Monday, September 9, 2013

Planes, Trains and Automobiles....

The Cathedral de Immaculata Concepcion in Barichara.
I am finally back in the U.S., thanks in part to the 'benedicion' of Sra. Helena in Barichara, Santander, I feel certain. A trip that usually takes about 32 hours to complete, took me considerably longer and with significantly more expense than was expected. The reason? The national strike in Colombia... created by the unhappy campesinos (farmers) who are being undermined by their government's agreement to Fair Trade with the U.S.
A view from the Mirador area of Barichara, during a last
walk with my pal, Isabel. The clouds seemed to be as heavy
as my heart about leaving.
A coffee farmer or grower of onions, potatoes, etc. in Colombia cannot count on their government to ensure they will make a profit or a living wage when free trade allows for cheaper products to be imported from the U.S., undermining their efforts to sell well in the marketplace. This is the essence of the conflict. The farmers want subsidies or some kind of assurance they can sell their goods for what it cost them to produce them and have something left over for their families. It doesn't seem unreasonable to me.
Looming thunderstorms and late afternoon setting sun
created this wonderful contrast as seen from my apartment
in Barichara, a few days before leaving.

But the strike closed the main road to Bogota, making it impossible for me to get there, unless I was willing to ride as far as Tunja (about halfway) and then get off the bus and drag my suitcases (there were plenty of them!) about 7 kilometers in the hopes of finding another bus on the other side. Oh, and the 'war zone' of strikers had to be traversed as well - unhappy and resentful men who probably would assume it was a 'rich gringa' passing by them with all her luggage. Does this sound like a safe way to get to my destination?

Milk being delivered in Barichara.
So, I opted to catch the 5 a.m. bus to Bucaramanga from Barichara, almost three hours in the opposite direction, where it was possible to arrange a flight to Bogota, although many hours were spent waiting. leaving my bags in a secured storage unit at the bus station) into town and met up with a buddy from Barichara who took me to the virtual library near the Justice Center. There were even books from the U.S. and we spent some time looking at photos of places he was going to see when he visited in September.

Flowers still covered with the rain from the night before.
And I had to sacrifice my ticket for the bus to Bogota because the company had closed its service desk, knowing no one could travel. Once in Bucaramanga, I caught a taxi to meet up with my friend, Andres, who was also going to be flying to Bogota.

We had a nice walk about the area where he was staying, including a delightful lunch in the huge mall - Thank you, Andres!

Another time I would like to spend a few days in this city because there is much to see and it also has a long history in the growth of Colombia.
The virtual library in Bucaramanga and buddy, Andres,
crossing the street ahead of me.


In Bucaramanga travel was not restricted by the strike,
but there were a lot of sympathetic events and messages.

My ceramics professor, Jaime, and my buddy, Andres in
Bucaramanga. We were just walking back from the library
and saw Jaime who also lives in Barichara... small small world!

Usually I would catch the bus in San Gil (the nearest city to Barichara) timed to arrive at the bus terminal a few hours before my flight was scheduled. Then I would catch a taxi, arrive at the terminal and proceed to the JetBlue service desk, get my boarding pass, clear Immigration and be on my way. No need for a hotel room (sleeping on the bus wasn't ideal, but affordable).

Sunset view from the Nuevo Dorado hotel in Bogota.
This time, once I arrived in Bogota on Tuesday afternoon, I was still many hours too early for my flight on Wednesday morning. Camping at the airport might have been fine when I was 25 or 30, but not at my senior age, already tired from a day of traveling that started around 4 a.m. So I entrusted myself to the porter (and God's protection) to find someone with a hotel that would offer security and proximity to the airport. (Helena's benedicion was hard at work now...) A man was presented who offered a room in a clean and close small hotel called the Nuevo Dorado with a promise to provide taxi service back to the airport in the morning.

Hotel room showing twin beds, and there was another
room with a double. WiFi was free and everything was
very clean and proper. 10 minutes from the airport!
It actually was all that was promised, including a nice little restaurant with a very large dinner meal for less than $10 USD. The room ($160,000 COPs = $84 USD more or less) I was given could have slept four people easily and thus would have been wonderfully affordable for each person, but the greatest delight was that the shower had warm (not hot) water, much appreciated after the day's travel. It had a nice view of the streets below and I watched the sunset at 6 p.m. Sleep was elusive as the hotel is newly decorated with a lot of tile which caused the noise to reverberate down the halls to my door. Again, thanks to God and the alert night desk man, I had a call in for wake-up because my alarm failed me!! I scrambled out and down two flights of stairs (Did I mention there was no elevator?) and the desk clerk helped me get the luggage down the last flight of stairs to the taxi which was indeed on time.
I fell asleep remembering a nice walk to Steve's with tea,
laughter and a lovely sunset over the Andes.

Breathing heavily from the 8,000+ feet of altitude and a mouth as dry as burnt toast, we arrived at the other new El Dorado (airport) on schedule. Bags offloaded, porter found, I scurried like a cockroach under siege to the JetBlue desk, eager to leave the conflicts of Colombia behind me. The agent said, "We have no record of you on this flight." I showed her the confirmation code, and she kept saying, "I don't care if you have a confirmation code, you are not on this flight." She was about to tell me to move on, call the people in the U.S. and get it straightened out, and then come back when I said, "Do you still have a seat on this flight?"
This time the sunset was fused with delicate pinks.
She did and I purchased ANOTHER ticket. I know what it is like to try and talk to someone from another country and I knew the cost of my international phone bill could equal the cost of a seat. Screw it. Pay it and get out and solve it on the other side, I thought.
Taxiway in Bogota as we were departing. The new airport
is a pleasing improvement from the old one.

It wasn't until the plane was on the runway about to lift off that I finally was able to relax because I felt in my heart of hearts that the situation with the farmers was not going to be easily resolved and could escalate. (UPDATE 9/8/13: The situation is still volatile with the police sometimes creating more of a problem than a solution as in a recent report of tear gas and bombs being used on the protestors near Cauica, SW of Bogota.)

Last bit of sunlight reflected off a cloud somewhere over
the middle of the U.S. as I was flying westward.
Colombia is still a wonderful country filled with terrific people, but in all honesty I would have to say that the leadership lacks foresight and a true understanding of what negotiation is supposed to be. So, until the situation is stabilized, I will not be returning and cannot recommend traveling as a tourist to anyone at this time. It is unfortunate that the U.S. State Department makes no mention of this unrest in their Travel Advisories because it really does affect travel throughout the country.


  1. And now, you can sleep for a week.

    Fair trade is so important but Big Business does not want this because it means less for themselves. But, don't get me started...

  2. It isn't the only place you don't want to visit. The world has changed and it isn't going to get better for a while. Glad you got out.
    Annoying Mouse

  3. oh, sandy,

    thank goodness (and that benediction!) that you are back state-side and SAFE. I was worried about you, but now I know just how intrepid you are! the situation in Columbia is so sad - the farmers must be bereft to see their profits vanishing into thin air, and an indifferent government. perhaps someone will read your post and be able to have some influence with the US state dept. issuing warnings about the unrest and how it affects travel. very strange none is in effect. WELCOME HOME! loved all the photos.

    love and light, dear friend,XOXO


  4. Thanks to my readers for their comments and I am still not quite on the local time zone, but moving closer! I think my traveling is going to be between the U.S. coasts and into Canada for the foreseeable future. Perhaps I will come and see you, Birdie!

  5. Just been catching-up here - It must be nice to be home. xxx