Forget and Abandon

Perhaps an appropriate label for this blog, but, really a cry out for people to stop bitching about the nature of travel coming to or leaving from Mompos. As I sit here in Bogota at my desk overlooking the Carrera 7 in a rainstorm, I can take in the flooded northern lane, buses cutting off one another, taxis weaving in and out, pedestrians risking life and limb to cross the road. This kind of view makes me grateful for the roof over my head but also makes me want to return to Mompos straight away. And I would, were it not for various commitments here and just reflecting on the two day journey it took us to get back to Bogota.

We left late, around 8am, waited for the ferry in Menchiquejo for an hour to cross over to San Sebastian and then journey an hour and a half over poor but passable unpaved roads as far as Astrea. Here we it the tarmac en route to Arjona before making a wrong turn (no signposts – a Colombian condition) having asked directions and found ourselves in Chimichagua. Not ideal and about and extra 2 hours of travel. Alba and I openly cursed the shithead that sent us the wrong way. Finally we emerged at the Ruta del Sol highway (running between Bogota and Santa Marta) at Cuatro Vientos and headed south past Aguachica, San Alberto and into Barrancebermeja for the night. The roads are all in poor shape, even the major highway is lacking. The entry to Barrancabermeja is shoddy but at least it’s under construction. In fact there’s a great deal of construction underway. This is positive, but one wonders if it’s all going to be enough? And, will they get it done and correctly before the next rainy season?

On the road into Barrancabermeja I got speed gunned at 100km/hr and pulled over. Were it not for being a bit of a clown and hamming up my anglo-costeno accent I would have been slapped with a 500,000 peso fine ($250). Somehow it was our lucky day, but the fallout from this was that I kept to the speed limit and extended our travel time the following day.

Travelling out of Barranca at a snail’s pace, we arrived at Honda after some 6 hours. Stopping for a late lunch we heard that the crossing between Honda and Guaduas was to be opened only from 10pm to 10am as vital work and maintenance was being executed due to landslides and so on after two years of La Nina. So, would we wait 6 hours in a traffic jam and then head up to Bogota? No, there was another route.

Honda – Armero – Cambao – Buitama – Alban – Facatativa and Bogota

I don’t know where to start when I try and state how interesting, devastating and time consuming this road is. First we headed through the fertile volcanic lands of Tolima to Armero. Armero is best known for the disaster that wiped out the town in the 1980s when the Nevado del Ruiz volcano erupted sending debris into the Armero River. This flooded its banks and consumed the town. You may remember the images and tragic story of the young girl Omaira trapped in the mud. Passing through the town is eerie as the abandoned shells of houses still intact lay as silent monuments to the tragedy that befell here.

Before turning off at Cambao we get pulled over by the police. Not the transit police but a military police unit. It is obvious what they are doing, this is the red zone, they don’t tell us as much but after 5 years here in Colombia you can tell. Of course there’s a greater military presence.

After Cambao the road starts to climb and climb it does. Winding, perilous, dangerous but refreshingly bereft of heavy 18 wheelers careening carefree around blind corners. In fact the road winds so much it’s coiled like a spring and Alba’s stomach is doing its best to somersault as well. I don’t admit it but even behind the wheel I’m feeling queasy.

We make it up, past terrifying drops, disappeared sections, through mist and in the darkness. Facatativa is another nothing place, a satellite town to Bogota with warehouses, unemployment and unashamedly characterless. Again Colombia comes up trumps with its policy of no signposts and we get lost a few times creating an air of tension between us in the car. Monty our weimaraner puppy is a peacemaker.

So, this is the entry to the capital of the country. It’s as if my digression is as convoluted as the road we took, but, my point is this: if the capital Bogota cannot be reached easily given its geography and the climatic conditions, then what of small towns in forgotten regions of Colombia just like Mompos? Nothing, enough said. Buckle up and give in to the spirit of adventure. You’ll get to an internet cafe before long and be able to update your facebook status.

Where has the spirit of adventure gone?




About Richard

Anglo-Canadian resident in Colombia. Journalist, Writer, Hotelier, Expedition Guide
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