All too often I am found writing about Colombia’s poor infrastructure and with a particular reference to my travels in and around the region of Mompos, but, this last journey back to Bogota was nothing short of an Odyssey. This journey was so unusually stressful and demanding that I recorded it in photos and am going to share it as a blog. Those who follow me on twitter will no doubt have been kept abreast of the challenges presented and subsequently bested!
We had decided to leave Mompos on Wednesday. Everything was going more or less according to plan until a strange sound began to emanate from the car’s engine. I pulled in to the town of San Fernando located but 20km from Mompos and called back for help in finding a mechanic. My great hope that this was going to be something cosmetic and we could slap on a band aid and continue the 14 remaining hours to Bogota. We were directed to Popeye’s house. No joke, the mechanic’s name was Popeye. There was precious little shade, the family pulled out two plastic chairs and we settled down to wait. Our hopes were dashed, we would need to be towed back to Mompos. The car would have to remain in a workshop while the pieces arrived from Barranquilla. The decision was made to buy flights from Barranquilla to Bogota and to leave town on Thursday morning.
We were informed that in the town of La Rinconada there was a demonstration blocking the highway to Bodega from where we would catch a boat to Magangue. This brought forward our departure plans by an hour and we hopped in a collectivo and decided upon circumventing the problems. After all, these are known to have escalated into violence. The route took us over two planchones or makeshift ferries and then through San Zenon and other less visited towns and an hour out of our way. I’ll admit that the dust, the winding unpaved road and the incessant evangelical pop music – “poderoso poderoso” – were all starting to make me feel queasy. Why were the people of La Rinconada demonstrating? In my mind they had every right as the town had had no running water in three months and they wanted to draw attention to their impoverished corner of southern Bolivar.
Two hours later we pulled up into Bodega caked in dust but in high spirits to have made it this far. It seemed that the cosmos was conspiring against us and we were never going to leave the island of Mompos. Just as we moved down to the docks the boat for Magangue left requiring us to wait about 40 minutes for the next one to fill up. I would check my watch frequently. It was almost 11am and our flight would leave Barranquilla at 1730.
There was the inevitable chaos that surrounds a port town upon arriving in Magangue, but with little effort I managed to secure two decent seats in a minivan to Barranquilla. Surely there would be no further problems en route, surely we had faced enough from our car breaking down to ferry crossings to demonstrations and road blockades. Indeed, when our vehicle was momentarily pulled over by the police in the town of Ovejas my heart skipped a beat.
You couldn’t make it up, but as we turned off the road that splits for Barranquilla there was the potential for a huge traffic jam, as a refrigerated truck burst into flames just a few vehicles in front of us. Our driver pulled back and we proceeded along the edge of the road in the dirt. One friend commented on the photo I posted on facebook that “it looked like I was reporting from Syria”. Indeed at this moment, the future felt distinctly unscripted.
Aside from a few of the ubiquitous bobbles of turbulence as we descended over the altiplano on the descent into Bogota our flight from Barranquilla to the capital was uneventful. We had made it one piece to brave the Bogota traffic once more. It was an Odyssey but one that we bested. I am now short of breath in the thin high altitude air and thoroughly exhausted but it’s good to be back after two months away on the coast in Mompos.