The backpacking road is full of surprises. Journeys of potential bliss can turn into freakish nightmares in a matter of minutes. Such was the situation I found myself in on a sunny Sunday afternoon staring out the window of a Colombian bus on a 22 hour journey towards Ecuador.
This border is critically acclaimed as one of the most dangerous in Latin America. An area where Colombia's 60 year old civil war has caused tens of thousands of people to "vanish", millions more displaced, a constant heavy military presence and a general uneasiness that rings throughout the area.
It was this ring that got me on my 22 hour bus trip ..... I fell into a burning ring of fire, I went down down down and the flames went higher, and it burns burns burns.....that ring of fire
It all started back in Bogota at the Platypus Hostel as I was stuffing the last of my belongings into my backpack. I was out in the courtyard in a hurry to say goodbyes to fellow backpackers that I had befriended during my brief stay. Familiar faces, smiles and waves. That goodbye blur on a Sunday morning in a foreign hostel. No one wants to really engage you, its too early, its Sunday, acknowledgements are sufficient. The unspoken backpacker code murmured and nodded. Respected.
This Dutch dude pokes his head out of the door, I reckonised his face hazily, I had seen him around, perhaps we had chatted, shared a few brews around the courtyard with the many other backpackers that stayed in the infamous Platypus Hostel in central Bogota. It was a Partypackers hostel, the type of place you meet some of the Gringo trail's interesting characters.
"Hey man, you going to Quito?! Good luck with that one, these will put you out hombre, its a long trip man, happy days" and with that he stretched out his hand, I reached out to the half opened doorway, the shady Dutchman hiding half behind it, not wanting to fully emerge into the bright sunlight streaming through onto the old colonial patio. I shook his hand, instantly noticing the press of a small packet in my palm at the same time.
"Sweet mate, cheers aye, good luck on your travels" and with that I was off. Two of my friends had risen in the morning and were brave enough to show me to the door and send me on my way. Sunday morning soliders they were. Only the previous night they had partied with me until the early hours, true Platypus Partypackers, now valiant as ever, escorting me to the street to send me on my way.
Goodbyes were brief, as they often are on the road. You meet so many people, I had numbed myself to the reality of the situation, I may never see these guys again. It had been an amazing journey across the Carribean ocean to Colombia and down through the countryside. Months of travel together and now a solem hungover goodbye on the empty cobbled stoned streets of downtown Bogota on a sunny Sunday morning.
Before long I was on the bus, belting into the lush countryside in the early hours of a relatively quiet morning for Colombian standards. We zipped past the outskirts of Bogota and into the green wider countryside of Colombia, or Locolombia as its often referred to by its inhabitants. I had the blessings bestowed upon me to sit besides a young women and her fat chubby son. El Gordito he became quickly registered in my inner thoughts spiralling out of control. He was restless. Big and burly. A right handful for his young mother. A notable presence wedged in between the pair of us.
"This little fatty bom bom is gonna piss me off" I caught myself quietly muttering out loud in plain english. And as if he heard my cue, he proceeded to drive his toy car up the side of my leg. A shy smile from the young mother and I found myself rebounding back her smile. He's cool, just a harmless youngster. I looked out the window from the aisle seat, only 21 more hours to go. Shit
End of part 1. Part 2 by the end of the week....its too long for one post, would get boring. Tune in for the finale, coming to a screen near you...