A lot has happened in the past few days. I really should have been writing every night, but I’ve been a little afraid since my laptop no longer charges consistently. I think that’s a problem I haven’t brushed on yet: the DC-in jack on my laptop is broken. Again. This happened to me on the last trip. Thankfully, Dell’s DC-in jacks are all-in-one components. I just have to entirely disassemble the computer, and screw the new one in. No soldering involved. It’s still a several hour job for me, and it’ll take me all night to finish. I ordered the part in Dunedin and had it Fedex’d to our Grandparents house on Second Day Air ($13 in shipping for a $2 part). Actually, I might have already covered this…
We left Cartagena at about 4:00pm—too late, in retrospect. I have mentioned this before, but Cartagena is hot. I thought I was coping with the heat moderately well, especially as an Alaskan. The temperature difference was 150F from Fairbanks the day we left Cartagena, not including humidity (0% in Fairbanks). We took a wrong turn into Turbaco ten miles outside of Cartagena, and ended up trying to navigate the center of town at 5:30 at night. We were stopped by a police officer who almost demobilized our car for having a cracked windshield, but let us go at the last minute. We got out of town as fast as we could, and ended up driving into Arjona at night. It was a stressful, hot day. Our trailer was probably 100F by the time we stopped for the night, and it felt more than a little isolating to be in a small village in Colombia at night in a climate that’s quite literally the opposite of Alaska’s where we didn’t speak the language. However, a few minutes after we pulled in several children came up to our trailer to check it out. My mom let a few of them inside, and all of a sudden people started coming over to check us out. We started talking with them, and they brought over a man named Hillo who could speak English. We ended up sitting outside with more than fifty people until 11:00pm in a spontaneous party. The language barrier suddenly didn’t seem so bad either, with a phrase book and a laptop, we could translate most things and were able to converse quite well. By the end of the night I had a slip of paper with several facebook names, email addresses and phone numbers. The feeling of isolation was completely gone, and we had the best night of the trip so far.
The next morning we went to breakfast as they insisted and had bollos (sort of like a tamale without a filling), cheese and a type of cured meat. Hillo also gave me a much needed haircut and did a great job at it. I ended up giving all of my American coins to the group of children waving goodbye to us right before we left.
We got on the road, and took a wrong turn down the non-toll highway. The road got progressively worse as we continued until it got to the point where we couldn’t go more than five miles an hour. The car was really hot because the windows hardly open, and there was no air exchange. The road was physically painful—huge potholes, ditches, speedbumps… People would stand in the road and fill the potholes for spare change. It was harsh. We turned around after about forty minutes or so. It was hard to tell how far we went, but we couldn’t take it anymore.
The main highway was much, much better. It was twisting and windy, but we could go reasonable speeds on it. The stretch of road was vaguely reminiscent of a tropical British Columbia, really beautiful. We camped at about 4:00pm near La Ye in a truck stop. It was cooler that night. Still in the 80s, but it seemed a lot less hot than the previous night. We all took showers and went to bed at about 10:00 so we could get up early and drive to a cooler region.
A little after 2:00pm the next day, we started going uphill. The thing is, we didn’t go down. We went up hill for hours on the slow, narrow road carved into the mountains. The scenery was spectacular, It easily beat the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park. The road was carved into the mountain, with a cliff sometimes thousands of feet high on the opposing side. Along the cliff were tiny houses supported on stilts and cement platforms. The grade was so steep that the fifteen-foot wide houses could have a ten or twelve foot drop off out the backdoor. Our car started to overheat and we had to pour water on the radiator to cool it off while huge trucks trundled past.
Eventually the views succumbed to clouds, and all sense of perspective was lost—an unnerving prospect when you’re clinging to a twenty foot, laneless road shared with tractor trailers thousands of feet above the valley floor. On a particularly steep grade our car stop moving forward. The transmission must have overheated, but we could only roll backwards down the hill. We turned off the car for a few minutes and put in some more transmission fluid. All the while we were being passed by huge trucks and buses. A few pothole-fillers came to see what was wrong, and we tried to explain to them what was wrong. Eventually we got the car to move forward again, but there was enough time to think about how we would ever get off the top of a mountain in rural Colombia.
The road went higher, with visibility steadily decreasing to fifteen feet. And yet, the whole time we’ve been in Colombia, I haven’t seen one accident, or even near-accident. Traffic is a free for all here, there’s no lanes, few signs and traffic lights, and the only rule seems to be “Don’t hit me and I won’t hit you”. In St Petersburg, I saw accidents every single time I left the house—sometimes two. Awful accidents, in the middle of a well regulated, eight lane road with all licensed drivers.
After we got off the mountain road last night, we drove in the dark for about an hour because it seemed safe, then we pulled into some sort of travel stop for the night which happened to also be a cheese factory, restaurant, bakery and convenience store that’s open 24 hours a day and has free wifi. I think we’re staying here for Christmas, in a Colombian truck stop seventy miles from Medellin.