Today marks my seventh or eighth living in Hotel Caribbean Gold here in Barranquilla. I took off from Taganga on Saturday with the feeling that I had seen enough of the overpriced section of coastline. Michael and Liz decided to catch a boat into Tayrona National Park, but I backed out at the last minute. The more I learned, the less I was interested; the boat ride was $25 each way, I would have had to buy a mosquito net, there was no outside alcohol allowed, and not a hell of a lot to do in the park anyway. My cheapskate alarms were blaring. I didn’t want to go get trapped in the Colombian jungle battling sunburns and mosquitos while paying monopoly prices. I said goodbye to Michael and Liz and loaded my bike up.
On the way out of town I pulled over to pick up a bottle of water. As I stood there pouring it out into my Nalgenes, a German hostel owner wandered up and started asking how I’d ever made it all the way here from Washington. I explained the adventure and we talked about his hostel for the next five minutes. Soon enough he saw the sweat pouring off my brow and sent me off with these parting words, ‘Remember, it’s Saturday… half the drivers are drunk.’ Good to know.
The ride back really got me thinking about the roads here. Thirty miles into it I was on a two-lane road. About 500 yards ahead were two semi grills coming at me, one passing the other in my lane. Instead of completing the pass by the time our trajectories met, though, both semis simply held their ground and ran me into the shoulder at 60mph with my middle finger flying high. It’s disgraceful how little respect they show for other drivers here. It’s not just high speeds either. People will park their cars in whatever lane they feel like for whatever reason they feel and the rush hour traffic behind them just deal with it. All the other cars lay on their horns as long as it takes for the parked car to budge an inch so they can get by. There is absolutely no sense of sharing the road here and it is driving me to insanity.
So far, I’ve noticed this ‘neighbors be damned’ sentiment throughout most of Colombia. Saturday night here in Barranquilla the hotel hosted a wedding on the roof. The music only got louder and louder through our half-pane window until it finally shut off at 3:30am. The same thing happened in Taganga on Thursday night. Everywhere I go around here, no one gives a shit about the faces they can’t see.
I know I’m a foreigner looking in and there are some things that I just won’t be able to wrap my head around. I’ve also been trapped in the same place for two weeks now gasping for fresh experiences. But having witnessed Alex getting hit by an out of control box truck within the first 100 miles of Colombian roads, it’s no wonder I’m agitated. The Irish girls in Santa Marta (who have been traveling just three weeks) were telling me that Argentina paled in comparison to Peru and Bolivia. They said it was too modern and lacked the authenticity and quaintness of its neighbor countries. I tried to explain to them that the third-world starts to dig at you after four and a half months. They said I didn’t appreciate the culture enough. I told them that riding a motorcycle provides more culture (especially the dirty side) than their bus rides and bar tabs could ever uncover. We never met eye to eye. In the end I looked like an elitist American pig and they exposed themselves as rubbernecking tourists. The point is the third world is wearing thin on me. I probably just need to get back on the road and start making progress, but more than anything I’d love to just hit a four-lane freeway and not worry about bicycles, pedestrians, or cows crossing every hundred yards. Maybe I just need to get out of this 90% humidity 85F degree heat.
Tomorrow, Tuesday, we hope to get Al’s bike back. Just to twist the knife a little further in my side, the process of getting the bike released has been long and drawn out with seemingly very little effort offered by those who could help. Tomorrow Alex needs to sign a paper saying he won’t come back seeking reparations in the future. Trust me, I don’t think either of us will be returning to Barranquilla any time soon.
As soon as we get that bike we’re blasting south to Bogota to pick up Kristi. I expect my mood to change on the way. The boys told us that their ride through the mountains was an absolute highlight of the entire trip. We’ll be hurrying, but taking plenty of time to smell the roses.