Our rag tag group gathered for a field trip yesterday and together we sauntered off to Medellin after work. Ages 20 to 65, we ambled on board and cheerily took our seats on a Tramtam bus that was headed out of Amaga. The infectious salsa music rippled from the driver’s speakers and we cha-cha-ed up the hills, higher and higher, then back down into the valley, into Medellin. But for the most part I couldn’t stay awake. The constant jostling over unfinished roads combined with noxious diesel fumes concocts quite a powerful sedative. Luckily we were in good hands. Just about every bus on these roads is equipped with at least one photo of Jesus, a rosary and a dangling picture of your favorite saint, usually cozied up next to a pair of rather dejected-looking fuzzy dice, all of which clearly ensure my safety. And this seemed to be the running theme of our overnight field trip: Fun on Colombian transportation.
We were actually headed into the big city for two reasons: Alice, our resident Brazilian volunteer, is leaving for good this weekend, and secondly, Paola had a longtime friend from Miami coming down to Colombia for a visit. Celebrations all around.
Our first night in Medellin was pretty typical. And in fact, we went to a bar that could have easily been mistaken for that new restaurant in Colombia Heights. (Get it, Colombia Heights?!) The wait staff was funky; they wore tight jeans and glasses with chunky frames, and the place itself had walls of exposed brick and all sorts of repurposed lighting. It was a total hipster hangout.
Day two began the continuation of our transportation adventure. After hitching a ride on Medellin’s Metro Cable and walking through the large national park that overlooks the city, we picked up a lovely – empty – bus with cushy seats. Making our way to Santa Elena, we almuerzoed at a little café and then headed to a mushroom farm, run by a friend of Paola. After touring his place and fondling some button mushrooms we started walking down the road in the direction of Medellin’s south station – the large hub for busses. We successfully flagged down a bus from the same company that had graciously picked us up in the park, and naïvely thought we’d get the same 1,700 peso experience. Nope, every seat was taken on this one, and there were already two men standing in the aisle stubbornly claiming there was no more room to push back. Nonetheless, all 10 of us crammed inside and gripped obscure handholds as we made our hour-long descent. Dave, Alice and I were smushed into the front, sort of stradeling a man who was already sitting behind the gear shifter on the floor. He wasn’t too concerned though; he was more preoccupied with his girlfriend who had managed to snag the front seat, but was breathing into a plastic bag the driver hands out to people who can’t handle the mountain switchbacks and gravel patches.
Our group was going strong for a while. Then the speeding, swaying motion began to settle into our stomachs like an aching knot. I imagine it’s how people in steerage felt going over choppy waters. You’re stuck in a small space, you can’t see your actual surroundings, but you’re quite aware of the motion. Luckily – and it’s probably because there was a giant Jesus on the side of this bus – one-by-one we were able to grab seats as the locals got off. And, turns out, no one needed those complimentary barf bags. Way to go JC.