Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Final: Day 7: Medellin to Turbo

I wake up at 3:15 a.m., take a shower, check out of the hotel, and take a cab to the Medellin North bus station. My bus leaves at 5. There is a young mother with four kids. The two middle kids are too old to ride for free. The bus driver chews her out for cheating the system and insists on her paying. She feigns ignorance and pays. After the driver leaves, she gives me a No Big Deal shrug.

All of the passengers on this bus are Colombian. We all paid and were entered into the computer ticketing system.

But 20 minutes out of the station, still in darkness, our bus stops at a random intersection. Five South Asian men hop onboard. They each have backpacks and look scared. They walk to the back of the bus. They don't make eye contact with the bus driver or his helper. They look healthy and are all fairly tall. Definitely from middle class backgrounds.

I suspect that they are migrants headed to the U.S. It is easy for migrants from Nepal, Pakistan, and Africa to fly to Ecuador without a visa, bus up to Turbo, and cross the Darien Gap by foot.

For some reason, this is my favorite shot from my trip. Sunrise.

I really wanted to talk to the men, but I was afraid to. I didn't want to get them in trouble. I didn't want to be presumptuous. I considered giving them my unopened package of Fig Newtons. I was dying to know more about them. I passed by them several times to use the bus restroom, but I stayed silent, like a coward.

During one of the rest stops, I surreptitiously snuck a photo of them. They are gathered around the cashier. I wonder where they are right now, or if they are still alive. I immediately deleted this photo, because I didn't want the Colombian military to find these photos on my phone at the upcoming checkpoints.

The eight hour journey was pleasant. We first traversed mountains and jungles. Shoeless Indian women wearing face paint got on the bus.

Once the terrain flattened, we saw rampant deforestation.

And then, the Banana Axis. Miles and miles of plantains (big) and bananos (small; what we call bananas).

And a couple of torched buildings from the recent protests against new toll booths. We only passed by one military checkpoint, and the soldiers there just waved us through. This is in contrast with the Panamanian side of the Darien Gap, where we had to get out of our bus and be searched every few kilometers by SENAFRONT soldiers.

I am dropped off in the middle of Turbo. Whereas Medellin was 50 degrees when I left this morning, Turbo is 90 degrees with 90% humidity at 1 p.m. I need to get to the end of the Pan-American Highway, which I unilaterally designated as the entrance to the Turbo airport (which has a dirt runway). How do I get there?

As the bus driver hands me my bag, I ask about taxis. He tells me Turbo only has motorcycle taxis. Shit. I am not getting on a motorcycle, especially without a helmet.

I stand on the sidewalk, frustrated. As the bus pulls away, I see across the street a yellow taxi. How lucky. I wave and yell at the cab driver. I throw my bags in the back seat and sit in the front. I can barely understand the cabbie's accent. Half the consonants are silent and the other half are heavy and emphasized. We immediately have a heated discussion. I only know he is not angry at me because he also lightly pinches my left thigh at certain points of the conversation.

We are fighting because I am not allowed near the airport. I certainly cannot take photos there to document the end of my trip. Fifteen years ago, the Colombian military took over the Turbo airport. It became a base of operations to fight the guerillas. I plead with the cabbie to at least go there and try. He yells at me some more.

We approach some orange barricades. We park and walk past young soldiers who have no idea why this chino wants to take photos. We end up in the officer-in-charge's office, past the orange barriers.* It's a bare concrete room with openings in the walls, but no windows. His desk and chair are the only furniture. About a dozen young recruits surround us, gawking. I plead with him to allow me to take a photo of myself next to the orange barriers, which I designated as the end of the Pan-American Highway. He is also perplexed by the request. But the rules are the rules. And with so many of his underlings listening in, he wasn't going to allow strange outsiders to get their way. Dejected, but happy that I tried my best, we walked past the orange barriers and the cabbie took the photo below.

I finished the Pan-American Highway. 14,741 miles. Eleven years.

*This reminds me of my interactions with an officer on the other side of the Darien Gap. I arrived in Yaviza and had to let the military know of my presence. I went to the base to check in. The officer-in-charge was sitting on a dais, above my head. I told him the hotel that I wanted to stay at in town. No, he said, for it has a cockfighting ring.

With the photo taken, I was ready to go to the Apartado airport to fly to Bogota. My driver moved to Turbo when he was ten from Medellin. He is proud of Turbo and insists on me taking a photo of the giant concrete crab sculpture at the beach. I refuse. In retrospect, I think that made him sad. He showed me his house, where he lives with his wife and three boys. It is a relatively nice place facing the sea.

We drive through towns and banana fields to get to the airport. He is very proud of his Medellin-assembled Renault Clio.

This is that toll booth I had passed in the bus. You can make out a dozen police officers at the booth, poring over the debris. The local authorities agreed to not collect tolls indefinitely.

Here is the cabbie, dropping me off at the airport. He was my last driver.

The airport was spooky. There are about a dozen flights a day. There is one cop/soldier for every three passengers at the airport. Security is tight.

ATR-42 to Bogota!

We land in Bogota, and it's almost freezing. The cab ride to my hotel was unexceptional, except the driver asked me if Chinese people ate rats.

I splurged and got a room at the Four Seasons. I'm celebrating. I've never stayed at a place this fancy before. When I walked into the lobby, the staff knew my name and greeted me. The whole place spelled like a lavender-infused spa.

Tomorrow, I explore Bogota.

1 comment:

momof3 said...

Glad you treated yourself to the Four Seasons! A welcome respite after days of sleeping on a bus.