The start of my journey
The bus from Cartagena to what I thought was going to be Magangay. As is often the case I was the only "Gringo" on the bus. You can buy anything on the buses including these lovely sunglasses.
When I was in Taganga I had been kicking myself for leaving a bag in Cartagena because had I not I would have taken an entirely different route back to Bogota. I am really pleased that I did not as I would have missed out on the best journey ever!!
My initital plan was to take 2 days getting from Cartagena to Bucumaranga (Via a town called Mompos) and then stop in a few places on my way to Bogota - funny how things work out.
This trip that I had decided to do had been outlined in the Lonely Planet and it said you can catch an 8 hour bus to Mompos (also known locally as mompox) or you can go the more interesting way of a bus, boat and collectivo to get to Mompos. Just arriving at the bus station in Cartagena is challenging in itself. You are constantly hassled and everyone wants to get you to buy their tickets for wherever you are going.
I eventually managed to get myself past the throng of ticket touts and onto the bus to place called Magangay. I stood out somewhat as I was the only backpacker /
One of the stops on the bus to Magangay
The heat was sweltering as we had just started going inland. Stopped here for a rest break. If you look in the background you can see the many vendors who will sell you anything from coffee to cold and hot foods.
Gringo around. I thought I knew what I was doing as the Lonely Planet had outlined the journey but of course it could not go that smoothly.
When the extent of your spanish is to ask more or less basic questions it is always difficult if someone who does not speak spanish clearly replies to you and does not give you the answer you are expecting. Basically it means I have not got a clue what people are saying to me and it makes travelling on your own through the Colombian countryside on many different forms of transport a little challenging to say the least!
I started out in a very relaxed mode on the bus to Magangay. I could never remeber the name of the town so just get saying "Mompos, Mompos, Mompos" to anyone who looked at me in the hope they would kick me off the bus in the right spot. Eventually the ticket guy gestured to me that now was the time and gave me my bag. He told me to sit on a chair at the side of the road where a couple of others were sitting drinking some coffee.
Instead of being dropeed off in Magangay I was deposited at a crossroads in the middle of no where and told to wait there. I suddenly though, what am I waiting for. This is the middle of nowhere. I started trying to ask where the ferry terminal was but could not remember the word for boat. Eventually this collectivo turns up and takes me there. That is my bag being tied to the top.
did as I was told and then suddenly though "hmm...I am in the middle of nowhere at a crossroads. I am supposed to be catching a boat for the next part of my trip but I cannot see any water for as far as the eye can see!". I started trying to communicate again in my terrible spanish to the man next to me but was really struggling to remember the word for boat. After what he thought was lots of amusing arm waving and gestures on my part (trying to mimick a boat on the water) he told me it was another hour away and I needed to take a taxi. Now after 4 months on the road I will obviously look for a bus if I can and he told me a collectivo would be along shortly which should take me.
The collectivo arrives but cannot fit my big bags on so everything gets precariously tied to the roof. I squeeze on inbetween some old men and some screaming kids - everyone just looks at me amused as I keep saying "Mompos, Mompos, Mompos???" I don't think they see many foreigners at all around here!
After being told I had missed the last boat I ended up being put on this one. They loaded all sorts of stuff on the top including a double bed.
manages to communicate to me that the bus is taking me to Magangay but I have missed the last boat. One of the older men on the bus had already decided to buy me a biscuit (even though I was politely refusing) and wanting my phone number and at that stage was offering to put me up for the night. I refused a bit more insistantly to this offer and then the bus driver intervenes (as I had no idea if there were even hotels in this town I was going to) that he should be able to help me get on a boat.
As soon as we stop in the town lots of guys are trying to grab at my backpack that I am helping the drivedr remove from the bus. It is really intimidating. No one is actually trying to steal it or harm me and it is often their only yway of making a few pesos but everyone was wanting a piece of me. I managed to firmly refuse all offers of help (at my bus drivers instructions) and grab my 25 kilos of bags and stay on the bus while the driver drove me directly
There is my back pack again
I was constantly worried I was going to loose it!
to the ferry/boat wharf.
Now I am starting to feel relaxed as I had been told (in my lonely planet) that it is a short journey on the boat and then a short collectivo ride and I will be in Mompos.
Finally after the boat has been loaded with lots of people and furniture we set off. It is a little boat but goes bloody quickly and I am feeling free with the wind in my hair and proud of myself for the accomplishment of getting so far on my own. Then..the boat just stops! Engines failed and I have not got a clue what is going on as everyone is obviously speaking in really fast local spanish but thankfully for mobile phones we were only sitting there clinging to logs to stop the boat drifting for about 1/2 hour while another b oat came out to get us.
Finally we make it into shore and again I do not have a clue what is going on. I just keep saying "Mompos, Mompos, Momspos" but cannot see any collectivo. Lots of people are trying to get me onto motorcycles and but as I have a big bag
Ahh the peace and tranquility
as I was on my way to what I thought was mompos
I refuse saying I need the collectivo. There is no collectivo. I have no choice. I am on my own in the middle of god knows where - you can't just call a taxi or something - and I can't really communicate with anyone so in the end I have to get on a bike with a young guy who promises me he will go lento (slowly).
He puts my big backpak in front of him and I have my other bag inbetween us and my daypack on my back and we set off. I say Mas Lento por favor about 10 times but then realise he knows what he is doing and settle in for the nice ride to Mompos. When I saw the sign saying 48km to Mompox it did ring warning bells but I did not know that Mompos was also referred to as Mompox and just thought it was a coincidence that 2 towns would have such similar names (yes I know I should have been born blonde).
Finally he turns off the road - it is getting dark by this stage - and we go up a back road and pull up by
Suddenly the boat breaks down
Yes these guys are hanging onto the log to make sure we don't drift away while we wait for help. I have no idea what is going on as everyone is speaking in very fast countryside style colombian spanish!
a river. Suddenly we are surrounded by loads of young guys who again all start to grab at my bag. I am getting scared by this point. Don't laugh but alot of them have oars in their hands and in my panic I am thinking baseball bats. I suddenly realise that I do not know where I am, except that I am in the middle of the Colombian countryside, on the back of a bike with a young guy who has taken me with all of my worldly possesions to a riverbank which is full of young guys with baseball bats (aka oars). I am starting to really panic at this stage and keep saying "Mompos, Mompos, Mompos". They all start laughing at me - and really it must be quite funny to them - and everyone is speaking really fast and trying to grab my bag again. They finally lead me to the side of the river where I have to pay again for a canoe with water coming through the bottom to take me to the other side.
On the other side are more guys with motorbikes and this time I flatly refused to get on one
Thank god for mobile phones
Help arrives in the form of another boat for us all.
and instead get told there is a collectivo waiting for me. This turns out to be a beat up car full of others but again it is my only means of transport. When I sit in the car I turn to my travel companion (who looks argenitinian but is actually from Medellin) and he can speak English. I had never been so happy to meet someone who speaks english. His name is Carlos and he is working with local and indiginous people to educate them about lakes and trees. It turns out that he was also staying at my hostel and he was so calm and peaceful and found my whole trip really quite funny.
Apparently a bridge had collapesed which is why I had had to go such a long way around. I am sure everyone along the way had been trying to communicate this to me but obviously I could not understand them. I was never actually in any danger and it is amazing how smoothly my trip went and that there was always a connection waiting for me everystep of the way. It was just daunting becuase I did not know what was happening but by
Ok. Slight exageration. When I get off the other boat we are not in mompos and I get told the only way to get there is on a motorbike. So there is me on the back of a bike with 25kilos of my stupid bags being riden by a 12 year old. He takes me to the canoe with water in the bottom who eventually gets me to the otherside.
saying "mompos, mompos, mompos" and waving my arms about it got me from Cartagena to Mompos in one piece and in one day. I felt such a sense of elation to finally make it to my destination.
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