The end of the South American Odyssey

Leaving Capurgana behind us, Bea and I headed back on the boat to Turbo, along with our new friend from Miami, who had blindingly white teeth. Disappointingly, the weather was fine and the sea calm, so our return trip was rather timid, with absolutely no threat of death. In addition to a calm journey by sea, the driver who took us to Monteria was much more disciplined when it came to driving around potholes, so it was a much less bumpy journey by car as well. It was altogether civilized by Colombian standards – just the one tree blocking the road, one long wait as a digger built the road we were driving on (you know you are in South America when…) and one forced stop by soldiers at a random road checkpoint. Oh, and a completely flooded city with the streets of Monteria filled with water.

We found a cheap hotel, and then a cheap restaurant and enjoyed the novelty of watching the news in English. Watching Anderson Cooper on CNN after 3 months in a South American bubble was slightly surreal, and I realized just how consuming South America is – sudden reminders of life outside South America flooded me.

The next day was my last full day in Colombia. Just in case I’d thought that after 3 months in South America, things would go smoothly, it was another ripper of a day. Monteria may be the biggest city in the area but it is deemed unworthy of visiting by Lonely Planet and there is no mention of it whatsoever in tourist literature. It’s all fine and well to stay in a place foreign to the concept of tourists but it means that basic stuff associated with traveling, such as airport buses and information about how to get to said airport is not available. Despite Googling and searching our previously trusty friend, The Thorn Tree forum, we checked out of our hostel with nary an idea where the airport was or how we were going to get there. We asked the receptionist and she took us to a bus stop where we talked to a slurring man who we couldn’t understand. It was hot, our backpacks were heavy and we were surrounded by people arguing about what bus we should take, whilst taxi drivers hassled us to come with them. The unintelligible man was in charge of buses and kept waving his hands, shaking his head and muttering things we couldn’t understand.

Eventually, he waved us in the vague direction of a bus, we gave up trying to understand and decided just to get on and see where it took us.  So we hopped on the bus going somewhere we hoped included the airport and noted with some relief that the mumbling man muttered something that sounded vaguely like Aeropuerto to the bus driver. Trundling along, looking out for anything involving planes and runways, the bus filled up the point where Bea and I both had to lug our backpacks onto our laps to allow other passengers to sit down. Heaving 17kg on top of you and being unable to see over your backpack, therefore rendering it impossible to look out for the location you desperately need to locate was not ideal. I saw a sign with a name that resembled the airport’s name (the one piece of information we’d managed to find out from Google) and Bea asked the girl next to her. Lucky she did, as the bus driver had no intention of stopping and it took half the bus shouting him down before he let us off. You haven’t experienced fun until you’ve dragged an unwieldy, bulky 17kg backpack through a jam-packed crowded bus.

Off the bus, we discovered what the man had probably been trying to explain in his mumbles. The bus drops you off ages away from the airport and you need to get a mototaxi for the final stretch. One last motorcycle ride in South America, zooming through the tree filled street, only slightly weighed down by the backpack. Finally we arrived at the Airport. Victory! Between the bus fare and moto taxi we saved a grand total of 2000 COP (NZD 1.20) than what we would have spent on a taxi. We agreed at least we’d had one last South American experience, even if the taxi would have been a thousand times less troublesome.

Off to Bogota we went! Or so we thought, not allowing for the fact things are never as simple as they seem in South America. Despite our plane being scheduled to take off at 1.05pm, there was no indication of boarding or any sign our plane existed up until about 1.25pm. Eventually boarding after a delay, we sat on our propeller plane and prepared for takeoff, with the engine roaring and definite movement…before being informed there was an engine issue. The entire plane trooped off the plane, back to our old friend the departure lounge and Bea and I reflected on the all too real prospect of never leaving Monteria. After awhile, we were allowed back on our plane, which did not feel particularly secure anymore. We made it to Bogota alive and made our way to North Bogota where we were couch surfing.

Bea and Helen had stayed at the same place on their way up to Santa Marta and had enjoyed it enough that they made repeat visits. A flat with approximately 8 people (constant coming and goings meant even the flat mates didn’t seem positive), it was full of different nationalities and people doing all sorts of interesting things to scrape by in Bogota – English teaching, working as extras in commercials, hand modeling. One word of advice: always word your offer to help out with dinner carefully or else you may find yourself paying and cooking for the entire household and then cleaning up afterwards.

Bea and I shared a romantic night together sleeping together on an upside down couch. The next day Bea headed off to explore La Candleria, the historic center of Bogota and Team Beatrice parted ways once and for all, with me heading off to the airport for my next destination: Spain. My three months in South America had so many highs, coupled with one or two lows (the tragedy of my ankle springs to mind). I managed to make my way from Patagonia all the way up to Panama and got to visit a glacier, the Easter Island moai, ride a boat up and down the Amazon River and have sun, sand and fun in Caribbean Colombia. I spent my time in Chile and Colombia, but also managed to sneak in visits to Peru, Brazil and Panama. Sometimes, being in a Spanish speaking environment 24/7 and the frustrations that came with communicating in a foreign language for months made me want to bang my head against a wall but it was an absolutely amazing experience. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I can come back and explore other corners of South America, because it’s a pretty incredible place.