What is español for landslide?

Trip Start Dec 26, 2006
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Trip End Dec 25, 2007


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Flag of Colombia  ,
Saturday, May 12, 2007

Ipiales - "What is Spanish for landslide?"
Ah, the irony, one of the few Colombian destinations in the LP without a warning of impending death. And so it was, Ipiales was to be the final night in Colombia before hitching a bus over the Ecuadorian border for the capital, Quito. The changing of buses at Pitalito bought about another game of "Shithead" before catching the 10.30am for Pasto. And still it rained as we headed for the hills, if you can call the Andes mountains "hills". After a brief passport check by the military, and a qhick photo op on the bus at the militaryīs request, who would dare so no.. they have guns, we continued our journey. The road certainly got the prize for the highest with steepest drops and also for most water crossings as the waterfalls thundered down the side of the mountain forming what looked like fast flowing rivers across the road in front. Well guess our bus driver knew what he was doing. What were we but three concerned tourists amongst a busload of smiling locals? A bus falling from up here would have enough time to execute a triple pike with tuck before entering the fast flowing river below, Wiley E Coyote style with barely a puff of smoke.  And then the games began as we rounded a corner before coming to a crunching, brake sqeaking halt. And no this was not to let another bigger bus pass us on a small mountain ridge goat-track, but a giant landslide, trees, rocks and enough earth to manufacture a small motocross circuit. And the thought about "what if" raced through the mind, kind of like the movie Sliding Doors.
 
And so it came to be that we were stuck fast, in the rain, high in the Colombian Andes, no way to go backwards and no way forwards...with a truck full of pigs positioned directly behind our bus, also going nowhere, the same could not be said for the stench seeping through the window of the bus. With no spades, shovels or trucks in site to clear the obstacle and crap still falling down increasing the pile, there was no choice but to challenge the locals to a game of dominoes, using a removable bus seat as our table, ingenious those Colombians. And after the dominoes, and a token throw of a few rocks over the side of the mountain to show we were one with the locals, our thoughts turned to what the f&%k now. Sure the darkness was about to set in, the rain kept falling but the thought of sleeping in a bus perched on a mountain road, with eyes watering from the stench of pigs and every chance that the mountain above the bus might decide to go out in solidarity with its mate and slide down onto the bus...well it left no choice but to walk with 3 other locals to "a restaurant up the hill about 15 minutes away", or was that 15 kilometers away, or maybe 15 hours away. Something about the number 15 anyways!
 
And so it was, we grabbed our packs from the bus, Rob, Oli and me headed up the mountain road with our two domino playing amigos and a Colombian amiga. But not before having to cross over the landslide itself, sure 10 meters of mud, trees and rocks may not seem much, but as you sunk down to the ankles in the mud your heart skipped many beats as the sound of still falling mud and rocks sent you scrambling that bit quicker across. And seeing a tree perched precariously above the slope still waiting to be dislodged on one side, and impending death in the form of a ravine on the other side, a new set of underwear was in order. On getting over the landslide the next hour could best be described as seeing if the locals could make up their mind on what to do next. Obviously nothing was coming in to clear the landslide and the 5 jeeps that could have turned around and headed back insisted they did not have enough petrol to do so, therefore any chance of a ride to the "restaurant 15 minutes away" was dashed, That left our legs, the only way humanly possible to leave the confusion, landslide and pigs behind, not to mention Robīs new Colombian "not that thereīs anything wrong with that" friends who gifted him a salsa CD and a Colombian wristband, and who knows what else when Oli and I were not looking!
 
And so began the trek up the hill, the two UK lads, an aussie, joined by the three Colombians, throw in some altitude, lots of rain, steep mountain road and a lack of light and you have pretty much the next three hours summarised right there. Sure there were rivers to cross as the waterfalls kept cascading down the mountain, making the road crossing that much more enjoyable. Waterproof Goretex boots would have been a godsend, then again Mariposa trotting up out of the blue would have been a bigger godsend. Instead we had to settle for an apple truck halfway up the hill. And believe me, you knd of go into autopilot as the weight on your back gets seemingly heavier, your clothes and shoes, seemingly wetter (is that possible) and any thoughts of engaging the locals in spanish small talk go out the window as remembering who and where you are becomes a priority. And before you could say "why isnīt it me in the back of that car", six became four as the girl and domino man #1 head off into the night to our mountain retreat, assured we would be collected next trip.
 
Yeah right, fifteen minutes had become over three hours as we crossed our last river by torchlight, the lights in the distance of the "restaurant 15 minutes away", well lets call it as it should be known, an antenna station manned by a motley crew of locals, with not a waitress, menu or overcharged guatemalen bill in sight. But who were we to complain, the pigs were but a distant memory, the locals had kindly taken to cook us a meal of rice, eggs and plantains and then doing the good samaritan thing, seized the opportunity to charge us all 5,000 pesos each for the experience, about two and a half times the going rate. So the bus would surely come soon allowing us to continue our journey to Pasto and onto Ipiales....yeah, not quite! Next saw Rob, Oli, Domino #1 and amiga whisked off in a car to destination unknown, leaving me, directionally challenged Domino #2 and the motley crew of locals to engage, well to stare at each other for the next half hour as the thoughts of everyone experiencing hot showers and duvets the size of a small African country slowly ate away at my mind.
 
Ahh, the sound of a jeep and lights in the distance signalled the end of "Deliverance" and the beginning of sanity. Yeah, not quite......as the next stop became a lone house on a hill where thankfully the others had landed. A house that made the occupants at "Antenna Hill" look positively sane, all that was missing was the two twins playing banjo on the porch. After removing every wet item of clothing, and replacing it with every possible dry item I had, including the beanie and thermals, the five of us blokes settled down onto our one mattress and one thin, excuse for a rug and watched some movie in Spanish involving death, goring bulls and a few hundred litres of blood. Good to see some things never change. As for the hot shower and duvets the size of a small continent, well that was to remain in my head as I attempted to sleep against a wall with five other blokes, a thin mattress and an even thinner blanket. Five became four as Rob opted to make a bed out of his clothes on the bare concrete, cold as floor, and four quickly became two as the sounds of a bus in the distance prompted the Domino # 1 & 2 and sole amiga to quickly exit the house just as quickly as they came. Yeah thanks a lot for the warning folks and offer to join you all in a quest for freedom. Instead that left the three foreigners alone in a house of dubious company, the big, greasy guy with a "big veranda over his toolshed" and accompanying porno moustache looking the most character most likely to inflict pain.
 
And so it was the three of us spent the next cold five hours until sunrise, in a house on a hill somewhere in the South-west of Colombia, armed with only a thin mattress, a blanket, a concrete floor and a broken window. Then again who was more wary of who as we came to in the morning to find the TV that was there the night before had been taken elsewhere, should our cunning plan of robbing them of their only decent possession come to fruition. And then I realised that my 24 had now become 48 hours without sleep...and with no sign of any traffic coming either way on this road our fate appeared sealed. As everyone in the house came too, we soon realised that this small house on the hill was home to about 10 other people, most of dubious parentage. No introductions necessary as we packed our bags and headed for the only other sign of life, a little galvanised iron hut on the hill. And settled in with a coffee, empenada, dominoes, midnight cowboy and anything else we could do to pass the time...rain still falling, traffic still non-existant. And soon the reality of another night in the house on the hill set in as the thought of sleeping in an open galvanised iron hut became more and more appealing.
 
Our next guests in this epic, come on down the guys from the military. As our luck would have it, the military were undertaking an exercise in the area and as the hut had both a woman, food and a TV (us guys really are that simple), what was not to like. And the craziness continued as Oli, Rob and myself proceeded to play dominoes with the army lads, their Israeli made AK-47īs leaning up against the table. These guys typified Colombia, friendly, hospitable, great for a laugh and willing to let us pose for pictures with their AK-47īs around our necks. As a thanks I gave one army lad a quickfire lesson in Sudoko with my limited Spanish, ripping out the easy ones (and the anwsers) for him to do in his spare time, which would pretty much be all the time. Apart from playing with their guns a bit, chatting up the sole female in this place on the hill, they spent most time watching Colombian soap operas (telenovellas) intently. During this time any of us could have walked off with their AK-47 and they would have been none the wiser. These guys even made us lunch which was a damn site tastier than the night before and all on the house as well. And so it came to be that slowly traffic albeit in the wrong direction, did not return giving us hope that we would soon be bidding adios to the lads with the AK-47īs and love of a good old fashioned soap opera.
 
And at 3pm, more than 24 hours after the Andean earth had given way, we bid our mates goodbye and headed for what hopefully was not more of the same, that is rain and landslides. And as luck would have it about 9pm that night we rocked into Ipiales, sleep deprived and in my case, being accused of being "Argentinian" by the locals on the bus..and believe me that was not meant as a compliment. I can now add Argentinian to Swiss, German, American and English as the nationalities I most likely resemble. Carrying around a giant inflatable kangaroo might well fix that one! We checked into Ipiales version of the Hilton, screw the budget, it had a sauna (not operational), a pool (for midgets, dancing midgets even), a gym (who could be bothered), hot water and damn comfortable beds, now ya talking!
 
And then it was over, the border loomed in the distance, the Lonley Planets (LP) advice on "strict weapons and drug searches" at the border were met with a smile, a stamp and very soon "Bienvenidos Ecuador", with Rob safe in the knowledge he had officially become an international drug courier, given the half gram of cocaine he had put in a safe hiding place, so safe he had no idea where it was to ditch it before we crossed over.
 
And there you have it...Colombia in nutshell, a big bloody nutshell. 
 
A country that is as the LP said "exotic, sensual, wild, complex and fascinating". Canīt argue with them there.
 
A country where the people mean much more to it than any single tourist atttraction. From the opening greeting at Cartagena airport, the welcoming family at Hostal Miramar in Taganga, the cast and crew of Mangoīs, Medellin, the schoolkids in Plaza de Bolivar, Bogota, Oscar and Tucho from Carbonīs and the staff at Casa de Villroy in Popoyan, the whole chi-cha loving town of San Andreas in Tierradentro, Maria-Teresa, Mariposa and Pancho of San Agustin, the military lads from who-knows-where, Colombia and the beds in Ipiales...thanks for making Colombia what both Kris and Jono back in Adelaide said, and most other travellers say, Colombia is the best country in South America. After my experience I agree 100%.
 
Thanks also to every other traveller I met and hung with in Colombia as this just made the experience that much better. So to Dave, Colin, Jurgen, Mona, Annalisa, Ernesto, Liam, Gary, Kate, Yaniv, Niamh, Tomas, Jeannine, Angie, Oli and Rob muchas gracias amigos. And to every random Colombian man, woman and child on the streets, the buses and in the cafes who came and said gīday (hola) to the big, tall guy from Australia, thanks from the heart.
 
Colombia is a land where the people are the friendliest, most hospitable and spirited I have met on my trip so far. And as Judith is says back home in Oz, "Donīt go changing."
 
Where to now
Life goes on albeit at a much slower pace at the moment in Quito, Ecuador. I have been here 6 days and one more should see me out of here. More on Quito next time as I am shagged after another 6 hour session in a damn Internet cafe.
 
Before I sign off can I also send a huge thanks to everyone for their emails over the past month and apologies for the slow response but it will come. And to Ollie, Craig, Bec, Adriana and Tati who were wondering where the hell I was (and no an amazon snake did not get the better of me, but head to Popoyan to see the stuffed version if you are interested), cheers again!
 
Looking forward to hearing from you all soon!
 
Cheers and love to everyone
 
Weary Travellinī Daz
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