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Last Leg

Cali, Colombia


The minibus from Ipiales to Cali seemed to be going at a decent speed and I was sure we'd get to Cali at a sensible time, not the pessimistic 4am the ticket salesman had told me. But then there was a longish break for food. The prices were reassuringly low, which was one of the many things I had been looking forward to about Colombia; whereas the guide books said that Ecuador was the second cheapest South American country after Bolivia, which I now knew was a lie, the travellers I had met who had been in Colombia said it was the second cheapest after Bolivia.

Despite the cramped conditions, I managed to get some sleep after a couple of Colombian beers with my food, but I woke late at night and saw people frowning and looking under the minibus. We had stopped at another roadside cafe place, but we had stopped for repairs not for food this time. Outside the cafe there was a table with some people I recognised from my bus, already quite full of empty beer bottles, so I got off and joined them. The Spanish was getting harder to understand again but, despite my inability to communicate more than the basics, everyone was very friendly, and we sat around drinking and laughing for more than an hour while they worked on the bus. When it was time to leave I tried to pay for the four beers I had drunk, but the waitress said that I only needed to pay for the one I had asked for, because the rest had already been paid for. Apparently the guys who had been collecting handfuls of beer and handing them around had paid for them all. Amazing! In Peru, the asusmption was always that the gringo would pay, and now in Colombia, they hadn't even asked me to pay for my own.

I had been in Colombia for less than a day and already I could see why people liked it: the people are very friendly and sociable, they don't seem to treat you differently because you are a tourist, and another thing I noticed is that everyone seems to start speaking using the familiar form of the verb, which I think seems more friendly rather than rude, which I suppose is the argument against it. I don't think I've yet heard anyone using usted in Colombia. And where there had been a broader ethnic mix in Ecuador than the Southern Cone, the Bell Curve seemed even wider in Colombia: it really is a "rainbow nation".

Back on the road, I finally listened to the last "unlistened" track on my mp3 player. Eight GB really is a lot of data: it took more than one year of travelling to listen to everything once. OK obviously I listened to some things more than once, but for the last several months I had only been listening to the "songs not yet heard" playlist.

At 4am, almost to the second, we arrived in Cali, just as the ticket salesman had predicted. I suppose they must have breakdowns so often that they feel they have to factor them into the schedules; in Peru, of course, the schedule assumes that there are no breakdowns, there are no other vehicles on the road, the engine is at peak performance, there is no extra weight from passengers, and there is a 100 mph tailwind the whole way. Despite the email I had asked in a text for Joanne to send, the hostel was all locked up when I got there at 4:30am. But after some persistent knocking a woman came to the door and let me in.

Joanne had booked me a dorm bed, because a private room was much dearer, but the dorm was really only a triple room and it had nobody else in it. Nice.

In the morning I discovered there were only two other people staying in the hostel, which was more like a nice big house. I tried to have a conversation in Spanish with one of the other guests, until he eventually asked me if I spoke English. He was Israeli, and he seemed perplexed that I hadn't spoken English to him straight away. "Why were you trying to speak Spanish to me?" he asked. Sure, if I'd known he was Israeli I'd have spoken English to him, but how was I supposed know where he was from? I was just following almost everyone else's good example of at least starting in Spanish in a Spanish speaking country on a predominantly Spanish speaking continent.

The woman who ran the hostel was very friendly and seemed surprised that I was leaving Cali so soon, when the Cali Festival was about to start. She told me it's a beautiful place, particularly during the festival, but I didn't have time to see much of Cali at all: I just had time to find a place where I could finally send an international fax, hopefully securing me enough money from the bank so that I wouldn't have to beg to save up for my flight home.

Then it was a bus to the airport for my expensive flight to Cartagena, via Medellin. I was really looking forward to the flight after so much bus travel. There was a time earlier in the trip when I didn't ever want to get on a plane again, but the South American buses had cured me of that. I was a bit shocked when I saw the plane though: it was barely bigger than the light aircraft we had our tour of the Nazca Lines in. OK, it was bigger, but it was only four seats across, and it didn't even have proper engines: it was just a prop-jet! I started wondering what Colombian air safety statistics were like.

After only a 45 minute flight we landed at Medellin, where I hoped we would be changing to a bigger plane but, despite making me get off and go through the transfers process, I returned to the same plane and a stewardess laughed when she saw me getting back on the plane for some reason. Perhaps it was because I had drawn attention to myself by asking if they had any alcoholic drinks on board (they didn't, and there was no meal or snack privided either).

Another hour-and-a-bit later and we landed in Cartagena. Finally! After one week of travelling almost non-stop from Lagunas in the jungle of Peru, with most of those nights sleeping on transport, I was finally at my destination and I had made it to my friends in time for Christmas.



permalink written by  The Happy Couple on December 23, 2009 from Cali, Colombia
from the travel blog: Michael's Lonely post-Honeymoon
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Hi Michael!


Interesting about Colombia! Not amazing, a lot of travelers said me the same!

Funny, a lot beers in your pictures:-)

What is your next destination?

Take care!

Fabrice



permalink written by  Fabrice on January 5, 2010

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