I failed this time around and managed to claw free of my covers and depart Bogota around 1030am rather than the proposed 4.30am.
Cursing the traffic that I knew would appear, cursing locking myself out of the apartment for half an hour, cursing the 14 hour journey ahead of me…in retrospect everything fell into place and hardly an obstacle was placed in my way to Barrancabermeja to overnight.
No traffic appeared and the departure from Bogota was painless. I am thankful that every idiot behind a wheel had decided to stay at home on Friday afternoon. Arriving in Guaduas, as is the norm, I took the off-road option as opposed to waiting for the window of opportunity to continue descending along the original highway between 6pm and 11am. I have now traveled the “alternative” route three or four times and each time I am unsure as to whether there has actually been any improvement. The paved and leveled parts of the road slip so fast beneath eager wheels after bumping over an seemingly endless repetition of ruts, troughs and then a very thorough (though no rubber glove treatment) search of the car for dog food, Christmas decorations and Doritos.
I’m not going to lie; I’ve never taken President Santos at his word – has anyone? – But there is a great deal of upgrading and construction taking place which has made me question my rampant criticisms of the man. Would it be cynical to suggest that all if this is being pushed through as we enter an election year? Well, I’ll clarify; the Ruta del Sol has been undergoing work for a great deal of time already. It seems that the department of Cesar is winning the race to be the first to double the width of the highway in their region, in Santander and in Boyacá there’s not a great deal to shout about. The descent from Guaduas to Puerto Salgar on the other side of the mountain and bypassing the Magdalena River is a truly massive undertaking. Clearly the road is too far out of the way for the environmental crowd to get upset about the chunks of irreplaceable mountain being shorn away to create, one hopes, one of the most scenic drives in the Americas.
That relief I feel as Honda is avoided, not the town, just the stretch of perilous road, that washes over me is visible and I routinely have to check my speed as my desire is to floor it on the flats to make up for time stuck behind ridiculous and bullying articulated vehicles taking over the whole road on the corners on the way down out of Cundinamarca. Have you noticed that there are more speed cameras now? I have talked myself out of one ticket by hamming up my British-Costeno accent. I got out of another for overtaking on a double yellow by explaining that: “in my country we drive on the left.”
And then it’s a hum drum flat enterprise of hour after hour of palm cultivations. Santander, Cesar, Bolivar and Magdalena have all been blighted by this. There’s the ubiquitous accident, often involving a truck and no one else. And then, I veer left at El Burro (the Donkey) just a few Kilometers after La Mata (the Plant) to head towards Tamalameque via Pasa Corriendo (Pass Running) and on to the creatively named El Banco, situated as you would imagine on the banks of the Rivers Cesar, Cauca and Magdalena.
Between El Banco and Los Negritos a hamlet just beyond the aforementioned there is all manner of work taking place. I have never in all my six years of traveling here seen so much machinery and so many engineers in place. Is this the new Ruta de las Americas? Or, is someone winning votes in El Banco. Again, perhaps my cynicism is getting the better of me, but, El Banco has never been recognized for its level playing field regarding politics. Anyway, that said, it’s all in the name of progress I guess.
I bounce further along and after 14 hours and an overnight break in Barrancabermeja I make it to Mompos. What’s new in the town? Well, they have been tearing up the riverside road to restore it in time for Semana Santa, and perhaps the most miraculous happening…after two years of no refuse collection, the service has started once again. Progress, at what cost?