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Published: March 3rd 2010
The view from the hotel front entrance
On the right is (alledgedly) the best burger place in town.
OK, I'm going to try to make this one brief, largely because there's not much to say.
I woke up very aware of the fact that I still wasn't 100% sure how I was going to make the next leg of the journey. A flight was an option as was the bus. I guess if you were reading the last blog carefully, you'll realise that I took the bus...You'll find out why in a minute.
As usual, breakfast at the hotel was delicious if entirely untraditional. Arepa, bread, scrambled eggs with sausage. Set me up well for the day.
I wanted to get some shots of the hotel and the surrounding area so off I trotted with my camera, first around the hotel, and then the area where I was staying - Cabecera.
As I was walking around taking photos, I noticed that there was a travel agency across the road and there, in big blue letters, Copetran. Cool, I thought, I could buy my bus ticket here (saving me a trip to the main terminal). I told you before how everything just seems to work out here...eventually.
It was actually a tiny bit harder than I thought -
I had to go to another office 3 blocks up to buy the ticket. But I could console myself with the fact that it cost me 60.000 COP (rather than the advertised 90.000 COP), and that somebody else had checked and verified what I already believed to be the case - that a flight would take almost as long and cost 3 times as much.
I wasn't going to leave until 10pm (ensuring that I would arrive early in the morning but not in the middle of the night). I didn't really want to check out at 3pm - I figured it would be wise to get some sleep in before the bus ride. So I organised an 8pm checkout with the hotel - very helpful they were too.
With my journey sorted I could relax a bit. I decided to go to see if I could find the original Cafe Con-Verso (remember the cafe from San Gil?). It turned out that it was only about 4 blocks from where I was staying so I headed off (as ever, in the midday sun). I found it! Unfortunately it was positively closed 😞
Do you remember that I
was saying that I like staying in small places because you get a better feel for the area more quickly? Well, I decided that I hadn't tried anywhere near hard enough to get to know Bucaramanga. So I got a cab to Parque Santander - which lies in the center of the commercial center of Bucaramanga. As we drove towards the center, the area changed from cosmopoliton and bourgeois to more errrrm, what's the word? Real.
The Parque itself is actually just a square with some trees around. There is an octagonal pool / fountain which was devoid of water at the far end, and at the top of the 5 steps leading down to the pool, a tiny stuffed horse which, on first take, I actually thought was real!
Trees lined the outside of the square where street traders plied their wares. Local businessmen sat in their raised thrones, smoking and drinking juice while a trader polished their shoes - kings for 10 minutes.
I wandered in what I assumed was a southerly direction but it actually turns out that it was more south-westerly, drawn in by the colours and sounds of Calle 35. What I wandered
Cabecera Street Vendors
...they seemed a little bemused that I should want to take photos of them...
into was an explosion of colour and noise as street vendors of every variety nestled under their bright brolleys, shouting, trading. Hustle. Bustle. In terms of vibe it was not unlike Lewisham market except much bigger, much busier, much more colourful and much louder. Every street stall had its own sound-system blasting out its own radio station of choice. I LOVED the vibe. But at the same time, I didn't feel entirely safe pulling out a camera and taking shots. There wasn't anything particularly threatening about the place - just that I was attracting some attention (I guess they don't see many grigos around those parts) and I didn't really feel that I could keep an eye on even a 10th of those who were keeping an eye on me.
Retrospectively I regret it - it was a great scene and almost certainly there would have been no problem...but there you go, you have to make these calls sometimes.
Feeling sufficiently bustled, I jumped in a cab and headed towards the last place that was mentioned in my guidebook - Floridablanca, which is about 20 minutes away from the center. Again, I arrived at a stupid time when everything
was closed. I was a bit peckish and stopped for a coffee and a trifle (of sorts) at a local bakery. The square itself seemed pretty run-down. Certainly nothing like the colonial Girón. That's the problem when everything is closed - everything seems run down even if it's not. But anyway, I didn't get a great feel for the place so, having wandered around a bit, I headed back to the hotel. There is, apparently, a botanical park just 1km from the main square in Floridablanca, but I was sagging from the heat (again) so gave it a miss.
I relaxed (slept) in the hotel for a couple of hours, went to eat one of the finest (and largest) burgers I've ever tasted at a place called Garaje which is just on the next block to the hotel, packed up my belongings, had a couple of beers, checked out and headed for the terminal.
I fully expected the bus to be late and it was - although only by about 20 minutes. The interesting thing when you buy your ticket is that it tells you the number plate of the bus and the bus number, so you can
Thought it would be smaller - but actually perfect for me
be ABSOLUTELY sure that you're on the right bus. I was pleased to see that the bus was far from full (even after we'd stopped outside the terminal to pick up more passengers). So I had two seats to myself. Fully reclinable seats with footrests and leg rests, air conditioned luxurious comfort. Copetran are pretty good in my book (to say the least)...a damn sight better than anything that I've ever used in the UK.
The radio was on (of course) and two young girls were remixing it with their own brand of reggaeton (of course), so I popped in my headphones, reclined my chair....and slept. It was 10.30.
At around midnight I awoke with a start. I'm not sure why. We'd stopped to fill up with petrol (the dials on the petrol dispenser were spinning like frisbees).
Gradually I came to and thought, what happened to my music? I followed the lead of the headphones down and down, a horrible sinking feeling in my stomach...I reached the end. No iPhone. Oh noooooooo, somebody's nabbed it while I was sleeping. Dirty rotten crooks. OK, before I make a scene I'll just make sure that it's not just dropped
on the floor. It was dark and hard to see. After a couple of minutes of (fairly frantic) groping around (on the floor, that is), I found it...Phew.
Now to the next important matter....I was FREEEEZZZINNNGGGG!!! You're warned about this in South America - never dress for the conditions but for the air con on the bus. They have two settings 'freeze your nuts off' and 'cryogenically embalm'. They chose the latter. Smugly, I pulled out my fleece and zipped it up. And finally gave way to fogey-dom and blew up my inflatable travel pillow (it's so much better to be totally uncool than it is to have your head rolling from side to side on every bend). We set off from the petrol station in total darkness - nobody on the bus stirred. No radio. Well, a tiny bit (presumably to keep the driver awake). This was going to be better than I had expected.
As I looked out the window, I could see just enough by the light of the moon to know that I was missing some of the most spectacular scenery yet. A regret, yes. But nothing that I could do about that now.
Spanish pop music gently filled my ears. And with each mountain turn, the coach rocked me peacefully to sleep...
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