Day 8: Travel from Hell (Bogota to Salento)

I had a super early flight from Cartagena to Bogota. I was trying to decide which place to go – San Gil or Salento so Bogota was a better place from which to decide. San Gil was more adventurous, but I really wanted to see the coffee region. As soon as I got into Bogota, I made my way to the bus station. I have been pleasantly surprised by Colombian transportation. It’s more frilly than I expected and way cheap. Plus, you can barter your ticket. Mine was supposed to be 22.000 pesos and I got it down to 19.000.

I got myself a little something to eat – a carne empanada and a tea. My bus was about to head out so I got it to go. Chomping away on my empanada, I took my seat. Strong wifi, a personal entertainment sysyem for every seat, and a reclining seat that almost lies flat. Word! A few hours into the supposedly seven hour trip, we were still stuck in Bogota traffic. And that’s when it hit me…

My stomach started to cramp like crazy. At one point I was doubled over in pain. Then I felt clammy. I rushed to the back of the bus and vomited in the toilet as the bus bumped along the road. Thankfully, it was a fairly empty bus, so I was able to sleep on the seats nearest the bathroom. However, we hit our four hour mark and the bus driver came to wake me. Apparently, there was a huge crowd coming on the bus. I returned to my seat (five rows from front and by the window) and tried to get comfortable. However, every movement made my stomach cramp harder. And then along came every person from this village and their child under the age of five plus all of their belongings. The empty bus became wildlycrowded and claustrophobic in the span of 10 minutes. I was in pain and all I wanted was to sleep. At least sleeping I wasn’t cramping.

Then twenty minutes after we started up the mountain, we stopped. And the driver came out to tell us there were road closures and we had to stop the bus and get off for an unforeseeable time. At the little village we were stopped at, I bought toilet paper and four bottles of water. This super sweet young couple could see I was in a lot of pain and offered my mints and medications. That stop, I was actually a blessing considering I was in the bathroom every five minutes.  It was hot and I was at my most miserable. I knew I couldn’t eat anything, but I was worried about dehydration. I sat on the curb and tried to ignore the smells coming from the restaurant behind me. About 40 minutes later, we were back on the bus. I thought the worst was over until I realized that when the driver indicated road closures he meant that a whole side of a mountain was closed off and traffic was being diverted to our side of the mountain. The road-side workers would stop our traffic and let people down the mountain for 20 minutes and then let our side go up the mountain for 20 minutes. This went on for about 40 km. Needless to say, our 7-8 hour ride turned into 16 hours.

I was in so much pain and continue to moan all the way up the mountain. Thankfully, I had nothing left in me and was able to just sit and sleep for most of it, but every once in a while, the craps returned full force and I would double over and moan. The poor woman beside me kept side-eyeing me and crossing herself. I think she thought I was possessed by the devil. When we finally got into Armenia, I was so frazzled that I literally gathered all of my belongings in my arms and heaved them out the bus door, following behind. I sat and put everything back into some sort of order. I’m sure I left my seat a complete mess on the bus, but I was so sick I really just didn’t care. I also decided that I was taking a taxi to Salento. You can either pay for another cheap bus ticket, which takes an hour from Armenia, or pay 68.000 pesos for a taxi. However, be aware that the taxis have to stop and ask permission from their company to go outside of the jurisdiction of Armenia. That took another 20 minutes.

My taxi driver was practicing for the next grand prix because he broke sound barriers to get us from Armenia to Salento. Going up and down the mountains at break-neck speeds was not great for my already upset tummy, but I was also secretly glad that I was going to get to the hostel in record time.

My hostel was a bit outside of the city center, and of course my taxi driver got confused and lost, but once we made our way up the gravel road, I knew it was going to be fine. At the very least there was a bathroom and bed waiting for my tired and sick body.

Addendum: It took about two weeks for my digestive system to get back on track. I went to the doctor in Uruguay just to check everything out after dealing with cramps and diarrhea for eight solid days. Everything turned out to be normal. They think it was a bad case of Campylobacter enteritis that needed a bit to get out of my system. I have been all over the world and leave it to a freaking carne empanada from Bogota to give me my first case of food poisoning! Jeez!

Advice for traveling to Salento

  1. Don’t take a bus unless you have ample time to spend on it. It will be late and take forever regardless of road closures.
  2. Don’t eat the carne empanadas before you travel.
  3. If you get car sick, skip Salento altogether. The entire way is up and down windy mountain roads and they do not slow down for those curves!

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