Popayán to San Agustín and 5 Pit Stops

The woman told me that the journey would take between four and six hours depending on the weather.  She also said that we’d be stopping for lunch.  I expected one stop.

From Popayán, the 10:30 am bus bound for San Agustín didn’t actually leave until 11:30 am.  I never figured out why we left an hour late, nor did I try to find out.

The engine finally started when I had two seats to myself.  The only other person with this luxury was the girl right behind me.  Just as we were about to set out, a family of four joined us.

For a short while a little girl was sitting next me.  The mother and one-week old were right behind her. The father stood, until the conductor came and told him that he’d have to sit.  So he sat squashed up against me with his daughter on his lap.

For the first two hours or so the little girl rested her sleeping head on my arm.  Somehow I managed to nod off for intervals at a time. In between naps I gazed out at nature as gorgeous as any I’ve ever seen.

Our first pit stop was minuscule and uneventful, yet necessary.  We stopped to fill the tank at a roadside station on the outskirts of Popayán.

After the little girl woke up, the father gave her to the mother in exchange for the one one-week old.  He cradled his infant tightly while we rode through stretches of rocky road.

I guessed that the man was used to taking this route as he and his family were on the way to their remote town a couple of hours past San Agustín.  He joked about how he couldn’t wait to get to the other world.  The other world was his way of describing sleep.  The man was sleep deprived.

I didn’t ask why he was traveling such a distance, on such a bad road, on such a crammed bus, with such a young human being.   My assumption is that this is the norm.

Parts of the long mountain stretch were paved while other spans were made of dirt and rock.

Our second pit stop was for lunch and the use of a bathroom.  I kindly asked for just a soup and salad in lieu of a set meal loaded with flesh food.  They charged me 3,000 COP or $1.68.  I thought: What a bargain. I’ll take this delicious and nutritious combo any day.

After about half an hour we set back off onto the compromised mountain road.  The baby slept the whole way, held by his exhausted father, while I looked out at rivers, waterfalls, lush valleys and cloud forests.

Our third pit stop was a complete surprise.  A tractor that was ripping up the countryside had just gotten stuck, blocking the entire road.

Not the passengers, the driver, the conductor or workers seemed stressed.  On the contrary, they were all laughing and joking about the situation.  Of the six workers at the immediate scene, no one had a clue what to do.  There didn’t seem to be a great sense of urgency either.

You can see that somehow the back left wheel became elevated.  The only mode of transport that could get around the tractor was the motorbike.   About seven or eight of them passed while we were stranded.

Eventually an engineer showed up.  After about 20 minutes he had the tractor unstuck.

As soon as the tractor moved the conductor and everyone that was outside of the bus hustled back into it.  All of a sudden there was a sense of urgency.  We were off in an instant.

We ended up stuck on a dirt road in the middle of the mountains for about two hours.

The fourth pit stop occurred less than half an hour after finally getting past the tractor incident.

The bus pulled over and on came an ejército or army soldier.  He explained nicely that we’d all need to get off the bus for body and bag searches.

They had people spread up against the bus for body searches, while checking bags on a table.

I just stood around and watched.  I asked a fellow passenger next to me if he thought anyone would mind me snapping a photo.  He gave me a wry smile.

I snapped only this shot of the scene.  I didn’t want to push my luck.  The instant I saw the flash I thought: Why didn’t you turn the flash off?  And I hardly ever talk to myself like that.  Regardless, it didn’t matter.  They didn’t notice.  It was as if I was invisible.  I looked at my fellow passenger and told him that I thought it’s probably best to get this thing back into my pocket immediately.  I got the same wry smile as moments before.

I just stood around.  I didn’t volunteer for a body or bag search.  Eventually, one of the four soldiers said something along the lines of:

Did we get everybody?  OK!  Thank you so much for your time.  We’re very sorry to bother you.  Have a great day!”

NOTE: There were lots of bags including mine, in the bus’ trunk.  The men didn’t even think to look there.  My guess is that they were just following procedure.  According to many Colombians I talk to, these army guys are the good guys.

I’m told that there’s still a civil war here and that it’s just picked up a little bit of momentum in this area.  I also heard that there are many guerrillas up in the mountains not far away.

On the 123 km or 76 mile and five hour ride from Popayán to San Agustín, I must have noticed around 10 military checkpoints.  Only that one made us stop.

A couple of hours later our fifth and final pit stop happened out of the blue.  We stopped on a dirt mountain pass, and an air hose was procured from someone’s small home.  The conductor put air in one tire and we were off again.  This fifth and final pit stop before arrival was minor and insignificant.

We finally arrived in St. Augustine at around 7:30 pm and I thought: I’m glad that I left in the morning.  I’ve got to continue to drift during the day.  Daylight pit stops beat the night ones, and I prefer to have the option to view scenery.

–   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –

The journey that typically takes five hours took eight this time, and not because of bad weather.  That included all of the pit stops.  The crammed yet picturesque journey cost 30,000 COP or $16.84.


11 responses to this post.

  1. Reminds me of our long travel because we took a bus too.We stopped for lunch and dinner, tractor inspection,road and bridge construction, and security inspection. We just arrived home yesterday. 🙂


    • DABAWENYO: Sounds to me like the Phillipines is developing maybe a lot like Colombia is. There are pros and cons to that. My guess is that the people there are patient when being slowed down on a long journey just like here in Colombia.


  2. Great post, I enjoyed reading about your fellow passengers, especially the man who was looking forward to ‘the other world’. I’m interested when you say you don’t usually talk to yourself like that, by that do you mean you don’t berate yourself? Just curious… 🙂


    • SARAH: Thanks! Yes the other world makes sense well.
      Berating is not a good thing. I feel that when we make mistakes we simply need to suck them up and learn from them. That’s what I usually tend to do. The problem here is that I often forget to turn my flash off. It’s happened in museums hardly a problem there just a mild embarrassment but in this case not turning off the flash increased the risk of the army guys noticing. This may have caused an unwanted problem; so I mildly berated myself for an instant. 🙂
      Now I need to use a Flash Off mantra to help make it a habit for those situations when I don’t want to be noticed…


  3. If you come back through Cali, get ahold of me. We can have a cup of tea, id love to hear some of your stories. Cheers!


    • HEREANDTHERE: Sounds great! I think I just missed you by the time I got to Popyan from Cali. Right now the tentative plan is to head south to Ecuador, but the keyword there is tentative, nothing is for sure. Anyway, would love to hook up for some therapeutic tea eventually…


  4. Lunch did look delicious! Thanks for another intereresting post.


    • SANDRA: Yes the soups are especially good and a staple food here. Cilantro grows wild. Every soup I’ve had so far has had a genrous amount of fresh cilantro dropped into it, talk about flavor. Colombia has taught me that cilantro is divine.


  5. Posted by Mamma on February 22, 2012 at 23:20

    Thanks for another interesting blog post! Take care and be well!


  6. Posted by Al on February 22, 2012 at 22:24

    Another cool journey… Drifting through new places can turn an otherwise routine or boring trip enjoyable, right? Same with that army inspection -cool!


    • AL: I got a great view out the window so the stunning vistas eliminated any transport boredom. The tractor and military encounters were travel surprises that slowed us down. The moral of the story: Never expect that you’re gonna get somewhere on time and if you do then it’s a bonus.


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