Brothels, tramps, aguardiente and Roberto the worlds worst conman. My journey to Cali, Colombia, by bus.


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South America » Colombia » Cali
May 31st 2005
Published: January 20th 2006
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Disclaimer: In case any one reads this and thinks that colombia is dangerous or unsavoury on account of what I write or perhaps appear to insinuate I assure you it isnt; the people here are incredibly helpful and often go out of their way to help you, and I would definitely reccommend anyone to come here, no worries. (just the stretch of road around ipiales at night - apart from that safer than a lot of other countries. nb Guy I was travelling with left colombia for ecuador (by plane) because he was afraid something would happen here, and got a bus straight away to the peruvian boader the moment he arrived so as to distance himself from the "horror" that was colombia. The bus was stopped by 3 men with guns in santo domingo who robbed everyone on the bus. He arrived at the peruvian border where he was ripped off on exchange rates because he didnt know the rates, and then couldnt move further within the country for 2 days because there were too many bus robberies. Poor chap, but, Oh the irony).

Well I had heard a lot of stories about the dangers of travelling in
cementery in tulcancementery in tulcancementery in tulcan

bushes in the image of the sculptures in san agustin
colombia, but only from people who hadnt done it. One northern irish lad said that there was a road where you had a 50% chance of getting hijacked by bandits, which is clearly not true. Anyway I had met 5 or 6 people who had done it perfectly safely and said it was a great bus journey so why the hell not. The guy I was travelling with decided not to risk it and bought a ticket that took him straight from quito to bogota by plane.

So from quito to colombia first stop was tulcan on the border, and on the bus met a guy who had been doing a bit of work in quito and was on his way back there so we shared a taxi from the bus terminal to the centre and he invited me to his restaurant for a free meal and herbal tea, which was very nice of the chap. Went away and found a cheap hostal.

Next day got up looked at the cemetery where there are topiary examples of the mysterious statues and monuments found at san agustin. Then got a colectivo taxi to the border and found that there was a genuine choice of whether to cross the border from ecuador to colombia legally or not, you could literally just walk it or get a taxi or whatever and you´d just have to hope that no police checked your passport. Anyway got my 60 days visa perfectly legally and made my way to ipiales.

Nothing much to do in Ipiales so made my way to las lajas (I think it was called) which has a cathedral set in the rock of a cliff face so the facade of the cathedral is literally rock. To help me get there from Ipiales to las lajas, I needed to find another colectivo point, so I asked someone to help me, and we started walking and were soon joined by others to form a rather merry band of gringo helper-outerers (they dont get many round these parts). And las lajas was pretty ace I have to say.

Next day got a bus to popayan, and here was the most dangerous part of my colombian bus trip sitting next to two kids whilst the bus acended and descended in quick succesion along the stunning mountain ranges en route. Why parents are always
part of gym at top of hillpart of gym at top of hillpart of gym at top of hill

next to a chapel, in the blistering heat, after a 30 40 minute hill run. Mentalists.
suprised when their child vomits on such journeys I dont know, i have NEVER sat next to a child on a bumpy bus trip when they haven´t vomitted, never, it´s like a law. And these kids were like experts, it was a couple, with a young boy and a young girl who took it in turns to eject something¨from within. The boy was having his nappy changed roughly every half hour without fail, and the girl just kept on vomitting, and the parents just kept on feeding her, and myself and the lady next to me kept on asking, nay, pleading that sense might prevail, that maybe just maybe there was a correlation between feeding this girl more and her purging continuously. But to no avail she kept on doing what she did best and the dad who had her on his lap kept on getting sick on him and he kept on changing his top (he tried to use vomit bags eventually but its often hard to catch that first bit) until he could do so no longer and just went topless through the rest of the journey at which point his vomit-pre-empting sharply improved. So if you do go on a bus in south america in general do try and sit next to someone old or, if you do sit next to a child, make sure that you angle your body in such a way as to allow a quick exit or evasion of the inevitable.

Anyway eventually got to popayan cleanly, and began searching for hostels. For those who thought I was tight (tacaño) before ('50p') I have reached yet a new level of pennypinching, and to exacerbate if further I had a budget with which I was determined to eventually reach bogota and not take out more money from the bank on the way. I now bargain for absolutely everything, because I can bargain for absolutely everything in south america, but in a way this was good as it was the only thing that stopped me from staying at a brothel. I had already searched for a while and found a hostel for 5000 pesos but, and crucially, the lady at the hostel had assumed that I was a stupid gringo and could not read spanish and thus tried to charge me more so as a matter of pride i was trying to find another place for 5000 pesos. Which took me to a place just one block south of what I was later to find out was the 'salubrious' area, I entered the hostel fighting my way through a cluck of hastily dressed ugly, ugly women, but for some reason it didnt quite click (no me dì cuenta). I asked to see one of the rooms and it was pretty basic as I was used to, I asked about the ladies in front and the woman told me oh dont worry about them they go at about 5, ok I said (hmmm I thought), and I asked the price, 6000 she said, ooh no I said, 5000 is my budget, no she said 6000, I looked around to see some sort of signage to back up that this hostel cost 6000 and I couldnt get her to back down, no 5000 I really have to pay 5000 (to put that in perspective its a difference of 25p), oh you gringos never want to help us poor people out you have to pay 6000, But theres a place up the road the same as this for 5000, why would I pay more? oh really wheres that then? over there. I dont believe you. well ok but, (alek sees very old man hobbling collecting key and hobbling once more towards room, pursued by a scurrying middle aged woman in sparse attire).

ooh youre tall, says scurrying middle aged woman in sparse attire. Yes that is true, says I. ooh I bet youd get a discount. Alek makes an about turn to owner, actually I do not wish to stay here, good day. On the way out I make friendly conversation with the girls that my mother warned me about who also tell me oh dont stay in there its horrible. And I took a step back and thought to myself wow Im talking with prostitutes how bizarre, and they told me the good places to stay and made about a thousand references to sex only in slang, which I have found out seems to only be confined to 'professionals.' Not that anyone reading this would like to know but the fittest or most beautiful (very much in inverted commas) of the group would set you back 15000 pesos which may well have been a gringo inflated price, which is a grand total of 3 english pounds. Altogether now, urgh.

Anyway I returned to the other hostel with my tail between my legs and paid the correct amout of money for the room, and went to look about the town, a few churches (yet again), I am not sure if I have pointed this out in another blog, but the guide book you buy may have a profound effect on the outcome of your journey. Those with rough guide or lonely planet books always have a list of places to party, get drunk and do things cheap, whereas my book (footprint) is aimed at a more mature audience churches and architecture being the order of the day. Consequently I now wet myself when reading about a perfectly formed cupola, or magnificent bronze doors. Anyway on the way back at night time I met some charming toothless beggars on the street, who offered me some aguardiente and a chance to talk repeatedly about which football team I supported. The scene being four tramps, 3 unashamedly excited that there was a foreigner to talk to and one who lurked behind them occasionally shooting a piteous glance at their enthusiasm.
Who do you support? (tramp 1)
well I dont really call myself a supporter anymore because I havent supported a team for that long.
Yeah, so who do you support? (tramp 2)
Well no one honestly.
Who do you support? (tramp 3)
Liverpool.
Oh liver.. liver.. (tramp 3)
Liverpool.
oh yeah, is that near london. (tramp 1)
Yeah.
oh thought so. (tramp 1)
Whats that, did you say chelsea old chap? (tramp 4 of the piteous glances)
No liverpool.
Oh, Im a chelsea man myself. (sips aguardiente with pinky raised) nb am taking slight liberties with the translation of tramp 4 but if he could have said that he would have.

Anway after a few shots of the good stuff I made my way home and slept till the morning.

Next day got a bus to Cali, and found that my map of cali in the footprint guide simply wasnt big enough to reach the bus terminal by about 20 streets (perhaps there werent enough stunningly structured steeples in this area). So I asked for some help from people on the bus and a lad helped me get to a tourist information point get a better map and told me that I shouldnt walk the 20 blocks to the hostel I wanted to go to because Id get robbed although it was the middle of the day, as there was no one on the streets on a Sunday afternoon. We tried to find a cheap hotel near the bus terminal aided by a friendly tramp who assured us that each hotel was a bargain, although each one was four or 5 times more expensive than anything I had even considered staying in before. So I went to the centre and stayed in residencial chalet for 5000 pesos per night.

Next day I climbed el cerro de los tres cruces (the hill of the three crosses) and when i got to the top the view of the city was utterly blocked by three stonking great crosses. But the strange thing at the top of this hill was there was a chapel (for mass obviously) and alongside a kind of golds gym. I had taken about 3 hours to climb the hill, and I was knackered. But as I sat down in the shade of the chapel I saw men who, having ran up the hill in half an hour, then began to lift weights that had
fanny and eduardo in plaza bolivarfanny and eduardo in plaza bolivarfanny and eduardo in plaza bolivar

From the family with which I stayed, lovely, lovely people.
been fashioned from car parts, and only one of the eventual 6 or 7 guys had water, so I offered a bit of mine to which they all looked at me with disdain as though to say "what do you think I am? A girl? A girl? Is that what you think? I shall not be drinking any of your water."

Anyway I made my descent and looked around a bit of the city and it was about 6 or 7pm so I thought Id go and get some tea or something. But on the way home who should I meet but Roberto, the artisan from esmeraldas (northern coast of ecuador), well I hadnt practiced much spanish of late so why not talk to this chap for a while.

Alek ¿so what do you sell as an artisan?
roberto I sell bracelets.
Alek Oh really, ¿made from what?
roberto Silver.
Alek Solid silver.
roberto Yes.
Alek lets see.
roberto here.
Alek oh, its quite heavy too, How much?
roberto How much what?
Alek Do you sell them for?
roberto 4 dollars.
Alek You sell solid silver bracelets for 4 dollars.
roberto Yes.
Alek Youre a dick. (in english)
fanny and carlin looking out over bogotafanny and carlin looking out over bogotafanny and carlin looking out over bogota

taken from on top of a hill which i cant remember the name of and havent got a guide book to check. bugger.

roberto whats that.
Alek Are you sure you´re making a profit from that?
roberto yeah sure. Hey do you like marijuana, cocaine, drugs you know.
Alek No, I do not consume them.
roberto I can get some really good stuff.
Alek Ok, but no I dont consume them. so anyway what you up to now?
roberto hey maybe we could go to a bar, I could call my friends that are girls and we could party.
Alek erm ok, why not. who are these girls?
roberto They work in a call centre, and they like to practice english and stuff.
Alek Ok I guess i could practice my spanish with them at least.
roberto Ok lets sit here, on this bench in this park. (he wasnt necesarily quite so mechanical but Im trying to set the scene here).
Alek Ok, (a beat), how will they know we´re here.
roberto Huh, oh we'll meet them here.
Alek erm, right, yeah, but why meet them here.
roberto well.
Alek lets go round there to the area where all the bars are and we can choose one and i'll meet you there.
roberto ok.
(alek and roberto walk past bars)
Alek so what do you reckon to these bars?
roberto hmm, theres one the other side of town thats better.
Alek oh are these ones here expensive?
roberto no the other one is just better.
Alek Ok well im near my hostel so I'll just go and leave my bag in there.
roberto NO, we havent got time.
Alek How do you mean we havent got time?
the girls finish work at 7, and if we dont call there then they could be gone before we know it.
Alek Yes but its 6:40.
roberto Yes but ive got a mobile.
Alek That doesnt make sense Im going to drop off my stuff you silly man (in english)
roberto What?
Alek Just wait here.
roberto Erm, ok, I'll be here.
(alek goes to hostel and drops off all stuff that is of any worth and takes just a bit of money to keep himself going, alek returns to meet our friend roberto).
Alek Hey roberto.
roberto hey we better get going.
(on the way they chat about what the family of roberto does, and how robertos girlfriend left him for another man. Alek tells roberto of an idea he has and says they could
eyal (chap with whom I will be in the amazon)eyal (chap with whom I will be in the amazon)eyal (chap with whom I will be in the amazon)

standing next to poltergeist in the museum of botero (chap that paints fat things)
swap emails, roberto says...)
roberto No I dont use email (said with an air of "what would a poor working class lad like me be doing with an email address, I cannot afford such a thing, you gringos assume everyone can afford to live like you dont you).
Alek Oh ok. you know its free to get an email right?
roberto no, no, no.
Alek yes, yes, yes.
(They continue talking about pretty much nothing until they reach a bar on the other side of the park).
Waitress At your service (says bar lady, everyone someway involved in commercial shennanigans says this. I like it).
Roberto Ill have a beer.
Alek Ill have a glass of water
(Lady brings drinks, roberto notices a picture of guns on the wall).
roberto huh, huh, weapons.
Alek wha.. oh, yeah weapons.
roberto Do you have a gun?
Alek Erm, no. But, I have a swiss army knife (says alek wishing to look a little dangerous).
roberto what?
Alek a swiss army knife.
roberto what.
Alek I dont know how to say swiss army knife in spanish.
roberto you dont know how to say what?
Alek oh, actually wait a second, i have a penknife that is supposedly from switzerland and I can use it to help horses.
roberto ...
Alek Do you have a gun?
Roberto No, of course I dont. (a beat) so how do you keep in contact with your family back home?
Alek Email usually.
Roberto Yeah email is really useful to keep in contact.
Alek Oh do you use email then (says alek probingly)
Roberto Well of course I do, I use it all the time (see comment above and aleks conclusion 2 below)
Alek oh right
Roberto oh its 7 oclock I better go and call those girls.
Alek Ok see you in a bit.
(Roberto leaves to call girls about coming to the pub - alek is left to his own thoughts as to whether this man is a bit slow or is planning to rob him, Alek sits at table and watches music videos of Enrique Iglesias for 10 minutes, looks at watch. 10 minutes he should be back soon. as 10 mins is more than enough to make a call. after 15 mins alek goes out of bar and looks around, Roberto is nowhere to be seen. alek talks to bar maid she says that
rochi and eduardorochi and eduardorochi and eduardo

rochi having just cooked a delicious lunch. Rochi is also a lovely person.
alek has to have care, as she is speaking spanish, alek gets the gist. after 20 mins alek decides that after 30 he will go on his way. Literally after 29 and a half minutes, Roberto returns with a black bag containing something)
alek you were gone a long time
roberto yes. (alek notices a lack of "it was hard to get through to them" or some such excuse)
alek so what did they say?
roberto Theyre going to get ready and come down here in 40 mins or so.
alek oh so theyre not coming straight from work
roberto no theyve got to put on their make up and change and you know
alek oh so what are we going to like "party" ie go dancing or something.
roberto yeah
alek ok I suppose i could get to know a bit more about the city that way.
roberto yeah
alek whats in the bag? (taking particular notice of its size and the potential texture of what may be contained within the bag)
roberto fruit.
alek Fruit?
roberto Yes fruit.
alek Why?
roberto For the girls. All girls have got a sweet tooth and you´ve always got to buy them
rochi and Irochi and Irochi and I

And one of her dogs. My face was ridiculed, ridiculed I say, for looking mouselike here. ridiculed.
something.
alek like fruit
roberto like fruit.
alek which fruit is it?
roberto .. mango
alek oh right (alek looks at said bag containing said fruit, of all the fruits this man could have mentioned this bag certainly did not contain mango)
alek And what are they going to do with the fruit?
roberto take it to their house of course.
alek Take it to their house.
roberto take it to their house
Alek And it wont be somewhat of a hindrance to go out dancing at night carrying fruit.
Roberto no.
Alek erm, (in english) ok that´s a bit weird. are you sure you didnt just take half an hour meeting a group of mates with car and sorting out some story about how the girls would be late and they didnt know where the place was (although they live here but I´m a foreigner so won´t think about how tenous this excuse is) so Ill need to get in a car with one of your mates to where they are, but then youll take me to my hotel and force my credit cards from me, steal all my money and knock me out . But as all this
gina and her crewgina and her crewgina and her crew

Gina also a lovely person from the family with which I stayed in bogota.
took 25 minutes which is longer than the reasonable 5 it takes to say to a girl "Where are you? Sound. Im over here. Wanna go out. sound. I´ll see you in half an hour. So you said to afore-insinuated accomplice what shall I tell him? And the other guy uttered the neverfail plan "tell him you bought some fruit"
"some fruit?"
"yeah some fruit"
"But I havent got any"
"Buy some"
"of course"
"but why am I buying fruit"
"for the ´girls´" (he sniggers)
"oh for the ´girls´" (he reciprocates)
"Oh and why did it take so long?"
"It´s really difficult to choose the right fruit for a girl. Papaya, maracuya, pineapple, what really says "You know what? You´re a good lass you are." Imagine if you gave an asian pear to a girl? There´d be hell to pay."
"But I dont want to buy any fruit"
"Just tell him the drugs that I just gave you are mangos"
"sorted."

Roberto What?
Alek Im just going to the bog
Roberto ok
(alek goes to bog and quickly assesses the situation, the posibility of this man being "kosher" has fastly diminished, only option being left is that he is
Part of the house of simon bolivarPart of the house of simon bolivarPart of the house of simon bolivar

They have numerous signs saying that this place has been literally untouched Mary celeste like but yet somehow there are cuddly toys on podiums in the majority of the rooms. Photos were prohibited, I risked life and limb to bring you this.
just abit "touched" in either case I dont fancy spending much more time with this chap). Alek leaves bog.

Alek (returning, without sitting down) so you says these girls will be here in about half an hour right? (setting up something here you might notice).
Roberto yeah
Alek Ok, Im just going to use the internet then and Ill be back in half an hour.
(Roberto has a bizarre look of despair on his face)
Roberto No, no no.
Alek yes yes yes. Ill be back soon.
(alek exits, thinks on way to hostal, hmm I havent paid for my water and I have no beef with the establishment so he returns to bar. This time both roberto and waitress are outside bar with slight despair on their face, waitress because I hadnt paid for water. I pay for my water, at which Roberto pipes up and says what about the beer ie "pay for my beer at least as my plan hasnt worked" or so I think, at which alek thinks aha that doesnt sound like the kind of thing someone says who doesnt want to take advantage of me in some way, so instead of using the
caro, cesar and gina.caro, cesar and gina.caro, cesar and gina.

As we go off to the forest to explore and have an adventure, near cachipai near bogota.
informal ´you´in spanish (which I had been using with him up to this point - tuteando) I used the formal ´you´ thus showing roberto that our relationship had changed through the means of grammar (for which I felt a glow of linguistic pride) but the sentence translates the same so the only way I can demonstrate it is instead of sounding like "you´ve got enough money to pay for it yourself" it was more along the lines of "one believes that one has a sufficient pecuniary sum secreted about one´s person so as to settle the matter of the beverage. Good day."

Anyway so then I went home and hid in my hostel and then went to another part of colombia called armenia. I started writing this a while back cos it takes to long in one go, so I´ve been to bogota, bucaramanga, santa marta and am currently in taganga where i just finished an open water diving course as I´m am trying to face my fear of the ocean (having had a couple of run ins) but now I have a fear of diving, so all I´m succeeding in doing is adding new facets to my phobia.
tiniest bird in all the worldtiniest bird in all the worldtiniest bird in all the world

in bucaramanga with martha.
Bogota was great thanks to fernando, erica and Carolina for all your help, tremendous. soon im off to cartagena, medellin, back to bogota from where i fly to laeticia to take a boat through the amazon to mannaus. Take it easy until then.

conlcusion 2 = roberto may have been lying


A bit of vocab for spanish-speaking readers
bog = baño
kosher = de veras (I think that works)
Touched = loco
chap = hombre/tipo
i have no beef = no tengo ningun problema


Additional photos below
Photos: 27, Displayed: 27


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martha of bucaramangamartha of bucaramanga
martha of bucaramanga

Another member of the family. top lass, really loves animals and has all sorts in the house, including the world´s smallest bird (in my book)
gearing up for parapenting in bucaramangagearing up for parapenting in bucaramanga
gearing up for parapenting in bucaramanga

The instructor to the left is 16 years old, I noted he looked young but forgot to ask until we were several hundred feet in the air with only a thin sheet of material between us and the afterlife.
looking completely at ease in the water.looking completely at ease in the water.
looking completely at ease in the water.

Did padi beginners course in taganga north east coast of colombia. pretty much titted up every exercise including the take the mask of under water whilst continuing to breath through your mouth (nb where there IS an air supply) and then replace mask empty it of water using nose and bob´s your uncle. I made the nearly fatal mistake of completely forgetting to not breath through my nose although i had the mantra "dont breath through your nose, dont breath through your nose" continuously running through my head. And coughed like a bastard for ages and hurriedly put back on the mask hoping that I wouldnt do the same thing again. I decided against the advanced course follow up.


8th July 2005

The Colombian Experience
These diaries are brilliant, and evocative, and occasionally scary for a parent. How are you changing/developing/evolving in yourself? We eagerly await your next weblog. Thank you. God bless.
25th August 2005

tienes razon
hi my name is eric and i was interested in you blog about colombia...i recentlly got back from a two month vacation in colombia i went to be with my girlfriend and to learn the language...it was the first time i had ever been and i was excited and also nervous to go (partly because of the bad rap on the country) i came to reailize it was the greatest spot on earth!! the aguardiente is delicious!
8th January 2006

hey im colombian ans i just wanted to let u know that its pretty cool that u took the time to go and made a journal about it... most americans just joke about the cocaine and thats all the know about it haha

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