us a few days ago that the “virus esta andando”, the virus is walking, or everyone has it: an inevitable fact of life in a small community where most everything is shared, and people take care of one another so intimately.

This brings us to Sunday: T.L.’s sick day.

5:30 AM: Awake for ambitious Sunday plans to climb Juaica- the 3 hour scramble up the mountain beyond overlooking Organizmo.
5:45: Gauge clouds/weather- decide YES, we are definitely climbing the mountain.
6:00: Hike to kitchen to make breakfast, wait for Itamar to awake to join us on our trek.
7:30: Still waiting for Itamar.
8:00: Itamar decides not to go, but drives us to a different spot to hike instead.
8:15- 11:30: Scramble up smaller mountain and through long winding roads alongside hundreds of brave, incredibly fit bikers to Subacoche, another small town.
11:45: Eat a cookie and an empanada in Subacoche.
12:00 PM: Find out how to get back to Organizmo by bus. Find out the bus won’t be leaving until 1:30 PM.
12:01: T.L. declares “I feel very sick”.
12:02: Start asking people where to find a taxi.
12:15: Find taxis. Ask how much they charge: 30,000 pesos, or 10,000 more than we have on our persons.
12:16-12:40: Find bench, this will have to do for now.
12:45-50: I get hungry – TL accompanies me to an ice-cream shop. I try to break the 20,000 we have left but the woman says needs to get change from her neighbors. TL turns more colors than the ice-cream flavors they offer.
12:50: I tell the ice-cream lady, listen we really have to go, he’s going to get sick.
12:51: She magically has the right change, we grab change and ice-cream cone and take off in search of a bathroom.
12:52: A pizza shop: I duck in, TL trailing, open the bathroom door, TL looks desperately for a light that doesn’t exist and finally slams the door.
12:53: I turn to see half a dozen pizza-eating men staring in my direction. I remember my ice-cream cone with caramel and a cookie on top. I start to eat it, albeit it with mixed emotions.
12:59: I finish the ice-cream cone. TL is still in the bathroom. I try not to make eye contact with anyone in this pizzeria.
1:05: I hear toilet paper. Flush. Water running. This is promising.
1:06: TL emerges. Less green, more gray, sweat beads on forehead.
1:06:05: TL uses napkins from a table to wipe away his sweat while groaning. People stare. Man making pizza glares.
1:06:30: We rush out the door, heads down.
1:10: We return to bus station, locate bathroom and bench and sit to await our bus.
1:20: An official bus-driving looking man asks us for what bus we are waiting. He tells us the bus to Tabio left at 12:30.
1:20-1:25: I explain that all the gentlemen sitting next to him told us our bus wouldn’t be leaving until 1:30, he points to Sunday schedule- next bus 4:30 PM, other men avert their eyes. I point to TL- está superenfermo. The 5 bus men and I draw some maps and quickly devise an alternative route. I make the fatal mistake of not inquiring as to how long an alternative route will take.
1:25:30: I grab our bag and TL and climb onto a bus to Bogota.
1:30: TL is looking worse than ever and “bumpy” falls short in describing bus-rides in these parts.
1:31: TL asks if he should throw up in our backpack. I say no this is not a good idea. I ask the ticket boy for a plastic bolsita.
1:32: He searches the front of the bus and returns with a tiny, flimsy, handle-less empanada baggy.
1:35: TL starts to spit into small baggy.
1:36: Here it comes: the empanada bag fills with empanada vomit. It’s like a nickelodeon game show where you’re trying to fill a bucket with gack, it keeps coming. TL is going to win, he’s going to fill the whole thing up!
1:37: I ask the ticket boy for more bags while holding up my jacket to shield the rest of the riders from the excitement.
1:38: He returns with more tiny bags.
1:39: TL passes me the empanada vom. I double-bag it.
1:40-1:45: I tell TL that we’re close although I have no idea where we are. I continue to hold warm vomit bag in lap.
1:50: A man leans over to tell me there was a more direct route to Tabio. I say, ah, muchas gracias por su ayudo, senor.
1:55: Ticket boy sees I still have vomit in lap. He demands that I throw it out the door of the bus. De veras? Por favor, no puedo, I say.
1:56: He opens the door and his eyes say “do it”.
1:56:30: I stand at the door, look out, and drop the vomit balloon onto sidewalk.
1:57: We pass a sign posting an equivalent of $100 fine for littering.
2:10: We are on the highway, there are no highways within a half hour of Organizmo.
2:20: We are dropped on the side of the highway and told to cross the highway and find a bus to Tenjo-Tabio.
2:22: Attempt to cross highway with TL a half-conscious mess.
2:26: Highway crossed, I yell out Tabio to every passing bus.
2:30-40: There are many buses. None are going to Tabio. Everyone is slowing down to stare at the very sick gringo and his girlfriends’ fruitless attempts to get a bus.
2:40: Bus to Tabio-Tenjo pulls up. We jump on as it barely stops and sit TL in the one seat next to the driver. Roads are worse here, but the promise of home is brighter.
3:20: We finally hobble off the bus at Organizmo.

With the worst of Montezuma’s Revenge’s first strike of our trip behind us, we have both made smooth recoveries into the world of health, save for bean-eating.

Posted by AmyERichards 05:17 Archived in Colombia Tagged bus montezuma help sickness diarrhea vomit ill aromatics Comments (0)

Sunrise, school uniforms, and stopped on a mountain road

getting the bus from Bogota to Medellin

semi-overcast 79 °F
View To the equator and beyond! on tltisme's travel map.

We woke up at 5:30 yesterday morning and were out waiting for the bus in front of Organizmo by 6. The sun was rising behind the mountains and the mist was heavy on the fields. We were leaving a beautiful place but we were excited to see more of Colombia out the bus window and get on with our travels. We flagged down the Bogota/Terminal bus and were on our way. Monday was the first day of school after summer vacation for kids in Colombia and plaid skirts and colored sweaters were everywhere. There was a Bolivariano (highly recommended to us) bus to Medellin leaving at 8:20. We thought we would have enough extra time to buy a cheap cell phone and snacks for the around 10 hour ride. We underestimated Bogota traffic at rush hour on a monday morning. P1000421.jpg
Normally only a little more than an hour, we rode that bus nearly three through stop and go traffic to its final stop at the bus station. We thought the next Bolivariano bus was not until 11:30 but when we got to the window the woman told us the next bus was in diez minutos. I ran to grab some food while Amy got the tickets. A couple of arepas (pancake like corn or flour cakes sometimes with cheese inside), a salami and cheese sandwich or something like that, and a random roll that I picked went along with our other provisions onto the bus. Luckily we had brought a generous amount of water and other fruit and granola bars.
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The bus was nice! (Interesting security measure: an employee walked down the aisle after everyone was seated with a video camera to document faces) It was not crowded and we relaxed as we watched the development of Bogota fade into the hills.
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Our route took us down from the mountain chain where the capitol lies (the Cordillera Oriental), across the Magdalena River valley, and back up into another piece of the Andes, the Cordillera Occidental.
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Fields of what looked to be a red grain, quinoa I believe.
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Crossing over the Rio Magdalena
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Nearing sundown on a winding mountain road we thought we were getting close, maybe only a couple hours away, when the bus came to a halt. The bus had stopped a couple times earlier for a few minutes on a piece of one way road where work was being done or something but after a few minutes the engine was turned off and we knew this delay was a little different. All we could see from the bus was a line of vehicles ahead of us curving around the mountainside. After about half an hour a few vehicles passed heading the other direction but we realized they were just trucks and buses from further ahead in line who had given up to seek an alternate route. I have no idea how large a detour they had to go to get around or even if they were trying to do that, they may just have been going back, going home, assuming this road would not be passable for a while...After three hours a police car drove past, up the line of cars. I think there was an accident and in our remote location this was the first responder. Later an ambulance, other emergency vehicles...by this time I was trying to sleep so I wasn't paying as much attention. It rained for a while and I was glad that at least we had the bus to wait in. The onboard entertainment was still working with the bus off and I half watched Casino Royale in dubbed Spanish. Daniel Craig would have gotten to the bottom of this roadside snafu in less than an hour I am sure. Just after midnight the bus cranked up and I thought we were back in business. Then I realized we would be getting into Medellin at 2 or 3 am. We had arranged to stay at a girls appartment on Couch Surfers (more on this amazing network later) but had managed to email her with the kindle from our sticky spot on the side of a mountain in Colombia to say we probably wouldnt be getting in until late. She replied with concern and said to call when we got in, she would be going to sleep around 12. The bus stopped again and turned off, false alarm, just moving up I guess. Sometime around 3 or 4 am we finally began to move again and kept rolling. Amy and I had been concious of rationing our water and were down to just PowerBars and fruit leathers in our pack, we wondered how the rest of the passengers were as content with seemingly no water. In the United States it would have been a bus of very angry people but somehow everyone on board accepted this massive delay with a shrug. One of the few locals living in the area came to sell coffee to passengers at one point and it sounded almost like a party out the door of bus for a little while with laughter and friendly banter as the drivers and passengers passed the time. Anyway, we finally got off in Medellin about 7 am. This was our first glimpse of the city this morning as I groggily tried to put my stuff back in my pack and enter a new urban area. P1000446.jpg
21 hours total on the bus for what was supposed to be a 10 hour trip...yikes.

Posted by tltisme 18:41 Archived in Colombia Tagged traffic bus Comments (0)

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