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Published: August 10th 2010
Greetings from Colombia! Having a great time on my trip, apart from not a particularly great experience today which I´ll go into later, but in general absolutely amazing! And Colombia has made an excellent impression on me so far: friendly people, relaxed atmosphere, nice places to stay and good food to eat - what more could you ask for? And actually a lot more relaxed than in Venezuela, I didn´t realise that till I got here.
Arrived in Colombia on Saturday late afternoon after another loooong trip from Maracaibo. I think since I last wrote, I stayed a night in Maracaibo in the north-west of Venezuela, and capital of the country´s oil industry, after leaving a great hostel in Coro with a lovely room and fantastic owners. Not a great deal to see in Maracaibo, but a convenient stopover even if the hotel prices were extortionate, and again was warned not to venture out onto the street after sundown. Still, chose a hotel which had a swimming pool, which was a bonus, and met a nice couple from the south-west of the country who were there to enrol in the university. Again, more Venezuelans complaining about their
president, and I really am beginning to see why now. After a pleasant overnighter there, took a shared taxi (taking 5 passengers each - three in the back, two in the front, and I always end up sitting in the awkward position between the driver and the passenger, somewhere where the gearbox and the handbrake should normally be - not the most comfortable of positions!) towards the border with Colombia at Paraguachon.
The journey was crazy and full of paranoia - I must have shown my Passport around 12 times at each of the pólice blocks we passed through. Was a bit worried at first at being the only foreigner in the taxi, but actually that didn´t seem to be a problem - the problem was with a lady in the back travelling with her young son, around 3 years old. She was taking her son across the border to Barranquilla in Colombia, but apparently needed a special document as she was travelling without the boy´s father. She didn´t have this, but a letter from a lawyer saying his father was in Barranquilla. Anyway, she had to explain this at each pólice checkpoint, and at one point was taken
in for questioning for around 30mins while the rest of us waited. Border formalities, after finally arriving, were quite simple though, and once on the Colombian side, the tensión just lifted, the taxi driver switched on the radio at full volume and everyone breathed out. I could note instantly the difference between the atmosphere of the pólice-state of Venezuela and the relaxed, but still better controlled state of Colombia. Which got me wondering and questioning the need for so much control back in Venezuela - Colombia seems to be doing things a whole lot better than the former, with not so in the face pólice presence, and a seemingly infinitely better security situation (FARC guerilla groups aside of course, but these are only in the remote jungle areas). Heck, I can even go out here after sundown!! What a difference, and a bonus :0)
So, got to Santa Marta eventually after switching to a Colombian clapped out hunk of junk, this time with minimal air conditioning, but which broke down twice on the way. But it felt so relaxed to be there. Santa Marta is a Colombian tourist resort, with a nice beach front and your typical bars, cafes
and restaurants lining the prom, ideal for a nice stroll and a pleasant evening. And things are a lot cheaper here too - a decent hotel room is about half the Price, and so is the food and taxis. It really is very different, but such a shame as it seems to be Chavez and his government which has made Venezuela what it is. Would have to still say that the people I´ve met though in Ven have been great, and as always, the politicians never seem to represent the people.
Yesterday was amazing!! Took a traditional “Chiva” bus, local form of transport, which am hoping to attach a photo to this message later, to the nearby Parque Natural Nacional Tayrona. A stunning landscape of jungly mountains reaching down to the White sands and the warm waters of the Caribbean. Met a great American guy called Brad on the way, and hung around together on the beach and going for a nice walk through the jungle to another beach. Unfortunately no swimming though, as the waters are treacherous and the currents strong - apparently 5 tourists drown there per year after not heeding the numerous warnings on the beaches.
And the waves were certainly strong! Still, beautiful area, and found a great place to eat.
But today, whoa. A Little unnerving to say the least. Took a bus, a lovely air-conditioned and comfortable one this time, westwards along the Caribbean coast through Barranquilla (of ”Shakira Shakira” fame), to here, Cartagena. The bus left at 10.30am from Santa Marta, and should have arrived at 2.30pm. however, just got here now (around 6.30pm) after what seemingly began as a routine stop on the main road around 15 km outside of Cartegena, which bécame quite hairy to be honest. The bus stopped on the road, and after around 10 minutes I started to wonder why the driver had turned off the engine. Got off the bus, and there was a whole queue of traffic heading off into the distance, all at a standstill. Turns out that the local ¨campesinos¨, country-dwellers, had blocked off the road with a fallen tree just 100m ahead, in protest against not having electricity, wáter and other services, and were preventing any vehicles from passing. At first everyone was quite relaxed, it was fairly quiet, and people were saying the pólice would come soon and clear them
all away, then we´d be on our way again. Two hours later, we were still there, and traffic must have backed up for miles. Motorbike taxis started running back and forth, carrying passengers alternative routes into the city, and then kids started leaving school. They were not particularly innocent kids at all, but were quite rowdy, and shouting insults at the women around. Things were getting a bit less tranquil, and there was only an hour of daylight left. Some were saying the block will take place till midnight, others were saying the drivers will turn around and find another route, it was rather chaotic. Ended up teaming up with 6 other ¨gringos¨ and deciding a plan of action. Seriously concerned that the situation would turn rather scary after sundown, given the current atmosphere, we decided to get our bags and walk across the roadblock and the people there. A Little crazy perhaps, but looking back on it now, most likely the best option as I really wouldn´t like to know what would happen after sundown. We crossed the line ok, with a few stares from the protesters. On the other side though, there were a group of youths running
towards us, and fortunately past us, starting to throw large rocks at others behind us. I did not look back and I did not see who they were throwing them at, but avoided eye contact as much as possible and carried on walking with everyone else. On the other side, thanks be to God, there were other buses who had similarly disembarked travellers going the opposite direction, and started carrying us guys back where they had come from - to Cartagena. We certainly all breathed a sigh of relief.
So it is in this context, slightly shaken but not too much actually, that I´ve arrived safe and sound in this city in a lovely hotel for 3 nights and excited to explore around. I am a Little concerned about my fellow traveller, Brad, though, who I mentioned I met yesterday. He stayed on in Santa Marta to do some diving this morning, aiming to catch a bus to Cartagena in the afternoon. We arranged to meet here at 8pm (in half an hour), and I hope he makes it ok through the road block…
Anyway, I´m sure he´ll be alright.
In the meantime, hope I haven´t worried
anyone with this story. I´m being honest as I travel, and true, it was a bit hairy, but I´m 100% confident I´m in God´s hands and do not have any concerns about travelling further - I´ll be fine!!
So, on a lighter note, am attaching a few photos to this message- hope they upload, and hope you like them.
Until the next time, most likely from Bogotá, ¡hasta luego mis amigos! Un abrazo muy fuerte desde Colombia.
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