Thursday, 1 July 2010

Leaving Colombia, "My name is Fanny" (a 3 day bus journey through 3 countries!), and a $7 cold shower!

Hello everybody, wow, what an eventful few days, and things are just beginning to get busy! I have survived a 3 day bus journey from Bogota; Colombia, through Ecuador and into Peru to catch an overnight plane to Chile. There is so much to say about this! I also spent a fantastic last few days in Colombia, despite watching England get thumped by Germany in the world cup! A final birthday celebration was preceded by Friday's visit to a remarkable community project in the town of Bosa. With a lecture at the University of Chile scheduled for tomorrow, and then lectures at the University and a hospital in Santa Fe, Argentina on Tuesday and Wednesday, life is about to get very busy indeed!

So I guess I should begin at the beginning... that would be last Friday, and one final early morning rise in Bogota, Colombia was required to meet my guide for the morning. The meeting point - a shopping centre named the 'Boulevard of Dreams'. I was very fortunate to get a lift from a neighbour heading in the same direction, and then was met by my host, who's name escapes me for the moment, (you all know how terrible my memory can be!) So I was whisked away and required to speak Spanish only, for almost the entire morning. After completing the hour long drive to the city border, we reached the town of Bosa. I was taken to a little community centre, where a group of 30 or so people had formed a circle, which went quiet as we entered. I wasn't entirely sure what I had walked into, (obviously some kind of community group), but I was soon introduced to the group one by one, (in Spanish), and each member of the group gave me a little summary of their involvement. This community project was made up of OT's, Physiotherapists, people with disabilities and their families. The group acted as a link between the local hospital and the community, providing support for people and children with many kinds of difficulties. My informal translator was a lovely blind lady, who had me chuckling along all day. The big surprise was that after the 'meeting' we were treated to a spectacular show from one of the project's groups called 'Fantasia' (rough translation). This group specialised in dance performance, but many of the group mobilised using wheelchairs. Here's a few pictures from the show.

After the show I was taken to local OT, Physio and Speech Therapy practice to see their gymnasium and discuss briefly the work they were doing in the community. I briefly showed them my work in Vietnam and we discussed some of the differences in practice 'across the water'. I was then taken to observe an initial assessment of sorts, of a 29yr old blind lady who had no form of social support other than the little help that her family could offer. This was a very moving experience as sitting in this woman's bedroom, listening to her talk with the a project workers, and seeing her mother's emotions really brought home some of the difficulties faced by many people here in some South American countries. No financial assistance from the Government and lack of specialist widely available facilities means people are left to face life very much alone. This just showed the importance of such projects like the one I was visiting. People in the UK pay attention, this is the kind of situation you will almost never face!

The final couple of days in Colombia were spent in another fashion! Saturday was all about the 'official birthday party' at a restaurant/bar/disco in the nearby town of CHIA. Nearby meaning one hour away! Vibi, Alejandra, and myself were joined by some of Vibi's friends, and some surprise guests.. some of the OT staff from the ECR University that I had visited just over a week before! We were quick to have a bite to eat and enjoy the free tequila shot on offer at the entrance. But this place was all about the music and dancing! With Latino rhythms, some cheesy pop, and a touring carnival around the place, the music kept the party going into the early hours! Here's a few pictures to give you some idea!

I was also greeted by the carnival band with a rendition of Happy Birthday, and a candle lit cake, which after blowing out the candle, I was presented with a Colombian 'Miss world style' sash, and a crown! Oh I also got a present, which consisted of a comb, mirror with a religious picture of the virgin Mary (not sure about that one...), nail clippers and a Colombian wrist band! Not bad presents for a traveler!

Now, onto the journey of a lifetime, at least that is how it felt towards the end of the trip! I simply refused to pay $700 for a flight from Bogota to Santiago, nor the $520 for a flight from Quito, Ecuador, but I could stretch my budget to a $300 trip from Lima, Peru to Santiago, Chile. The problem was, how would I get to Lima? The answer.. a bus company by the name or 'Ormeno'. They traveled all over the place. But, and there is always a 'but' right? But... the journey from Lima to Bogota was four days & three nights. So leaving Bogota on Sunday evening would mean getting into Lima Wednesday afternoon, and my flight was Wednesday evening. Still, as money dictated I had little other choice I took the gamble! The coach was fairly standard (see below)

I hoped for no repeat of my Bolivian/Peruvian bus experience when a large Bolivian woman, with child and massive sack accompanied me for 20+ hours! I was more than fortunate to be sat with a Peruvian lady, who now lived in Colombia, and who spoke some English! I have to say though, when on day 2 she turned around to me and said "My name is Fanny", I was caught out from my usual calm demeanour, and on preventing a childish smirk from appearing on my face , I enquired as to whether she was saying that her name was "funny", or the Spanish equivalent of "Fanny", (as people often give me the English version of their Spanish name), or if indeed her name was really "Fanny". The answer was clear, as clear as the print on her identity card, her name was Fanny. (Stood next to me in the picture below). I do owe Fanny a few thanks as she was always keeping an eye out for me at the border crossings, in case of any problems! So thanks!!!!

As the bus journey took us through the stunning mountain terrain in Colombia, I was beginning to think that the journey might not be too bad.

Of course the questionable choice of DVDs totally in Spanish was one source of entertainment, as was the forthcoming border crossings! The first border crossing, from Colombia to Ecuador was always going to provide a little unease, and so it proved as a few of the passengers (who had minor infractions eg, stayed one day too long etc...) were taken to one side, by the seemingly dodgy guys hanging around outside the office and offered a passage across the border for extortionary amounts of money, or so it was translated to me. We managed to get to Ecuador with all the passengers on board, and the landscape soon changed from mountains to green plantations, and rice fields. Here's a few pictures from Ecuador...

So as the journey entered day two, I was staring to feel the need for a proper clean, though the only places we stopped, were places with questionable hygiene standards, simply cleaning your teeth could have been considered an 'extreme sport' in certain stops! With little chance of a shower I had to resort to washing quickly in the sinks! The road side food was cause for both concern and much 'bus bonding'. Both as an opportunity to chat to fellow passengers and the health risk from eating potential road kill was a cause for much discussion.
(See below, pictures from Peru! Mental note, don't order the chicken)

I make light of the food, but it was actually quite good, in fact just yesterday morning, Day 3/4, I had goat meat for breakfast, with rice and salad, and it was lovely. I had had a few nice conversations with fellow passengers up until the half way point of the journey, that is when the main social event of the trip occured. One of the passengers, a rather colourful girl, both in character and appearance, had a full on argument at a little road side cafe, after she complained that her food was too spicy, so she didn't want to pay for it. She was not shy about having a blazing row with the cafe owner, who was trying to point out two details, firstly, that in Peru, that is how the food was cooked, and secondly you can't eat half the of the food, and then complain.. fair point really... the ensuing loud and quite comical scenes had all of us laughing away at both the girl's funny comments and the cafe owner's indifference to her customer's complaint! Once back on the bus we all engaged in some banter at the scenes we had just witnessed, this event has stimulated a mass bit of bus banter which continued into the next hour as we (collectively) tried to decide what DVD we were going to watch next... true democracy in action. I began to notice something, after half an hour at least of discussion about which DVD to watch, the objective of the action had changed from 'choosing a DVD' to simply having some 'group social interaction' with people who you would most likely never see again once you stepped off the bus,what a great thing it was to observe and participate in. A DVD was eventually chosen, by which point many people were now getting ready to sleep for the night!

So as the sun set

and night fell the bus began to settle for the final night of 'bus sleep'. The following and final day was enjoyed with quite special scenes of Peruvian moutains running directly along the coast line, (see below)

...a quite fitting end to a memorable journey!

So after a late (ish) arrival in Lima at 1600 instead of 1200, I was in no mood to hang around with a flight just a few hours away. Finding a nice taxi driver who isn't trying to rip you off has been a difficult task here in South America, (when I'm alone), so I was amazed to find a nice guy to take me the hour long journey, in traffic, to the airport. I even excessively tipped him, as he made the journey very pleasant with nice chat and some chilled out music! So I was now at Lima airport with a couple of hours to spare...I remebered they had a little massage place, but first thing first.. I need a shower before getting on the plane, in fact I was pretty sure they wouldn't let me on the plane anyway unless I could clean myself up! I asked at information, but with no offical public showers I was fast losing hope. A friendly information staff guy, took me to the 'Spa shop' who 'kindly' offered me their shower. I say 'kindly' because they were chraging $7 for the shower, and it was cold water! My cold shower training had finally paid off, as I dumped my big dirty rucksack in the expensive looking shop, and enjoyed the 'free' use of a bathrode, flip flpops, soap and shampoo, and finally felt half human again! A massage and McDonald's followed the shower which allowed me to check in with at least some dignity and a full stomach!

Here's quick video snippet of the trip.. (the start)

(getting on...)

(feeling the pace)

(it's over!. finally made it!)

Hope you have all enjoyed the read!
Regards from Chile


  1. you got some good pics here dan dan

  2. great blog! i've spent many moons in south am, mainly ecuador and colombia. it is a magical land that keeps pulling me back! after much ado i'm just now starting my MSc OT degree, exciting but scary (studying the winter away as opposed to spending my hard earned dollars galavanting in magical lands)! I came from an enviro studies background and after my travels, experiencing heart breaking realities of how challenging life can be for those disadvantaged in the developing world i became drawn to helping people. as much as i was interested in int'l development + enviro, I felt that the people must be considered first before any sustainable enviro change can really happen. it's so interesting how it's just all connected... and everyday i'm reminded of this.... and OT is the bridge! i'm excited to bring OT international when i graduateI, linking facets of OT, environment (like the nature kind) and development. hope to read more about your international OT adventures! cheers, Alana