Wednesday, November 9, 2016 – 9:18 A.M.
I went to Colombia.
In order to save money (plane tickets would have been $450+) my two friends and I bussed all the way to the coast of Colombia, to a city called Cartagena. But let me rewind to the beginning. The three of us were planning a very on-a-whim trip and had not considered anything but buying a bus ticket for a 30-hour bus ride to Santiago de Cali, Colombia. The day before, we ran into another of our friends at the Rio Coca bus station and found that he was also planning to go and actually had a solid plan, as his host father was Colombian and had written out a thorough itinerary. Naturally, we latched onto him.
That evening, we bought $70 plane tickets for a small part of the trip (between Colombian cities), and planned to meet at the Carcelén bus station at 3:00 in the morning. Yes, 3:00 A.M. I remember waking up at 2:00 A.M. after having gone to sleep at midnight, and I thought to myself, What the hell am I doing?
But I quickly packed my backpack full of clothes, toiletries, and several hundred dollars, and met one of my travel companions outside of my host family’s apartment, where he had arrived in a taxi. From there, we went to Carcelén and boarded our bus at about 4:00 A.M. That ride lasted approximately five hours, and I chuckle now because at the time I had no idea how horrible I was going to feel.
The ride was freezing cold, as the temperature dips very quickly at night in the mountainous areas of South America. I was shivering and uncomfortable the entire time, but after a few hours, the sun rose and warmed me a little. The unfortunate part of this ride in particular was that the bus stopped frequently to allow more passengers to board. I only hated this because all the lights were turned on, and we had to stop, sometimes for several minutes, and all I wanted to do was get off the bus.
From there, we arrived at a sort of truck stop where there were lots of vendors selling anything from fried bananas with cheese in the middle to plastic cups of chopped fruit (watermelon, mango, papaya, pineapple, etc.). We got a taxi and went to Ecuador’s emigration building, where we waited in line for about half an hour to get a “salida” stamp in our passports. Right after that, we went to Colombia’s immigration building to get an “entrada” stamp. We exited that building and were met with a small group of men with thick wads of U.S. dollars and Colombian pesos. We exchanged our money (and later found out that we’d been stiffed about $30 each – lesson learned) and then took another taxi to the next bus station.
I’ll summarize this since I could go on forever. This bus ride lasted at least twelve hours, and then we had two more 12-hour rides after that, at night. David scheduled them this way so that we didn’t have to pay for a hostel, and at first I thought the idea was ingenious, but that was before I realized that I could not sleep on a bus. Especially a bus traveling through the sharply winding, bumpy roads of Colombia. I didn’t sleep at all, and this persisted through every ride until I became hopelessly nauseous. I tried several times to close my eyes, to change positions, to listen to music, to turn my music off, to eat junk food, to chug water, to think of a pleasant situation. Nothing worked.
By the time we’d visited Ipiales, Popayán, and Medellín (the cities we went through to get to Cartagena), I was nauseous and exhausted to the point of tears. I didn’t cry, as I was actually too exhausted to even do that, but I felt like death. During the bus rides, I always had pretty healthy snacks: Doritos, Snickers bars, Sprite, chocolate wafers, so there’s no way that my diet contributed to my brief illness. But on the final bus ride (the one that took us to Cartagena, the coast), I was so close to crying. I was beyond frustrated with my exhaustion, migraine, nausea, and most of all, the helplessness that I felt. There was literally nothing that I could have done short of leaping off the bus, so I did my best to discipline myself and calm down.
When we arrived in Cartagena, the first thing that I remember noticing was the overwhelming intensity of the heat. I felt like I had stepped into an oven, and it did nothing to help my nausea. We got a taxi that took us to our hotel, and it took a good ten minutes to sign paperwork and show our passports before we were led into our room. To my delight, the air conditioner was not functioning, so the room was almost as hot as it was outside.
We were exhausted, so we lied on our beds and took a nap for a few hours. When I awoke, my entire body was wet and sticky and hot, my head was throbbing, and I actually thought that I was on the verge of fainting. We went and spoke to the owner, and she made a phone call to get someone in to fix our air conditioner.
With little to do, we decided to explore the city. We ate lunch, explored markets and stores, and enjoyed being in a new country before returning to our hotel. The air conditioner had been fixed! I collapsed onto my bed, took a shower, and slept.
Overall, the trip consisted of nauseating bus rides, exploring different cities, eating lots of food (junk food galore), and enjoying a week away from school. I bought three cool shot glasses and a knitted bag for my friends back home, and when I finally arrived back home in Quito, I was absolutely relieved.
Overall, I had a fun time and thoroughly enjoyed getting to see another South American country.