Fucking Ants!

Moharras, Colombia

Hmmm…Colombia is a lot bigger than I’d thought. I figured I’d be in Ecuador by now, but I’m still a few hundred kilometers away. However, I should pass la frontera sometime tomorrow. Hopefully. I was warned several times of the high amount of FARC activity (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionaris de Colombia) in this part of Colombia. They’re the primary guerrilla group involved in the ongoing Colombian Armed Conflict, with a penchant for running drugs and kidnapping wayward Americans for ransom money. Nice guys…

I had a great night at my hotel. I didn’t get to sleep until very late (for reasons I won’t go into…haha) and I awoke late the next morning around ten thirty. I found to my delight my clothes clean and drying on the line, which was a good feeling. I packed up my bag and hit the road.

It was a slow day for hitchhiking, to be certain. I walked for hours and hours, and even stopped for long periods in good spots. Finally, around two I hitched on to a semi. I again got to ride in the little gap between the cab and the trailer, only this time the truck wasn’t hauling gas and I could smoke. We rode for several hours until we reached a large traffic circle about fifteen kilometers north of Cali. I got off there.

There are two ways to Ecuador from that spot; the first goes through Cali, and is a bit shorter. The second winds through the countryside for hundreds of miles, though tiny little villages that are only there because the road is. I decided to go on the rural route, even though it’s a bit longer, since it was only a few hours from dark and Cali is one of the most dangerous cities in South America.

So before I began my journey through the countryside, I stopped at a gas station for a bit of water, since I was totally parched. The owner noticed how hot and tired I looked, and noted the fact that I was drinking tap water since I didn’t have any money for the bottled kind (that money burned a hole in my pocket faster than a lit cigarette.) He was super cool and gave me some soup and chicken. I devoured it in nothing flat, as this was my first meal of the day and it was nearly five in the afternoon. I even got some mango juice and a banana “Por el camino!” Again, I love Colombia.

After my delicious and unexpected meal, I headed out. I was able to grab a lift in about half an hour with a very large fellow. After I got in the car with him, I wasn’t really getting a good vibe (he was asking all sorts of questions about my passport) but he turned out to be decent. He gave me a beer and a cigarette, which was good because I hadn’t had a stogie all day.

This guy drove me for about fifteen kilometers, and then sped off, waving his chubby hand out the window. Soon after, I got my last ride of the day with a young fellow who drove me about fifteen minutes to Bolo San Ysidro. He also gave me $7,000, which I spent most of on a huge meal and an hour of Internet.

After my Internet time, I walked down the road a bit to find a place to camp. It was very dark, so this proved difficult. I finally settled on a space between the seemingly endless rows of sugarcane fields, partially conceled behind a tree on the side of the road. I rolled out my bedroll and tried to go to sleep.

It was then that the mosquitos found me. Not just one or two, but hundreds were swarming all around me, a giant cloud of bloodsucking evil making that incessant bzzzzzzzzz. Fianlly, after an hour of laying there and basically giving blood, I couldn’t take it anymore. I raced out of the field, the sharp leaves of the sugarcane tearing little cuts all over my arms and neck. I burst out onto the road and ran back into the town, still able to hear the dreaded cloud following me down the street.

I went to the same place that I got food at earlier, called Parador Alaska, and bought a pastry with the last of my cash. This was to be my breakfast money the next morning, but I wanted something to chew on to distract from all the itching. I picked out the most tasty-looking doughnut I could find. The thing about doughnuts is that they’re never as good as they look in the window. Sometimes they’re too dry, or lacking the cream filling you expected. This time was no exception; I picked out a strawberry coated monster, and after one bite immedietly wished I’d stuck to the good old-faithful glazed.

The owner of the resturaunt seemed intersted in me, and started talking and asking all the usual questions. He turned out to be super awesome, and gave me a free Pepsi, lots of free bread, and some little meat pies. He tossed over his buisness card and told me to come back in the morning for breakfast. Tight…

After the Parador Alaska closed up, I went back to camp and decided that I would have to find a better place. I simply could not sleep with all of those mosquitoes. So I dragged all of my stuff out of the field (causing the sugar cane to make mincemeat out of the skin on my arms) and set it on the side of the road. I rolled up my bedroll, strapped it down, and then turned my attention to the sleeping bag. I was halfway though rolling it up when I felt the familiar burning sensation of a hundred tiny insects all stinging me at the same time…

Fire ants.

I had rolled my bag directly into a big whopping nest of them.

Damnit. They were everywhere. My hands, my arms, my sleeping bag…and when I tried to shake them off the sleeping bag, they got all over my shirt and pants, and stung me more times. I did the ant dance for several minutes, until I had gotten most of them off.

It’s funny…I came to South America hoping to find new and exciting things to bite and sting me. Instead, I find mosquitoes and fire ants, the same things that have been biting and stinging me for the past twenty years.

So I waited for the ants to clear off my sleeping bag, rolled it up, and walked back into town, still feeling the occasional sting of a wayward ant that had missed my cleansing. I went to the police station, and told them I was looking for a good place to camp…my trick worked, and I was allowed to sleep in their yard, where there were considerably fewer mosquitoes.

I awoke early the next morning to the friendly face of the police capitan hovering over me. “Es seis o’clock hour!” he said cheerfully. I groggily awoke and packed up camp.

I stopped at Parador Alaska for some delicious coffee and a few doughnuts (glazed) and was off. I got my first ride within fifteen minutes for about half an hour. After that, I waited for roughly an hour next to a sign that said “No tire basura!” that was surrounded by litter.

The next guy who picked me up was named Carlos, and he drove me about two hours to Popayan. He spoke a little English, and we passed the time teaching each other our respective languages. I even got a nice lunch out of the deal.

Carlos paid a taxi to take me out of Popayan, and after getting off I waited for about an hour at a police checkpoint five-ish kilometers outside of town. There was a group of small children standing near me with an English phrasebook, and they entertained themselves by shouting random things at me like “Cow!” and “Trumpet!” with a thick Spanish accent. There was also a tiny naked boy who ran around throwing pebbles at me and rolling around in the mud.

The children told me that the “thumb up” signal for hitchhiking is not widely understood here, which was a suprise to me. They taught me the local gesture, which is an outstreched arm with the palm facing down, and then waggling your finges about.

It worked. Soon, I got a ride in a tow truck for about two hours to El Bodero…I was pretty tired, and accidently fell asleep during the ride. A bit embarassing, since I could tell my mouth was gaping open the whole time since my tongue was dry when a sharp turn awoke me.

I was able to get anoter ride to Moharras a short time, with a group of four younger guys in an old Land Rover. They were pretty cool, and hooked me up with a couple of beers.

We entered another beautiful part of Colombia; large, jagged mountians surrounded us on all sides, topped not by snow but by thick cumulous clouds that looked like super-sweet icing on a wedding cake. In the valley, where the road ran through, there was nothing but the tall grasses of a tropical savannah as far as the eye could see.

These dudes dropped me off here…it’s such a small town it’snot even on Google maps…clearly one of those towns that is just here because of the road. While I was walking to the outskirts, (which took about thirty seconds) an old black lady flagged me down and started asking me questions about Alaska. She had a geography workbook that was clearly designed for third graders, and, bless her heart, was trying her damndest to learn it all. Good for her. I told her everything I knew, and was rewarded with a Coke and some dry but tasty bread for my troubles. A Three-Meal Day…it’s not often I get one of those.

I was waiting at a another police checkpoint just outside of “town,” and the cops were kind enough to let me use their computer. I love the law enforcement in Colombia. Good blokes, the lot of them. It shouldn’t be hard to find a place to sleep tonight, as I’m more or less in the middle of nowhere.


The Modern Nomad

EDIT SEPT 2011: Now that I think about it, after those kids told me about the Colombian way to hitchhike, I had quite an easy time travelling. Perhaps that’s why the hitching was so difficult at first…