Leaping off the Bus

Wednesday, November 9, 2016 – 9:18 A.M.

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I went to rapolombia.

In order to save money (plane tickets would have been $450+) we (Michael, David, and I) bussed all the way to the coast of Colombia, to a city called Cartagena. But let me rewind to the beginning. Michael and I began planning this very on-a-whim trip with our friend Burge and had not considered anything other than buying a bus ticket for a 30-hour bus ride to Santiago de Cali, Colombia. The day before, we ran into David at the Rio Coca bus station and found that he was also planning to go and actually had a solid plan, as his host father was Colombian and had written out a thorough itinerary. Naturally, we latched onto David, but good ole’ Burge abandoned it

ip, so we had to move on without our fourth amigo.

That evening, we bought $70 plane tickets for a small part of the trip (between Colombian cities), and planned to meet at the Carcelén bus station at 3:00 in the morning. Yes, 3:00 A.M. I remember waking up at 2:00 after having gone to sleep at midnight and thinking to myself, What the hell am I doing?

But I quickly packed my backpack full of clothes, toiletries, and money, and met Michael outside of my host family’s apartment where he had arrived in a taxi. He, too, was exhausted, and I slid into the back seat next to him as he gnawed on cold pizza leftovers. From there, we went to Carcelén and boarded our bus at about 4:00 A.M. That ride lasted approximately five hours, and I chuckle to myself as I recall the trip now, because at the time I had no idea how horrible I was going to feel.

The ride was freezing cold, as the temperature dips very quickly at night in the mountainous areas of South America. I was shivering and uncomfortable the entire time, but after a few hours, the sun rose and warmed me a little. David slept peacefully most of the ride, and Michael enjoyed listening to music on his Beats headphones. Michael and I both especially loved the cavernous potholes in the road that caused the back of the bus to dip suddenly and leave us breathless for a moment. The unfortunate part of this ride in particular was that the bus stopped frequently to allow more passengers to board. Each stop meant that the bright bus lights flicked on and blinded us, adding to the effects of our grogginess. All we wanted to do was get off the bus.

From there, we arrived at a sort of truck stop where there were lots of vendors selling anything from fried bananas with cheese in the middle (yes, you read correctly) to plastic cups of chopped fruit (watermelon, mango, papaya, pineapple, etc.). We got a taxi and went to Ecuador’s emigration building, where we waited in line for about half an hour to get a “salida” stamp in our passports. Right after that, we went to Colombia’s immigration building to get an “entrada” stamp. We exited that building and were met by a small group of men with thick wads of U.S. dollars and Colombian pesos. We exchanged our money (and later found out that we’d been stiffed about $30 each – lesson learned!) and then took another taxi to the next bus station.

I’ll summarize this part since I could go on forever: The next bus ride lasted at least twelve hours, and then we had two more 12-hour rides after that, at night. David scheduled them this way so that we didn’t have to pay for a hostel, and at first I thought the idea was ingenious, but that was before I found out that I could not sleep on a bus. Especially a bus traveling through the sharply winding, bumpy roads of Colombia. Michael and I didn’t sleep at all, and this persisted through every ride until we became hopelessly nauseous. I tried several times to close my eyes, to change positions, to listen to music, to turn my music off, to eat junk food, to chug water, to think of a pleasant situation. Nothing worked.

By the time we’d visited Ipiales, Popayán, and Medellín (the cities we passed through to get to Cartagena), I was nauseous and exhausted to the point of tears. I didn’t cry, as I was actually too exhausted to even do that, but I felt like death. During the bus rides, I always had very nutritious snacks: Doritos, Snickers bars, Sprite, and chocolate wafers, so there’s no way that my diet contributed to my brief illness. But on the final bus ride (the one that took us to Cartagena, the coast), I was so close to crying. I was beyond frustrated with my exhaustion (over 72 hours without sleep), migraines, nausea, and most of all, the helplessness that I felt. There was literally nothing that I could have done short of leaping off the bus, so I did my best to discipline myself and calm down. While David slept like a beautiful coconut baby, Michael and I made several desperate diarrhea runs to the bus’s tiny bathroom while simultaneously trying to muster the strength to exist. As I said, the rides were an endless slew of bumpy turns that slammed us against the insides of the bus, and we made a sharp turn almost every five seconds. This meant that Michael and I stumbled aggressively into the bathroom, slammed the door, and toppled onto the plastic toilet. It’s a wonder that we didn’t get excrement on ourselves.

When we arrived in Cartagena, the first thing that I remember was the overwhelming intensity of the heat. I felt like I had stepped into an oven, and it did nothing to help my nausea. We got a taxi that took us to our hotel, and it took a good ten minutes to sign paperwork and show the owner our passports before she led us into our room. To my delight, the air conditioner was not functioning, so the room was almost as hot as it was outside.

We were beyond exhausted and struggling to function, so we lied on our beds and took a nap for a few hours. When I awoke, my entire body was wet and sticky and hot, my head was throbbing, and I actually thought that I was on the verge of fainting. We went and spoke to the owner, and she made a phone call to get someone in to fix our air conditioner.

Unable to sleep and still feeling like a million bucks, we decided to explore the city. We ate lunch, explored markets and stores, and enjoyed being in a new country before returning to our hotel. The air conditioner had been fixed! I collapsed onto my bed, took a shower, and slept.

The trip to Colombia consisted of nauseating bus rides, exploring different cities, eating lots of food (junk food galore), and enjoying a week away from school. I bought three cool shot glasses and a knitted bag for my friends back home, and when I finally arrived back home in Quito, I was absolutely relieved.

Without a doubt, this trip earned a spot in my top three most memorable adventures in Ecuador. The spontaneity of its planning still amuses me, Michael and I were ill for the majority of it, and I now have a great story to share when people ask about my study abroad experience. More than that, I shared an unforgettable 6-day journey with two incredible people who I admire and miss very much. Gracias, Colombia.

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