Friday, 4 September 2009

The bus to Bogotá

During our stay in Cartagena, Colombia, we felt like seeing more of this beautiful country. People were friendly, and eager to prove that Colombia was a lot more than drugs and civil war.

We left Bika in the marina and started the bus ride south to Bogotá; up through the valleys, up the mountain sides; we got the frightening joy of looking down, while the driver seemed to be playing with suicidal thoughts, and drove like there was no tomorrow.

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen

I’ve always dreaded the idea of ending my days in traffic. I could see burnt-out vehicles in the valley below, lying upside down like dead insects.

We changed driver in the middle of nowhere. He held a short speech before taking off, just a reminder about the next stops, but then he ended everything with “and may God be with you on the journey.” I looked at Nina. I didn’t find this comforting at all.

It seemed obvious that the new driver was trying to beat his personal record for the next distance. He was religious, though. I could see how he rapidly crossed himself while passing all these memory shrines along the road; pictures of the dead, crosses and candles.

But religion has nothing to do with respect for other people's lives, as we had seen, and the wild driving continued through the hairpin curves of the Colombian highland.

I'd had enough of this. My nerves were shredded. I managed to talk Nina into an alternative route, with slow local buses. We would also see more of the countryside, I argued.

But at the bus stop we got people asking where we were heading. Bogotá, we said. They shook their heads, we couldn’t go this way, unless we had a death wish and wanted to get kidnapped by FARC or ELN. We had to turn back to the main road.

We continued with the long distance bus, and passed several checkpoints along the main road to Bogotá. Three times the bus got stopped. Every man had to come out, while the women could sit and observe us getting patted down. If I had a gun, well, it might have crossed my mind to hand it over to Nina before getting out. But the Colombian military had a chivalry that was impressing.