Sunday, July 26, 2009

Gringos go last.

Feel free to skip this entire entry – it’s another worst travel day ever. Needless to say, it was not fun. If you do read on consider yourself warned.Oh and here's a lovely picture of a someone who had better transport than us.

Today we were taking off to Villa de Leyva. It was a two-part journey that was only supposed to take 5-6 hours (depending on bus connections). The fantastic hostel owner Shaun (no really he was the most helpful and informed hostel owner ever, he gets a big thumbs up) had told us that the only thing we had to worry about was getting to Tunja before the last bus to Villa de Leyva left at 6. Rather than go rushing out first thing in the morning we thought we’d take our time. We said goodbye and good luck to Catia and a bunch of others we’d met at the hostel and, of course, packed.

I definitely had a cold coming on, so we just grabbed breakfast across the street then grabbed a taxi to the big bus station on the outskirts of town. In the daylight, it looked rather official but was just as empty as when we arrived in the middle of the night. We choose the bus company that had brought us from Bucaramanga to San Gill, since they hadn’t had a broken toilet and the bus was quite nice. Plus the attendant told us the bus was coming in 5 minutes. Of course that 5 minutes turned into an hour in which other buses took off to the same destination. Our disappointment continued when the buss pulled up. Rather than a big coach, the bus was actually a large van with now toilet. Well at least we wouldn’t have to worry about the toilet breaking down and stinking up the ride. And since this leg was only 4 hours, we could probably wait.

About an hour on the road, the bus made a funny noise and then couldn’t go faster than 20km/hr. I know this because this bus had a speedometer read out flashing overhead. The driver pulled over and tinkered under the hood for about 30 minutes and then took off. He obviously didn’t fix anything because the bus chugged along the highway at the same snail’s pace. When he reached a small town he pulled over, took off his uniform, pulled out a tool box and set to work in earnest. The small town consisted of a tienda (with bathroom, yay), two or three houses and about 5 horses grazing at the side of the road. As the driver pulled the van apart, Adrian and I found a place to sit in the shade. A handful of other passengers that had been picked up along the way and hadn’t paid their fare, flagged down taxis or passing minivan to continue their journey. Two 60+ sisters decided to pass the time by drinking beer (but through ladylike straws). I guess they knew that the fixing of the van was going to take a while. And indeed we were there for over an hour while the driver fashioned something out of a tin can to repair the van. It appeared to work and we piled back in and down the highway at the speed limit again. Take that McGuyver.

Another hour later, we pulled into the pit stop town for lunch. With a cold coming on, I just wanted chicken soup. But the waitress brings not only chicken soup but a plate of chicken and rice. Rather than be miffed, I was actually relieved as the soup tasted like caca. There was some unidentifiable meat floating around with skin that looked reptilian. Adrian and I tried to eat it but gave up after a few spoonfuls and dug into the rice and chicken. We settled our bill and followed the other passengers back out to the bus to get on. Only to discover that the hood was back up on the bus. We were not going anywhere.

The driver began putting passengers on other buses sitting at the pit stop. Everyone except for the older ladies and us that is. The driver told us that we’d get on the next bus and then turned his attention back to the broken bus. We began talking to the older ladies, or rather tried to, as they speak that rapid fire Colombian Spanish that I still can’t completely comprehend. I did manage to catch that the next bus wasn’t until 3. Gulp. With over half way still to go. I didn’t think we were going to make it to Tunja by 6pm. I told the ladies my problem and they sympathized. However, their sympathy was short as they began going on about the cold in Villa de Leyva and how unbearable it was and the inevitable older lady conversation about aches and pains. Since I couldn’t follow most of it, I kinda tuned out. Besides I already had a cold.

Over the next two hours it seemed that every man with a wrench in the vicinity of the bus stop tried their hand at fixing our bus. Meanwhile, we tried to flag down a bus to get on. They’d stop then tell us that they were full up, even though I could see seats in them. However, one bus takes the two ladies, leaving just Adrian and I. Yup, the two gringos are left and there was no sign of the 3pm bus. By 4pm, the driver got the bus running again, so we pile on hopeful. The amateur mechanics all wave us off as we continue down the highway. About 2km out of town the driver stops to pick up three new passengers and then can’t start up again. Luckily the ride back to town was down hill so the bus is able to coast most of the way there. We’ve now been waiting twice as long as we’ve actually been on the road and I was annoyed. Once again I tried flagging down buses but they were full. Eventually the three new passengers convinced another bus driver to take us on his decrepit bus. It was truly a crap bus, filthy with broken seats and it couldn’t go more than 50 but at least we were on the road.

Finally, just before 8 we got to Tunja. Although, we had no hopes of catching our connecting bus to Villa de Leyva, the driver let us off at the bus station and pointed towards the buses saying “Villa de Leyva”. Well, since we were here, we had a look. And amazingly there were two buses sitting there that were going to Villa de Leyva. One driver waved us on immediately and although we were his only passengers took off in a rush down the road. It was pitch black but judging by the twisty roads, we were in the mountains again. There were no towns in sight but there were people walking along the deserted highway and the driver often stopped to pick them up and let them off. And about an hour later we got into town.

The bus let us off across from a pizza place and rather than head to the hostel up in the hills we stopped for something to eat. Sitting at the next table was Nur, the Turkish girl we’d met on our hike from Barichara to Guane. That was a good sign plus it was nice to see a familiar face after a crap day. Dan, her friend that she was traveling with joined us.
“We’re destined to travel together,” the always cheerful Nur said.
While we chatted and ate, Adrian and I dug out our sweaters and pant legs. As the ladies had warned us, it was cold in town. We settled up and then went off in search of a taxi. Nur and Dan walked with us. Surprisingly, there were no taxis on the street. And the main square was closed to traffic. We said good-bye to Dan and Nur who were staying in town then walked back to where we got off the bus, hoping to find a taxi there.

It was now close to 10 and we were 5 hours overdue at the hostel. Luckily Adrian found a taxi before we collapsed under the weight of our packs. The taxi was a white pick up truck and we needed it to get up the dirt road to our hostel. Rather than stay in town we were staying at a place 2km out in the hills overlooking the area. It was highly recommended and we hoped it was worth it. As soon as we pulled up, we were greeted by Ivonne the owner.

“Oh Elizabeth, I was so worried,” she cried. “I didn’t know what had happened to you. I’m so glad you’re here.”

I told her about the bus break down and apologized. She told us not to worry and just to settle in and get a good night’s sleep. We could check-in in the morning. Ivonne’s warm greeting and the comfortable room, almost made up for the trouble we had getting there. We’d spent the whole day coming in last so it was nice to finish in first.


Ayngelina said...

Aww that wasn't so bad, I was expecting a much worse story.

liz and adrian said...

at the time it seemed horrible mostly because of my cold. but i also get sick of writing about horrible bus trips and assume you get sick of reading them.