Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Adventure Bus Trip to Mompox, Colombia

Matt and William are on vacation with their father.

They left Bogota, bound for Mompox (Bolivar), by bus. Roads were closed because of landslides and a long detour via Ibagué (Tolima) was necessary. Around midnight the tractor-trailer in front of them braked suddenly and the bus on which they were traveling rear-ended it, breaking the windshield and the headlights. Fortunately no one was injured. The police authorized the bus to continue to the town of Barrancabermeja (Santander). I'd like to think that they had a police escort to accompany them, but more likely the bus was just sent on its way with no headlights, in the pitch black darkness of the rural roads. In Barrancabermeja the bus company (Copetran) was able to provide a replacement bus to continue on their journey which went on for several more hours before they arrived at the place where the river had washed the road away and there was a 10 m gap in the pavement where the river had broken through the road. There they had to disembark from the bus, collect their luggage and be ferried across the river. This service was provided at the cost of 1,000 pesos (about $0.60) per person by "two fat guys" (Matt's description) operating a makeshift raft of boards stretched between two punts. The bus companies are organized about these breaks: On the other side a series of jeeps (Willys, in the Colombian vernacular) were waiting to take the passengers to their final destinations. Before reaching Mompox, their Willys had a flat tire that needed to be changed, and it was necessary to cross the Magdalena River on a larger, more formal ferry boat because otherwise the roads were impassable. It took 20 hours for them to arrive.

From start to finish, there is nothing unusual about this story. The landslides, the damaged roads and detours, the vestiges of rainy season flooding and a couple of guys making a buck with their raft service, even ramming the back of another vehicle and then continuing on in the dark, are all part of what I have come to accept as "normal."

Mompox is a Unesco cultural heritage site and historically it is known for it fine filigree gold and silverwork. The boys report that the town is badly deteriorated. I was sorry to hear that. The town had suffered serious damage during the rainy season earlier this year but apparently it has been neglected for quite some time. There is a Unesco office in the town and a sign announces imminent improvements, but the work doesn't seem to be under way yet.

The boys and their father are now in Barranquilla. Their hotel offers 15 free minutes of long distance calls per day, so they have been calling every night, which is nice. Yesterday they visited the Museo del Caribe, a museum showcasing the cultures, ecosystems, and history of the Caribbean region. They were very impressed with it.

A todos mis amigos y familiares colombianos, les deseo muchos saludos en su día nacional: el 20 de julio.

No comments: