The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round
It’s my final day in Medellin and I don’t want to leave. Then again, I didn’t want to leave Cartagena, or Minca so I guess you could say I love Colombia. I spend the day exploring some different areas with my new friend Marcela. We begin by visiting the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana where Marcela went to school. The campus is lovely and, as we walk through a central area lined with dozens of different types of snack bars, Marcela explains, it’s here that students gather, sometimes with each other and sometimes with their professors. There seems to be a great exchange of knowledge and ideas, as well as food.
Continuing on to a different area, we sit down for coffee with one of Marcela’s old professors (well, not old, but previous) and now friend. We have a nice conversation about this crazy world we live in and are soon joined by another professor, Jean Paul. After a nice talk, Jean Paul mentions he’s headed to Val Paraiso the following day and invites me to come. It would mean leaving Medellin a day early which wouldn’t be a huge problem as I’ve already stayed longer than I planned. I decided I wanted to spend more time in this fascinating city and, though staying meant giving up on visiting the Amazon, I also realized that I have fallen in love with this wonderful country and will soon return and can make that trip to the Amazon as well as to other South American countries then.
Marcela and I leave the University and, taking the Metro to the San Antonio area (not the Texas one), stop by the historic Salón Málaga restaurant. This place opened in 1957 and keeps the feel of old Colombia alive Black and white photos of customers from days long past and signed photos of musicians cover the walls. Tango performances and classes are offered weekly. This is a place one might expect Ricky Ricardo to walk in at any minute carrying his tall bongo drum (yes, I realize he was Cuban but you get the idea).
After a drink, we head outside to the tram station. This is my first tram in Medellin and, unlike the Metro trains, the tram is thinner and travels at a slower pace on surface streets. We’re traveling a short distance to Marcela’s apartment which she shares with her sister and mother. While mom isn’t home, we sit and talk with her sister for a while. These are two beautiful, educated, and feisty women and I take pleasure in meeting them and joy in knowing that strong, smart women decorate this world. In these troubled times, they’re the ones who give me hope.
Marcela and I step outside and head back to the Poblado Metro Station, as she has an English class to teach to a 10-year old and I have some writing to do. I spend the evening checking for some sort of transportation to Val Paraiso or surrounding areas to Salento in the coffee region with no luck. There are no airports in that area and none of the buses to the coffee region seem to stop near, so I must decline. (So sad as the scenery, both Val Paraiso and Jean Paul, was sure to be beautiful.)
Another new day and it’s time to leave Medellin for greener pastures (literally) in Salento, Colombia. The area is part of the coffee triangle which, to this coffee lover, sounds like heaven. And though I’ve been looking forward to visiting this region, I’m not looking forward to the six-hour-ish bus ride to get there. I’ve booked a ticket directly through Flota Occidental Bus Company at a cost of COP40,000 ($13.49). I was able to reserve my seat on the website and, as the bus travels through the winding roads of the Andes Mountain Range, I choose seat number 1; up front where I stand half a chance of not losing my lunch.
I catch a cab to the city’s South Bus Terminal and wander through the mall it’s connected to (yup, another mall). Checking in is a complete 180 from my troubles at the Cartagena bus station as all goes smoothly and I’m handed my ticket and pointed to the door from which I will board.
Buying some goodies for the bus (always a good idea to have to calm your hunger pains or to share with others and make friends) and taking one last bathroom stop (also a good idea because, well, because), I walk over to door number seven and, after a few minutes, we’re called to board.
Our driver loads backpack after backpack in the rear as I walk up with a smile, introduce myself (winning some friendliness points), and say, “lo siento” as I present my one large bag (actually smaller than some of these huge backpacks) and one roll-aboard carry on. He smiles and replies, “no problemo” as he finds just enough space in the storage area. I climb aboard and find my empty seat at the front on the left as I enter. I’m happy I took the time to reserve it. I’m also happy I remembered to wear my Sea-Bands (wristbands which use pressure point technology to help prevent motion sickness) and to buy a green apple in the bus station (this can also help prevent motion sickness. My cruise ship employment history sometimes comes in handy).
Before long, we’re off. I play with the TV screen in front of me, happy to see both the individual screens and the listings of some movies in English. Also, there’s Wifi on this bus! No, it isn’t British Airways, as almost all of the English language movies are some sort of action or science fiction films (not at all my favorite types). Finding Dori is also on, but I’ve seen it (don’t worry, Dori gets found, though I’m not sure she even remembers getting lost). The only other option is The Shack. I read the book and enjoyed it but not enough that I think they should have made a movie about it.
As we exit the city and enter the curvy roads, I quickly realize that I can neither type or read if I have any hope of keeping my breakfast down. Suddenly The Shack seems like an excellent choice. I don my earbuds and spend the next two hours with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Oh, and a guy named Emil. Following the movie, I fall asleep for about ten minutes before the bus begins to slow and the driver announces, “Quince minutes por comer y baño.” (Fifteen minutes for food and bathroom).
I happily exit the bus and head to the bathroom. Unlike the bus station in Medellin which charged COP600 entrance fee (there’s even a turnstile) plus another COP200 if you want toilet paper, this one is all-inclusive for COP1,000. I then head over to the lunch counter where a guy named Dave mans one section and seems very proud of the food he’s cooked. I can’t resist his hot, mini-casseroles which seem like some good comfort food in the middle of this long drive.
Before long, my fellow-travelers and I gather outside the bus waiting for the driver. Thirty-minutes into our fifteen-minute stop, the driver appears and opens the door.
As we head out for the second-half of our journey, it’s clear that the worst is over and, though we still travel on two-lane roads, these are not nearly as windy as the please-don’t-let-me-vomit road which brought us here.
Finally, just after dark, at about 7:00 pm we arrive in Salento. I had doubts about staying in Salento as I was just coming from a big city and was looking for the peaceful beauty I had heard the coffee region offered. Three-days-ago, when I began looking for a place to stay, it seemed like Salento might have some hustle and bustle. I considered the town of Filandia (supposedly beautiful and smaller than Salento) but was convinced by Marcela’s friends to go to Salento and maybe stay at a place just out of town. I found a finca (farm) to stay at called Eco Hotel La Cabaña – this is quite popular outside of the big cities in Colombia – and booked it, all the while wondering if I was making the right decision.
The bus driver unceremoniously stops the bus in the middle of a busy intersection in the small town saying simply, “Aqui!” I have no idea where to go. I know my place is at least a few kilometers outside of town and Google Maps tells me it’s a thirty-one-minute walk or a five-minute drive. Walking there while dragging my bags behind is not an option so I ask the driver, “Taxi?”
“No taxi.” He curtly replies.
I ask the lady who seems to be directing traffic at the intersection who repeats the driver’s words. I ask the driver if he can drop me and he laughs while shaking his head from side to side. Standing there, unsure of what to do, the crossing guard indicates for me to get the hell out of the street. This is upsetting, as the people of Colombia have been so ridiculously nice so far and I’m unprepared feeling shunned. Stepping into a delicatessen, I ask about a taxi and, though much nicer in their response, it’s still negative. I call the hotel (I’d put the name, address, and phone number in the notes in my phone) and begin jabbering about how I E-mailed the previous night providing my approximate arrival time and letting them know I would catch a taxi. As I received no response, I assumed all was well. Seriously, I probably should handle it better and I’m sure the man on the other end thinks I’m nuts as he instructs me to call another number, which turns out to me his daughter, Maria Camila, who calms me and tells me she’ll be here in five minutes to pick me up. (Not my proudest moment.)
True to her word, Maria Camila arrives and we drive along a very dark, very curvy and hilly tree-lined road (no way could I have walked) before pulling up to a red and white building. It’s difficult to see much in the dark but, as she shows me to my two queen-sized bedded and very spacious room, I’m relieved.
Tomorrow, the big hike.