I stepped off of my plane into the humid Caribbean air confronted by a familiar regret regarding the next leg of my journey: another Latin American bus! In South America, it seems like on every single bus journey you’re putting your life into the hands of stock car racers who haven’t been told that they’re now driving a bus. On the steep-edged, sharp mountain curves, one often hears the questionable rumble of the pressure to the driver’s gas pedal — the result of which would test even an astronaut’s G-force tolerance levels. Bags on the ground and objects in the overheads are often launched across the bus in the seemingly gravity-free environment. The locals, who are quite used to the situation, carelessly continue reading the latest futbol news or bouncing their unbuckled kids on their laps. Speed limits seem like more of a recommendation, as drivers appear to have no issue passing police officers at top speed.
However, the bus journey to Columbia’s coastal treasure, Cartagena, that I was about to embark on didn’t seem to have the makings of a death road experience. The trip was only meant to take about two hours along a paved highway.
I climbed onto the bus with the two usual options: to look or not to look. The option of looking seats you comfortably at the front of the bus with full views of the highway, for better or worse. This option keeps you away from the bumps and oft-wretched smelling toilets in the back of the bus. It seems that no one told bus designers that if you put a toilet above the heat of an overworked engine, the cooking process would not have the greatest affect.
I headed to the back of the bus in order to avoid the terror of being able to watch how many near misses our driver could rack up, based on my assumption that the journey would be short (so no one would use the toilet) and smooth (due to the paved road).
As the trip progressed down the winding highway, I quickly realized that I had made the wrong decision. It seemed as though a fellow traveler was having quite the battle against a common Latin American travel foe: Montezuma’s revenge. A fight of which, according to the aromatic evidence, he was losing. Moreover, the driver seemed to have no true regard for the massive speed bumps that lay all over Columbia’s secondary highways. With each bump came a hard slam on the breaks in advance of contact, sending our strained faces into the back of the seats in front of us. This was followed by the bump at the front wheels and then a heavy foot to the gas pedal. By the time the concrete lump reached the back tires we were traveling near full speed. The force of contact would send me a couple feet into the air, and my Ipod (which was resting on my lap) to the ceiling. The back of the bus had all the makings of a bad rodeo.
About an hour into the trip, I decided to make the switch to somewhere in the middle of the bus. I was certain that I never wanted to make another bus trip in my life, and based on this driver’s skill, I wondered whether I would even have a choice. After many near misses and countless numbers of ongoing/outgoing passengers resting their backsides on my shoulder, I finally made it to my destination of Cartagena de Indias.