My wheels spun forward spraying mud; I jerked the gearstick back into reverse and tried again, just the same. We were stuck, as if treading water in a dense bowl of jelly, my small yuppie Ford 4×4 was not going to get us out of this fix.
We were but an hour out of Mompós – rushing to leave as the storm clouds approached and threatened to render the road into nothing better than a mire – and probably just 50km of rutted national highway had passed before we were window deep in the river Magdalena’s finest mud.
How did this happen? Firstly my Ford would never have made it along the tiny rim running by the barbed wire cattle fence on the left, I would have to cut across this treacherous looking mud puddle. We slid. And we were in and I knew it, the front right wheel was above the arch into a mud vacuum.
This was a National Lampoon moment but in real life. I was the Chevy Chase behind the wheel and my futile attempts at flooring the accelerator met with that worrying burning smell from overworking the engine.
Looking up the road there was no one in sight, equally so in the rear view mirror. So this is what it felt like to be well and truly f*%cked in rural northern Colombia despite reassurances of being on a national highway.
From the riverbank below us on the right two areneros* appeared and were quick to roll up their sleeves and help pushing and pulling. Hauling some branches from alongside the road I tried to wedge them under the tires as traction, each time having to exit and enter the car through the window given the high level of mud rippling nearby.
Nothing worked and I could hear the bubbling of the telltale sounds of liquid making its way through the seal under the back passenger side. As the wheels spun Alba decided to open a window further drenching us in mud.
Roughly another 40 minutes passed and the only people to have passed were on motorcycle, but then finally an ancient Toyota 4×4 heaved up and albeit reluctantly helped us out. I guess this must be the same concept as aiding people in distress on the high seas.
With the world’s flimsiest piece of twine, my foot floored, mud everywhere, we were out. Obviously not before I had snapped a few shots of the location, the car and our perilous state. And of course, despite being miles from anywhere even here we had phone reception and so my favoured image was rapidly spread across the globe via twitter and onto Facebook. The joys of immediate social media.
And yet, I had never thought of the consequences of this social media campaign. The following day, as we had only managed to get as far as the town of El Banco, Magdalena, where I had got the car washed, we left once again for Bogota when Alba’s phone rang.
It was Javier, a friend from high school with whom she had not conversed in years. Of course, he had seen Alba “tagged” in the photograph which I had helpfully placed on Facebook. Was he concerned for Alba’s wellbeing? Hardly. Javier was due to travel the very same Colombian national highway that Friday in a bus filled with 30 family members en route to Mompós.
Yes, this story cannot and does not end here.
Javier’s mother called as well.
As it turned out the whole family plus some friends would be heading the following long weekend to Mompós in order to finally fulfill their Aunt’s last wishes of having her ashes scattered there. This event had been postponed for going on 3 years due to floods and impassable road conditions.
And yet while the season had been almost completely soporifically hot and bone dry, one rainfall had resulted in this treacherous muddy hell near the town of San Roque. And given the manner in which the sky was puckering up and bruising, more water was due.
Alba did her best to reassure Javier’s mother and we continued driving, passing first the petroleum producing lowlands near to Barrancabermeja. Nodding donkeys punctuate the landscape. A few hours on and into Tolima we pass the historic city of Honda…and the phone rings.
Javier’s bus had attempted where we had failed. They were stuck too.
So much for Facebook and twitter, so much for our reassurances, one photo taken in the mud had resonated far and wide but resulted in the same outcome.
This was our Macondian butterfly effect!
*areneros are people who dredge sand directly from the river by hand. This is backbreaking and laborious not to mention poorly paid.