Well, that was almost disappointing. After all the fear-mongering about the road between Cartagena and Medellín, the trip was completely uneventful. Ellen and I left the hostel at 4am, giving ourselves an hour to reach the bus terminal on the other side of town. We were there by 4:15, bleary-eyed and grateful for the cafe con leche vendors, waiting eagerly for the breakfast vendors to be out. At 5:30, we boarded our bus, and were pleasantly surprised to be moved to the front seats (with the most leg room) to allow a family to sit together toward the back.
The bus ride was much more pleasant than we expected. The road was rough at first, gravel and full of potholes, but was kept in fairly good repair. General road maintenance seems to be handled by the local children, who were out on the highway with shovels, buckets of dirt, and big smiles for the drivers of passing cars, who were apparently supposed to tip them for their troubles. I suppose that’s one way to keep your kids out of trouble on the weekends!
The locals seemed to be industrious and creative when it comes to making money. Several vendors got onto the bus and gave the driver a free snack in exchange for the opportunity to sell their wares on the bus. They rode for a few kilometers and got off to catch a bus in the other direction back to their shop. Other locals had hoses by the side of the road and splashed the bus as an offer to wash it.
After passing through the rough stretch of the road, we got into the mountains, which were beautiful. The roadside and hills were dotted with family farms. There were pigs and chickens ambling across the highway, and little old men in cowboy hats riding very small horses or leading donkeys laden with baggage. It reminded me of the hills around Mastatal in Costa Rica, where we spent so much time on the farm.

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Can't decide if the farms here are poorer or richer. Most have more livestock than the ones in Costa Rica but less well-maintained homes.

Our best guess was that this last stretch of road was the one that was supposed to be dangerous. I suppose if somebody wanted to hold up a bus, they could knock a tree down onto the highway in the middle of the night and force the driver to stop. The road was busy in the middle of the day on the Saturday of a long weekend, but at 3am on a Thursday, it might be possible to get away with robbery on that road. We saw a fair amount of police presence, though – young men in military uniforms with automatic weapons – that made me feel that the road through the mountains was safe.

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Mountains near Medellin

We arrived in Medellín approximately on time – fifteen and a half hours after leaving – and found our way to a hostel. Once again, our first choice of hostel was full, but the wonderful lady at the reception desk actually moved her stuff out of her own private room so Ellen and I could sleep in her double bed while she was working overnight. Really, Colombians are amazingly friendly! While she was preparing the room, Ellen and I wandered out to a hamburger joint down the road, where we got burgers made from locally raised buffalo, with yucca fries dipped in garlic sauce on the side. This was a welcome change of pace after a week of variations on the same meal of rice, beans, salad, and fried fish that we had every day in Cartagena. While we were eating, the burger stand owner and another customer chatted to us about the sights of Medellín and the surrounding area.

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Medellin is a beautiful city built into a hill.

Overall, it was a wonderful day of travel. Part of the reason we liked it is because we had low expectations – when you hear something is terrible, anything better than that seems pretty good.

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