Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Back to Bucaramanga

I was anxious about leaving. I set the alarm, but woke up before it rang. I heard the church bells and the roosters starting up. It was time. We dragged the suitcases down to the park, sounding like elephants on a rampage as we bounced over the huge old street rocks in the dead-quiet of the morning. (This photo on top is the last sunset from the lovely casa where we stayed in Barichara.)

Barichara at 4:20 a.m. is generally quiet. In fact, it was so quiet while we waited for the bus to arrive that I could hear the leaves dropping off the trees in the central square. And I could hear the old man who was going to San Gil on the bus, slapping down the streets in his sabatos. And there was someone inside Central Pan, the corner panadaria, making the bread for the day. I was hating to leave all this.

Suddenly the bus arrived. And people materialized from all over the little town with packages, messages of things to be delivered in San Gil or Bucharamanga or picked up, and then we were off. It's a very comfortable ride with soft Colombian music playing. I nearly fell asleep but then the ripples in the road reminded me of the day before.

We had taken my Colombian car to San Gil to get it washed and detailed before leaving it stored for awhile. On the way back, Jey-hu hit a piece of wood. In the states it might not have been a big deal, but down here the wood is like steel and incredibly dense. It caused the rear tire to blow out immediately. He regretted his choice to try and drive over instead of stopping or going around.

What we learned is that things in the road may not be what they appear, first of all. We also learned that people in Colombia really do try and help you solve your problems. In all, there were seven people who stopped. One fellow was in a taxi going to Barichara and offered to pick up some tools and bring them back on his return to San Gil. Another friend responded to our call to bring a mechanic and a jack from San Gil by taxi so we could take the wheel back and replace the tire. Others stopped and did what they could. What an amazing experience! Anyone who has a flat tire in the U.S. knows what happens there - nada. Better have a road service arrangement with some group or good shoes for walking. In Colombia, the bus would even have stopped for one of us - with the tire if necessary - to take us down to San Gil. As we passed the spot where it happened, we looked at each other and expressed our gratitude once more for having met some wonderful Colombians.

And then we had a wild ride with the Coltran bus driver... we lost count after he passed 60 or so trucks and cars! I have a video which I am going to try and post to give you an idea of what it was like. We had to stop because there had been an accident - apparently a usual situation on the curvy, narrow road, we were told - so everyone got off the bus to go to the bano or get a 'teeto' (a small cup of coffee, sometimes laced with azucar - sugar - or milk) and surprise!
the woman orthodontista that solved Jey-hu's dental crisis a few days before was on the bus as well.

But soon we were moving again, and our driver was going to make up for lost time - no sense of anxiety about becoming a statistic like the fellow who had stopped our forward progress. Every chance he got he was veering out into the on-coming lane to see if he could pass. The truckers use their left blinkers to advise the busses if they can pass, provided they can see that far ahead. And we made it to the terminal close to 9 a.m. - safely.
The place I chose for us to stay was based on availability and it used to be a pretty nice place, but time and lots of guests have worn it down. The Hotel Chicamocha is, however, undergoing some facelifting and should be a choice place within the next year or so. The service was excellent and their staff was incredibly helpful, including directing us to a fellow who would pick us up at 4 a.m. to get us to the airport in time for our flight to Bogota.

"Harry" has become somewhat renowned in Bucaramanga as the "Bilingual Driver" for people needing assistance and he drove us around in the afternoon to show us other areas of Bucaramanga (See the hillside shot of houses which were built by the impoverished because no one else wanted to live there... no cars on their streets - no room!) which we might not have seen otherwise. Unfortunately the air quality was such that the haze made it difficult to get really good pictures. If you need his services, I can highly recommend him - for reliability, for his excellent language skills (such as teaching me some more Spanish phrases!) and for his entertaining personality.
The flight on COPA to Bogota (Bogota view from the air) was uneventful, but the next crew going from there to Panama needed to do a better job on their arrival checklist. We were on final approach to Tocumen Airport, very close to touching down (about at 500 feet) when we suddenly stopped the glide and accelerated back up again and gained altitude. Then I realized what had happened - I never heard the gears dropping the wheels down. The recovery was good - I liked that we just went around and did it the right way!

Fortunately we didn't have a connecting flight out of Panama to the U.S. because that little maneuver cost us half an hour of flying time - we were late on arrival by 35 minutes.

Tomorrow we will make the jaunt back to Seattle through Atlanta - an all day affair. We have a few hours to kill in Atlanta, so I may do another posting with some ruminations about this ten-week journey. Already I miss the smells and peaceful energy of the countryside. And I miss the folks we met there. Hopefully time and funds will allow a return soon.


  1. Oh I did enjoy this post ( I felt as if I was there!) safe journey the rest of the way home

  2. Safely home, Susie, but some health issues and challenges of other sorts have greeted us making us both wish for the warmth of lovely Colombia. Thanks for reading and commenting!