Wednesday, July 22, 2009

It’s a long way to Bucaramanga, it’s a long way to go…

scenes from a bus window

Most people come to Taganga to party in town or chill on the beaches of Tayrona Park. Since we’re not really partiers, we’d just chilled on the beaches of San Blas and we’d finished our diving certification, it was time to move on. Although moving on was not going to be as easy as we thought. We tried to leave bright and early but we still had to settle up with the dive centre. By the time that was done it was almost 9am. So we quickly hailed a taxi to take us to the bus station in Santa Marta. The driver tried to strike up a conversation with us but it turned into a lesson on how to pronounce Bucaramanga (fyi, boo-car-a-mang-gah) when he asked us where we were going. 10 minutes later and I was still stumbling but at least the driver was amused and laughing. Thankfully he told the attendant at the bus station where we were going so we ended up at the correct bus company.

Supposedly, it’s possible to bargain for your bus fare. But how do you bargain with a wo/man with a computer and printed tickets? Well, I couldn’t figure it out so I didn’t try but the bus fare was still reasonable considering we were going to be on the bus for 9 hours. Unfortunately the next bus wasn’t for another hour. We passed the time by picking up a tasty ham and cheese croissant type thing from a stall and watching the Tour de France final on the station tv. It all helped to pass the time until the comfy coach pulled up.

I slept for the first three hours until a horrible smell permeated the coach causing the ayudante to run up and down the aisle with a can of air freshener that he kept spraying. Apparently the toilet was broken and belching the stench. Great, so there was no longer a working toilet for the 9+ hour bus ride and it stank. At the 4.5 hour mark, the bus made a 30 minute pit stop. Everyone sat down at the restaurant to get something to eat (soup, chicken and rice) and then a bathroom break. When the driver was done, it was back on the bus which had been de-stinked although the toilet was still not operational.

Without any clue where we were, we didn’t know if the bus was on schedule or not. But we thought we had been making good time, until the bus stopped at the side of the road. Yup, another bus break down. The driver and ayudante got out their tool box and did some magic and eventually got the bus going. At least now we knew that we were behind schedule and in danger of missing the last bus from Bucaramanga to San Gil at 9pm. An hour into our resumed schedule, everyone on the bus got off, except for Adrian, myself and one lone. The huge coach suddenly felt very empty especially when we stopped in the mountains for some construction. The bus driver wouldn’t let us off while we waited, in fact we were locked in. Adrian was not very happy about this. Thankfully, the road was soon reopened and we were going again.

Now I was beginning to stress about that last bus to San Gil. As we hit the outskirts of Bucaramanga the other passenger got off, leaving the two of us on the bus. The city was bigger than I expected and we didn’t pull into the bus station until just about 10. Oh well, worse case scenario we’d have to find a room here and hope that the hostel in San Gil wouldn’t make us pay for the night there as well. But first stop the bathroom.

The station was huge but we found the washroom. The attendant said something to me and it took me three or four times to realize he was speaking very bad, very accented English to me. Actually, it wasn’t until he repeated his question in Spanish that I understood that he was asking.
“Habla ingles?”
“Si,” I replied.
Although it was obvious that he didn’t. And another tourist waiting in line laughed. Yay, a real English speaker who I pounced upon for advice on where to buy buy tickets in the big ol’ hanger of a station. He pointed me in the right direction and after using the facilities, Adrian and I climbed the three flights stairs to the wall of ticket windows, across from the elevator (d’oh).

I wasn’t hopeful about finding a bus to San Gil at this time of night but it was worth a shot. Success, although the bus wasn’t until 11pm which meant we weren’t going to get into the hostel until 1:30am. Good thing we have a reservation. I just hope they also have 24 hour check-in. Well they did, when the cab pulled up to the hostel, we gently rang the bell and were greeting by a slightly tipsy Shaun, the owner of the hostel, who was still up enjoying a tipple with a couple of other guests. Phew. After 14+ hours of travel we collapsed in our room.

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