Current location: Colombia
Wooden Box of Liquor + Engine = Fire
Long-distance Colombian buses have a reputation of being reliable, safe and very, very cold. In order to save ourselves a day of travel and the cost of a flight, we decided to take an overnight bus from Bucaramanga to Cartagena. We booked with Copetran, evidently one of the best options, and settled into our seats for a 6:30pm departure, expecting to arrive in Cartagena at about 7:30am.
About six hours into the trip, on a dark and mountainous road, we woke up to the smell of smoke. Based on our travel in Central America, where people in rural areas are usually forced to burn their garbage, we assumed that the smell was coming from one of the local villages until five minutes later when the driver slammed on his brakes, threw open the door and rushed to the back of the bus. He returned in a few seconds and, without saying anything to the passengers, ran back out with a fire extinguisher in his arms. Immediately, everyone started to collect their gear and rush out of the bus into the night.
There are the times when we wish our Spanish was more than intermediate; when we wish we could understand all the yelling, slang and curses that are tossed about in rapid-fire. This was one of those times.
Amidst the chaos, this is what we gleaned: The driver’s assistant is an idot. Evidently, he’d wanted to transport some aguardiente (moonshine) on the bus to Cartagena. Knowing that he couldn’t legally pack it with the rest of the luggage, he shoved the wooden box of liquor on top of the engine at the back of the bus, causing a fire to ignite and the box to explode.
After the fire was extinguished and the shards of glass picked out of the engine, there was a tense standoff between the drivers and the passengers. Half of the passengers were ready to get back in the bus and continue the journey, while the other half (rightfully so) demanded accountability, called the police and refused to get back on the bus. As the only gringos, we chose to stay out of the debate. Eventually, people came to an agreement to get off the mountainside and head to the next village, where they’d ask for another bus to come and pick them up.
At the next village, the same group of passengers demanded to get off the bus and the fighting continued with the driver’s assistant desperately trying to coax people back into the bus. In the darkness of the night, the people from the village started to file out of their houses and into the street to witness the drama.
Finally, after a long and dramatic negotiation that made a long drive even longer, everybody got back on the bus and we were on our way. Many a grumpy face descended from the bus in Cartagena in the morning…
The Camino Real is a historic 9 kilometer stone trail linking Barichara with the neighboring, and even sleepier, town of Guane. Since Barichara sit on top of a massive mountain ridge, the two-hour walk to Guane was almost completely downhill. It’s frustratingly difficult to try and capture the expansiveness of the valleys and canyons that surround the town on all sides, but we’ve heard people compare both Barichara and its natural environment to parts of the Camino de Santiago in Spain.
Camino Real: Built by a German in 1864
Chicamocha Canyon from Barichara
These filaments of hanging moss are called Barba de Viejo (Old Man’s Beard). Below, Ben models his Barba Roja.
The camino is now mostly used to transport cattle between the two villages—we did not pass a single human being during the hike—but there are still a handful of small, privately owned farms along the way, one of which was smart enough to sell water and beer to the few thirsty tourists that pass through. We hung out with an elderly couple and their grandson for a beer and then continued on our way.
Cerveza? Yes, please…
The main church in Guane, where untethered horses are free to roam…
Although we had fully intended on spending some time in San Gil—known as the adventure sports capital of Colombia—when we arrived in the evening and started looking for a place to stay we immediately decided that we wanted something a little more tranquil. Coming from NYC sometimes makes you want to seek out the polar opposite and, after making a split-second decision to jump into a cab, we left San Gil as quickly as we’d arrived and headed 30 minutes northwest to the sleepy town of Barichara. It turned out to be an excellent decision.
Ben took this unenhanced photo at the same exact time that lightening happened to strike in the background, resulting in what looks like a split image. Amazing…
Camillo & Evanjelino
After breakfast one morning, Al headed out for a solo horseback ride to the Pozos Azules with a 13 year old guide named Camillo. Like most 13 year olds, Camillo was a bit reserved at first but then started to open up at the end of the trip by asking lots of questions: “Have you ever done anything really bad?” (Not really. Depends on what you mean by “bad”.); “Have you ever smoked a cigarette?” (No. The hypocrisy of my real answer seemed too hard to translate.); “Have you ever gotten into a fight?” (Yes, with my brothers.); “Do you want to know who won the last fight I was in?” (Of course, he did.)
Camillo, Al’s angsty teenage guide.
Japonés, Al’s lazy trail horse.
After saying goodbye to Camillo, Alex was ushered into a casita by an elderly local artist named Evanjelino who wanted to show her his workshop. Evanjelino was impeccably dressed, in comparison to his chaotic art studio, and seemed excited to show someone his masterpieces. Not only does he paint, he also weaves custom orders from hand-dyed wool on his homemade loom.
Evanjelino laughed easily, which is a great trait that seems to be a common among Colombians, and, after finding humor in some of Al’s grammar, took it upon himself to-very slowly-review some verb conjugations.
Maestro Evanjelino and his lessons for Al.
Evanjelino asked Al to bring Ben back to visit at 6pm, when he’d be working on another commissioned weaving piece. After we arrived, we were given an impromptu weaving lesson. All in all, an amazing day.
Al working the loom.
Ben getting some tips from Evanjelino.