On October 22nd 1975 I was on a bus from Medellin to Bogota in Colombia.
This was not my first night bus but it was the first where the enormous scale of South America became clearer. I'd arrived in Medellin from Cartagena coming over mountains from the Caribbean into the deep bowl in which Medellin sits. But this was nothing compared to the ride to Bogota.
It helped that I chose to go the direct route via Rionegro, rather than on the more circuitous main road. The bus left after dark about 7pm and seemed to go straight up the mountain. After several hours of constant gears and serpentines I could still see the lights of Medellin almost below, as if from an aeroplane. Once we were on the other side of the ridge there were great mountain views in the moonlight. I nodded off in the end after Rionegro where the asphalt finished and the gravel began. At dawn the bus pulled to a stop where a huge tree had fallen across the road. No problem, a man with an impassive face, who had been sitting in the middle of the back row with a machete, set about chopping. After an hour or two of work the tree was cut and could be pulled off the road by a pickup with a winch. At La Dorada we joined the Magdalena valley, stopped for a tinto, the universal excellent black coffee of Colombia. Then we drove through fine scenery in the valley to Honda; there were gentle hills to the east, more eroded on the west, and lush grass for cattle in between with rich-looking haciendas and streams. At Honda we crossed the Magdalena over rapids in the narrow part of the valley and made the final ascents and descents and ascents to the more arid area around Bogota. The total journey time was seventeen and a half hours.
Medellin had been a curious place; it was part market town with primitive butchers and streets of bars with dubious looking women available, I've never seen so many bars; but it was also part a city with modern tendencies. I visited an art gallery, with its Picasso lithographs like any provincial gallery across the globe, and went to a concert-hall to watch a forty-piece orchestra play the Pastoral.
|The Rio Magdalena: picture by Anviatella, CC|
|Honda: picture by Anviatella, CC|
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