Stage seven is Rincon del Mar to Cartegena. That’s easy-peazy we thought. The times and prices are all written on the notice-board at the hostel. Catch bus, sit on bus and a couple of hours later get off bus in Cartegena. What could possibly go wrong? Quite a bit, it would seem. Most of what follows is what I actually wrote in my notebook on that day.
Firstly the hostel call us a taxi to drive us to San Onofre to catch the bus. The ‘taxi’ was called and arrived promptly. On going outside, I repressed a grin as we found a battered old Trabant waiting for us. I say ‘old’, I mean really old. I say ‘battered’, I mean really, really battered. Contrary to what you might expect – or maybe not, if you know us, We thought this was wonderful. The ‘taxi’ was obviously simply a villager who was earning a bit extra. This is why I love places like this, the money is is going directly into the pockets of the people who live there.
Anyway off we set, down the sandy lanes, past the village school and in to San Onofre which by now is looking like a huge metropolis! At the bus stop the buying of the tickets was overseen by our smiling ‘taxi’ driver. We sat in the sun for 10 minutes until the bus turned up and we got on. No-one offered to put our bags in the ‘hold’ so we just carried them on and stowed them inside – which turned out to be a stroke of luck later . And off we went.
San Onofre. 10:30am
We’re in beautiful downtown San Onofre waiting for a bus to Cartagena. Don’t tell me we don’t live the high life.
The bus stopped an hour and a half an hour ago and has stayed stopped, there is a protest in the next village and they’ve blockaded the road. Good job we were loads too early for our Bogotá flight. This might turn into a re-run of the Morocco dash for the plane.
We’ve been informed that the protest could take ‘hours, or even days’!!!!
We thought we might get out and walk to catch a bus the other side of the protest but then some drivers coming the other way told us it wasn’t safe, especially for women. I think it might be one of the agrarian protests that’s been happening for a while now.
2:00 Mahates, Colombia
The bus driver is shouting ‘vamos’ and we’re off after 3 hours.
Now we’ve stopped again
Still here. Still stopped (over the course of 90mins). Police officers with sub-machine guns. And that’s just normal street wear. They’re awfully polite though.
And we’re off. It’s 3:30 and we’re an hour away from Cartagena. Our flight leaves at 5:50. The bus station is 45 min away from the airport. How’s your maths? Level 7 is turning out to be a tough one to complete. The bus driver is now trying his hardest to make sure we have no further issues… By trying to kill us. Hand on horn, driving down packed roads, bum numbing stuff. Stay tuned…
15 minutes later
Very large bang. Large truck embedded in rear end – the buses rear end not mine.
Everyone on the bus is fine. Something in front of us braked suddenly, our driver braked suddenly. The large Pan American truck at the rear of us didn’t; he drove into our rear end, resulting in bits of bus being left on the road.
Happily, I wasn’t even aware there’d been an accident until people started to get off the bus. I knew we’d braked hard, then I heard a bang but I don’t think anyone felt the van hit us.
Oops, bus broken, very broken. Got shunted in the engine. All of the bus passengers including us, now on side of road. Magical Colombia strikes again as a ‘local’ bus stops by us. Our new transport, a knight in slightly old and well worn armour has come to rescue us.
The driver’s shouting ‘Cartagena! Cartagena! Cartagena!’ Remember those bags that weren’t in the ‘boot’. Well, that was so lucky! We picked up our bags and ran for the ‘new’ bus. It was blocking the road and had to pull off so quickly; leaving everyone who didn’t have their bags with them still standing on the side of the road.
The bus keeps jumping out of gear and there are three people selling food on here. This journey is utter genius. We may miss our flight today but it’s worth it for the comedy value alone. Loving the music pumping out of the household stereo speakers attached to the sides of the bus!
We’ve now picked up someone who’s selling sachets of some kind of health salts which according to the packet, can cure you of all internal parasites and worms, regulate your bowels and boost your nutrition. I throw caution to the wind, decide to live with my worms and politely decline.
We’re dropped somewhere on the outskirts of Cartegena. We have zero idea where we are in relation to the airport. We’re 35 minutes before the gates closes! Yet again the magic of Colombia rises to the occasion. More and more people realise that they have two helpless imbeciles in their midst so everyone rallies around to the cause of ‘get the gringos to the airport fast! The world’s smallest taxi stops, we shoehorn ourselves in with me practically pledging my friend’s first borns to our rescuers because ‘thank you’ alone cannot adequately express how grateful I am to the people of Colombia .
But wait! You thought it was all over? Ha, the fat lady hasn’t sung yet! The taxi driver is personally testing out ‘the tortoise and the snail’ theory. He’s actually the slowest, safest driver in the whole of Colombia, we’re doing our best to smile and not snarl, while he crawls down the road being the epitome of ‘one careful driver’. We were this close to making it, now we never will… we have 30 minutes to drive to an airport 45 minutes away and the driver is driving like it’s a hearse. So close but still so far. Now he’s pointing out planes and buildings to us, as if we’re sight seeing. He’s a lovely man and we’re doing our best to keep smiling as the prospect of finding a new flight and a hotel for the night looms. We finally got to the door, we pay him off and run to the gate. The gate is still open!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
You think it’s all over now then? It isn’t. It isn’t? What on earth can go wrong now? Well, Steve can’t find his boarding pass on his phone, that’s what. For some reason Avianca needs a data signal to show the boarding pass; the app doesn’t save it. I, having taken the Brownie motto of ‘Be Prepared’ to heart, have saved my boarding pass as a screenshot, but Steve hasn’t. So we’re standing in the airport, wasting time, having a stand up, stress induced, and unproductive argument. Aghhhhhh. After what seemed like half an hour but was probably 60 seconds max, I calmed down and remembered that I had a Colombian SIM in my phone and therefore I could access his Boarding Pass. The Avianca people were brilliant, they could see we were late and slightly fraying at the seems, they told us just to carry our bags on even though they were technically too heavy for their limits. This time the drama really was over, we boarded the plane and off we flew to Bogotá.