Sunday, August 19, 2012

Take only pictures, leave only bribes!

To continue our trip with Mike, we left Ibagué on Tuesday morning, and started up "La Linea."  Here's the profile of the trip.  The vertical-ness is not exaggerated.  
La Linea is part of the main route for transport of commerce from Colombia's Pacific port of Buenaventura to Cali, then on to Bogotá, cities of 2.5 and 10 million respectively.  That means a lot of loaded semi's, winding slowly up one curvy road.
The views were huge, with mountains disappearing up into clouds.
Road signs were provided by the Colombian Department of the Obvious.  This one means "Dangerous Curves," and if one had been placed on each such bend in the road, you'd not see the views for the road signs.  
This one indicates the valor one must possess to pass over this particular bridge.
 La Linea finally topped out at 10,700 feet, but not before we had a full-blown CCE (Colombian Cultural Experience) at about 10,000.  And I'm not talking livestock here.
Waved over to a police checkpoint, I gladly opened the trunk, then the luggage, then the dirty clothes bag, then the shampoo bottles... Disappointed that he couldn't find any contraband, the police guy then brought me over to his 'desk' of sandbags, shaking his head sadly that he was going to have to give me a ticket for crossing the double yellow line.  "Huh?! Say WHAT?!!" Every single solitary vehicle on La Linea that day, and the day before, had crossed the double yellow line, including the old guy ascending on his bicycle.  
The police guy looked very sorry as he informed me of the $500,000 (Colombian pesos - about $300 US) fine that the ticket would bring, and that of course we would not be allowed to leave the country without first paying it.  "Wow!" I said, in nervous, not-so-good Spanish, especially since he was now in possession of our passports, my North Carolina driver's license and our Colombian ID cards, "I never recognized the infraction!"
"Well, what can we do here?" he asked, looking me in the eye.  "Uh, I don't know," I said, "What CAN we do here?"  Once again, he asked, "Señor David, WHAT CAN WE DO HERE??" I again expressed lack of knowledge of possible alternative actions.  Rolling his brown Colombian police guy eyes at the naivety of this gringo, and wondering how such matters are disposed of in the United States, he suggested, "OK, Señor David, you ask ME, 'What can we do here?'" 
As I did so, the light finally blinked on in my naive gringo brain - I was being hit up for a financial transaction that might not show up on the records!  "Yes, I see, officer, this matter will present difficulties!  Is there any way that I could, perhaps, possibly, maybe pay a portion of the fine here?"
Relieved that he had finally gotten through the language and stupidity barrier, we got down to brass tacks.  When I pulled out my wallet, he looked quickly around, his Colombian police-guy sensitivities highly offended, and led me around behind the sandbag desk where we could interact in a more civilized fashion.
Once the transaction had been completed, we continued onward into the clouds, topping out soon and starting down.
Our next CCE involved not recognizing the number of Texaco stations in Armenia, in the heart of coffee country on the other side of the La Linea.  
This was important when we couldn't find the little country-farm hotel where we had reservations for the night.  I finally called, noted that we were next to a Texaco station, and caught directions from the rapid-fire Spanish speaker on the other end.  We followed them exactly.  It didn't look like any little country-farm hotel we wanted to stay in.  ("How did they make those pictures lood so good?")
We finally figured out that the proper Texaco was somewhere across town, and found the "entrance."
However, once we got past the well-camouflaged entry, it turned out to be a great little place!
The rainbow was a good sign.
Everyone kicked back and relaxed, and no, that's chocolate she's drinking.
The next day, it was off to the National Park of Coffee, arriving by beautiful country roads.  We rode the gondola,
and the train around the park,
 and of course checked out coffee beans,
and strolled through some unbelievable bamboo,
and answered questions about appendicitis.  I am not making this up.
 It was a nice day in a beautiful place.
After a restful night back at the finca hotel, with cows mooing in the background, and little birds twittering, and crickets chirping, and ..... zzzzzzz... it was back up "La Linea," which was not as restful.  
They are gradually straightening out the road with bridges and tunnels, the work being due to be done in about ten years.  No, hold it.  That was the estimate about 15 years ago.
The final CCE was Thursday afternoon and evening in Girardot, at the comfortably warm altitude of 1,200 feet.  We stayed there in order to avoid a fine of (I'm not making this up) $500,000 Colombian pesos if we had been caught back in Bogotá with the wrong last number on our license plate for the day.  The Hotel Tocarema had been originally built in the 1950's, but had become a big place for narco-trafficker conventions before it was confiscated by the government.  Now, it's just a nice, old funky hotel with some great swimming pools, which after a water-activity drought of two years, Mike really enjoyed.
Underwater yoga.  The sessions were relaxing, but short.
A relaxed, warm evening, 
then back on the road to Bogotá.  Mike packed up that evening for the trip on Saturday to LA, then on to Provo to start BYU for fall semester.
All in all, a great ten days with Mike, and a chance for some CCE's.  He's excited to get back to school and see friends and get on with the next phase of life.  
We hope that your Cultural Experiences aren't as costly, but are as interesting.
Dave & Paula


Tabb and Michelle said...

Wow...not so sure I'd like to experience the adventures you had on that road. Very grateful you are all back to civilization safe and sound. Your son looks great and we wish him well on his next journey at BYU.

Dolly Pierce said...

Love the hat, Dave! Thanks for the views and the education as to what to do at a Columbian police checkpoint. I will need you to follow that up in Spanish, so I can be sure and practice before I go, as I am certain to be pulled over as I am a police magnet!

Teri Boulter said...

Glad that you were able to spend some time with Mike. Sorry to hear about the CCE's - exactly how much is a respectable Colombia bribe going for these days? And if you had some trouble understanding the espanol, we would've been arrested for sure!! Ya gotta just hold out your hand and count down...Remember You Are In Colombia!

Andy Taka said...
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