Amazing People & The Andes Mountains

Cartagoaje, Colombia

I love Colombia!

Seriously, this is definently my favorite country I’ve visited so far, even more than Mèxico (no offense, Manuel.) It’s not that the hitch hiking is particuarly good…it’s only average, at best. But the people! And the landscape! It’s all very astounding, to say the least.

Once I left that small little town that I posted from last, I got a few more rides and a good meal. Since I’ve arrived here to this notorious yet beautiful country, I’ve realized it is really very unfairly steryotyped as the land of drug cartels and kidnappers. In fact, most all of the people I’ve met so far have gone out of their way to prove otherwise. Every single ride I’ve gotten so far has either given me food, money, or both. At one point I even was starting to feel bad taking their money since I had close to $30,000 pesos in my pocket, but I wasn’t allowed to refuse. (EDIT SEPT 2011: That’s the truth. One guy actually threw $5,000 pesos out his window and then drove off before I could give it back.)

I also love the Colombian food. Every meal except for breakfast starts with a large soup, usually of chicken or beef. The first time, I thought the soup was all I was going to get, and I was more than happy since it was a pretty big bowl and my stomach was shrunken, as usual. Then all of a sudden, the main course arrived. This usually consists of a meat, rice, a coleslaw-like salad, beans, and a fried plantain. They don’t skimp on the portions, either…when that plate arrives, it’s literally overflowing. Delicious…

After the few rides I’d gotten after leaving the place where I posted last, I walked for a good long while, probably about ten kilometers. On either side of me was cow pastures or banana plantations, ending abruptly at the fenceline and becoming jungle. Finally, around twenty minutes to sunset I got picked up by a semi hauling thick planks of treated pine wood. I got to ride in the back with the pine. (EDIT SEPT 2011: Strangely enough, in Colombia, male truckers sometimes have issues letting you ride up front with them; fortunately they are usually happy to let you find some space in the back.)

We rode for a long time into the night, until around nine we stopped for some more grub. I tried to pay for my meal, since I had nearly $20,000 pesos, but I wasn’t allowed to. So I again stuffed myself for free, while the driver shamelessly flirted with the waitress.

We left the resturaunt and drove for more time, the road becoming steeper and much more bumpy as we entered the northern reaches of the Andes mountians. Finally, around eleven, we stopped. The driver told me that I could roll out my bedroll and sleep in the bed of the truck, which I did while he went and checked into a cheap hotel.

The next morning I woke up, got a cup of coffee, and smoked a cigarette while I waited for my friend to wake up. He did after about twenty minutes, and we drove on.

The road we were on wound deep into the Andes. On my left was a ninty degree rock face, and on my right was a sheer drop of more than a thousand feet. The road twisted and turned unexpectedly and was full of alarmingly large potholes. To make things worse, the truck didn’t seem to have any shocks to speak of. Consequently, I was bounced and josteled around like a puppy dog caught in the moon bounce at a five year old’s birthday party. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stay sitting upright, so I finally just gave up and lay down on my pack.

After nearly three more hours of playing popcorn, we finally made it to Medellìn. As soon as we got into the city part and I was enjoying the scenery (it really is quite a beautiful city) I saw movement towords the back of the truck. All of a sudden, this crazy guy jumped onto the tailgate and crawled into the back, thumping onto a large plank of pine! What the hell? Who is this guy? He was clearly an unauthorized stowaway, since he hopped on while the vehicle was still moving, and appeared to be totally insane. He was dancing around and babbling madly to himself while he tried to stay standing as the driver continued to take turns at race car-like speeds. He also kept looking back at me shiftily, clearly not used to seeing a fellow rider (alibet an authorized one.) I tensed up my muscles, ready to fight to the death if that’s what this guy wanted.

Eventually after about ten minutes, he hurled himself out and hit the concrete with a splat, causing a car behind us to swerve hard to the right while he danced away and fell into the ditch. A sighted him a moment later stalking away probably off to hunt pidgons or children.

So the driver dropped me off in the Centro of Medellìn around eleven thirty. He gave me $2,500 pesos and wished me a buen viaje. Medellìn is a great city…the downtown arcitecture is very modern looking, and is at the very center of a large valley. On all sides surrounding the downtown area, you can see nothing but old-fashioned Spanish roofs stretching up into the mountians. I can see why Pablo Escobar chose this city as the home base for his notorious Medellìn Cartel…it’s an attractive town.

I walked for a bit and asked several police officers for directions out of the city twords Cali and Ecuador. They told me it would probably take me two days to walk out of Medellìn as it is a very large city, one of the biggest on the continent. Also, I would need to walk through some seedy-type neighborhoods, so it would probably be better for me to take the metro. So, since I was pretty much fucking rich, I bought a metro ticket for about $2,000 and rode on the train for about half an hour. After getting off, I realized I was still in Medellìn, so I grabbed a bus for about fifty cents and rode it as far as it would take me, which was about half an hour. I jumped off, thanked the driver, and started walking again.

After roughly ten minutes, I got picked up by a nice little family with a young daughter of about eight years of age. They were super cool, and took me about fifteen kilometers and fed me dinner, which was my first meal of the day.

After leaving that cool little group, I just walked for about ten kilometers, enjoying the fresh air and a beautiful, scenic sunset over the heavily forested northen Andes. Not for the first time, especially since making it across the Gap and into South America, I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment come over me (which is a euphanisism for feeling pretty damn good about myself,) and at that moment I don’t think I ever loved my life more.

Colombia, despite being a very mountinous country, is excellent for farming. I wittnessed firsthand the technique of “vertical farming,” where the locals will plant their crops on the mountinside at a nearly ninty-degree angle, which at first glance, seems an impossible place to grow coffee. However, the plants don’t seem to mind, and flourish in the fertile soil.

I walked until about eight o’clock in the night (oddly enough, I felt totally safe…almost like home) until I came to a small town nestled cozily onto the mountianside. I was planning on just camping for the night, but every single bit of land that wasn’t the road was at an inconvienent eighty-five degree angle. Consequently, I decided to find a cheap hotel, since I had plenty of money.

I bought a new pack of smokes and checked into a quaint little place for $10,000. I got to take a shower, but not wash my clothes…I sensed the owner was trying to squeeze every peso out of me, since he was charging me $10,000 more for laundry! He still seemed like a pretty decent fellow. He gave me a couple of coffees for free. Colombian coffee is definently the best in the world, and the third cup was made even better when my friend slipped in a shot of Ron Medellìn whiskey. After that, I took a much-needed shower, as I hadn’t yet had one on this continent.

In my room was four beds; I slept in the one closest to the wall, and a young Colombian couple of about twenty-five years of age was in the bed next to me. I awoke the next morning, out of a nice dream I was having about a good looking Colombina getting lucky next to me until I realized that…well…it wasn’t a dream! The couple on the next bed over were having loud, unabashed morning sex not two feet from me. They weren’t even under the covers! I honestly didn’t mind, because she was pretty damn good looking. I opened my eyes, laughed, and told them pleasantly, “¡Buenos dìas!”

They didn’t even slow down, and the girl replied “¡Bue-e-e-no-o-os dì-ì-ì-a-a-as!” her voice punctuated by the sound of skin slapping together.

I left the hotel around nine and continued my journey to Ecuador. I hitched onto a big rig hauling a load of propane, which was an interesting ride because I got to ride in the little space between the cab and the trailer….needless to say, there was no smoking on this ride. I rode there until a cop pulled the driver over and told him it wasn’t safe to carry passengers there. The cop was nice, though, and drove me on his motorcycle to a police checkpoint, where three guys who didn’t look older than seventeen were carrying assault rifles and bullshitting.

They were pretty cool dudes. They even gave me some water and bushel of ripe plantain bananas. I’ve decided that I absolutely LOVE plantains…there a lot smaller than a regular banana, are much sweeter, and have a much better flavour. I ate about twenty, much to the amusement of my heavily armed friends, who were convinced I would have the shits later.

I got a ride after about half an hour of chilling with my policìa friends to the city of Pereira, thanks to a guy named Alfonso. I’m ninty percent sure he was gay, though he claimed to have a wife and two kids. If he was, this wouldn’t be the first time a gay dude has picked me up…in fact, it happens quite often. They’re always really nice, and buy me lots of food.

Alfonso was no exception. He provided me with a nice lunch, and even gave me $20,000 when he dropped me off about fifteen minutes south of Pereira. Nice fellow.

So I walked for a bit, and tried for about an hour to hitch a ride outside of a toll booth, with no sucess. I walked a bit farther down the road and a guy on one of the numerous motorcycles that buzzed by every five seconds pulled over and brought me to where I am now, Cartagoaje. Since I’m pratically rolling in dough ($35,000) I got another hotel for tonight, this one with facilities for washing clothes! This is a good thing because by now they are radioactively dirty. A hotel two nights in a row…Colombia is spoiling me…

Anyhow, I think I’ll go and get dinner and then drink some whiskey with the girl at the front desk…wish me luck, friends!

The Modern Nomad

EDIT SEPT 2011: I remember that time looking at those Colombian mountians as being one of the greatest of the trip at the time! Still high on my sucess with the Gap, Colombia was treating me well, with great food, great people, and friendly cops!


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