The Trip to Santa Marta


el CamionAlright, so I am now in Santa Marta, sweating my balls off and trying desperately not to itch my ankles. We just spent a long, very long 31 hours in and around the truck. And while I may have garnered some backpacker street cred by having been driven from Armenia to Santa Marta in a truck delivering oranges, it is not something that I would recommend. It was slow—slow—and the truck broke down at one point and had to be fixed in the mid-day heat. It also wasn’t the most comfortable of journeys in the world either, as I sat most of the way in the middle with the stick shaft between my legs. However, what can be said of the journey is that it was cheap.

It was nice sometimes to be able to take in the countryside at a slow pace, because the countryside here is gorgeous. It is literally green everywhere. Which isn’t surprising given that we’re in the tropics. But still.

We got on the camion at 6 in the evening on Monday. Franky, our chofer, loaded our luggage up into the back with the oranges, and off we went up the windy roads in the Cordillera Central. It’s interesting to think off all the runaway truck ramps they have in California whenever there is a steep downgrade, and then to compare that with the road out of Armenia. It is steep, windy, narrow, and there ain’t no runaway truck ramps, and about 90% of the car traffic on the highways here is trucks. Massive trucks, small trucks, trucks hauling pipes the size of a monument, trucks hauling fruit, trucks with military stuff. . . And the trucks will be passing each other right and left on these two-lane mountain windy roads in the heavy rain in the night, somehow slipping in right as another truck comes barrelling down the other way.

We stopped at midnight and Franky slept in the back for 5 hours while we attempted to somehow sleep in the cab as some insect made an annoying continuous chirping sound nearby, and the gas station blared reggaeton, and the dogs endlessly barked at each other across the town.

There are military and police (cerdos=pigs) everywhere along the roads, and you will see them searching trucks, buses, and cars everytime you pass one of their stops. Everytime we came up to one of these waystations, Franky would yell to us to put on our seatbelts, as he frantically grabbed at his, and we would grab it and hold it while passing by the police, and then promptly let it go afterwards. One time the police stopped us, and as one of the cops walked up to the driver side, Franky slipped him a quick bill, and we were allowed to drive off.

Another time, when we came up to a weigh station, Franky pulled off some spare tires he had in the back and loaded them into the car of someone he’d commissioned (friend? who knows), and we jumped in the car and waited for him on the other side while Franky got the truck weighed.

At 2:30 in the afternoon, something went wrong with one of the front wheels, and we waited in the shade of a nearby restaurant while Frank drove off on a motorcycle to get a new part. Even in the shade we were sweating profusely and eaten mercilessly by some unseen and unheard insect. Finally, at 5:30, the wheel was fixed, and Franky, covered in oil and sweat, cleaned himself off and ate before taking off for the final, long last leg of the journey. Apparently, when you are a truck driver in Colombia, you must not only be a good driver, but also nimble in dealing with the cerdos, as well as a mechanic, able to fix problems as they arise.

The road to Santa Marta was terrible—bumpy, potholed, incomplete—and loaded with trucks. I got whiplash a number of times throughout the night because I was so tired that my head would swing back without any headrest, and then snap back as I came to over a bump. At 3:00 in the morning, we arrived in Santa Marta. I washed my face, and a thick film of black exhaust came off, along with the accumulated oils and sweat.

I’m just happy to be here and not sitting in the cab of a truck.

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Author: manderson

I live in NYC.

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