12 Hours on a Colombian bus

Checked into the Hotel Metropol, Ipiales about a half hour ago. Glad that the report I read was correct, there are two hotels directly across the street from the bus station.  Ipiales is 5km or less to the Ecuador border.

I’m pooped. Left the hostel in Cali 8:10AM. Got to the station just in time to catch an 8:30AM bus to Ipiales.  The bus company’s name: ‘Transipiales’. There were not enough passengers to fill a big bus, so they put a 15passenger mini bus into service. We pulled out of the station about 8:45AM.

Then the adventure started.  (Will post a few pics of the trip tomorrow, I’m too tired to slog through the process right now.)

About an hour South of Cali we were flagged over by the Colombian ejercito (army). The driver pulled over to  place that was far enough off the road to make it safe for the passengers. A man in full military field dress, complete with helmet, flak jacket, etc, instructed all passengers to exit the vehicle. The men were given a full pat down search. Had to stand about a foot and a half from the bus, then lean against the rear of bus with both hands. Many passengers were asked to present their ‘cedulas’ (ID).  I was patted down, most thoroughly around boots and legs, not too much around the waist, nothing above the waist.  It was conducted without much bravado, just routine stuff to these guys, I guess. When we remounted the bus (less than 15 minute stop) I asked the man sitting next to me if this was normal. He indicated in the affirmative.  Business as usual around here.

After being underway for about a half hour, the driver pulled over to the right of the road, slowly. I detected a ‘plunketa, plunketa, plunketa’ as we slowed to a stop. Flat tire.  Left front.  The driver went right to work, opened the rear door, lowered the spare, located the lug wrench and the jack and got right on it.  Our location was less than optimum. We were on a two lane road with speed limits around 50mph (80kmph). Trucks whiz by, a few serious road bicylclists passed. Most passengers got out to smoke or urinate in the grass, being very modest in choice of location and aim.  Having been a limo/bus driver myself for many years, I felt bad for the thirty something driver. His shirt was white and spotless.


Front left flat: done

A couple of male passengers and myself stood by and gave the driver both moral and physical support. A few stood their ground about a foot into the road from the curb, so as to give the oncoming traffic a clear picture that something was going on and that they needed to slow down and/or swerve a bit to miss us.  After the lug nuts were removed and the flat was taken off, I offered to position the spare on the hub. I was wearing jeans and farm coat. I said ‘permite mi, senor, usted tenge limpia ropa’. (please let me help, your clothes are very clean). He was surprised and pleased. All I really did was help a little. No less than the other folks.  Myself, the driver and one other man made quick work of putting the 8 lug nuts back on. The driver finished the tightening, lowered the jack and put the jack and lug wrench away. The other man and I rolled the flat towards the rear where the driver placed it back in the cradle under the carriage. All the luggage was put back in it’s place. We all reboarded and back on the road.  Total time, about 25 minutes.

An hour after putting on the spare tire, we were once again flagged over by young men in uniform. Almost the same routine. No pat down searches this time. All passengers had to produce a document, me included.  Another soldier boarded the bus while all the passengers were standing on the side of the road. We could see him do what appeared to be a thorough search of the passenger compartment. I asked if I could take a photo. To my surprise I was permitted to do so.  I took a pic with a couple soldiers and myself, I hold the camera at arms length and then estimate where the lens is pointing. Got a decent pic. Took a few more of the coffee and plantain growing across the street. Total time, about 15 minutes.

Another half hour later, the driver pulled into a service area. There was a small restaurant, and a llantero (tire changing man).  All the passengers once again exited the bus and by this time some were no longer smiling.  The llantero had all the tools necessary to change tubes, tires and can get whoever pulls in back on the road asap. He went right to work loosening lug nuts, employing his jack. The driver opened up the rear door, removed some luggage, and lowers the the cradle in which rests the flat tire. He rolled it over to the llanteros shed.  The llantero had the tire clear of the rim in minutes. I went to the restaurant and got a couple small containers of yogurt. I don’t like to drink anything when riding a bus all day. No explanation necessary.

FixingFlatHaving flat tire repaired… get food… and we fix flat tires

Took some pictures of the restaurant and a few of the beautiful terrain. It was a really nice day. No rain, only partly cloudy, not humid, in the 80’s F.  The tire guy had the tire repaired and was putting air in it when I returned from the restaurant. The driver told him how much pressure he wanted in the tire 60 (somethings… I don’t know if they use psi or not). The spare tire was returned to the cradle, the once flat tire, now repaired was placed back on the hub. The lug nuts were tightened. The luggage replaced in the rear. The passengers reboarded the bus, The driver paid the llantero.  Off we go again. Time spent: 30 minutes.

About an hour later we pulled into a bus station in a small city named Pastaza. A few people get out, a few get on. Total time at the bus station: 15 minutes. Off we go again, weaving our way through the city traffic. We had  been on the road (including all those stops) for four hours.  The driver looked  confident and happy to have the flat fixed and riding with spare. The bus was full. There were no empty seats.  I asked the man sitting next to me how long would it be before we get to the next bus station, where he was getting off, another city names Pasto. He told me 4 hours.  OK.  I glanced at  my watch, 12:30PM.  If there are no more unexpected stops, we should pull into Pasto bus station before 5PM. I knew that from Pasto to Ipiales was about 2 hours.

The driver negotiated the inclines and declines and  the never ending curves as well as anyone driving safely could. There were many other vehicles on the road.  Tractor trailer trucks, fuel hauling trucks, medium sized cargo trucks, pick up trucks, buses of many different sizes, a fair share of motorcycles, and a few cars.  We were often behind slower moving semi tractor trucks.  The road was only two lanes. Never ending curves, making for blind corners, cannot see around the corners. Never ending inclines and declines. I recognized some parts of the journey from having ridden this road on a motorcycle not more than two years prior.

We were making fair progress, the driver did manage to safely pass many trucks. Clearly, to do this safely in these road conditions, is an art.  We had been on the road for about two hours and… the bus pulls into a restaurant.  There are specific stops where the buses make arrangements to stop on regular basis. This was one of the ‘regular’ stops.  All passengers exit. Some go into the restaurant and order food. Some head for the banos (bathrooms).  There was an outside sink and single faucet to serve those who availed themselves of the bathrooms. For cabolleros/hermanos (men) there is a urinal trough positioned away from sight of the mujeres (women)  bathroom.

ArbolKapokReal Kapok tree in parking lot at rear of restaurant

I like to take advantage of being upright as often as I can while I’m on these all day bus trips. I ordered another two small yogurts and walked around outside.  I think I hit the ‘tracks’ function on the Spot device at this stop.  As I was walking around taking in the gorgeous scenery, I notice a uniformed soldier walking around in a field about 200 feet away from the restaurant. He was carrying a field radio. I could see him adjust the antennae and speak in the microphone and watched as he spoke and adjusted and listened. Looked like he was looking for better reception.  I thought to myself: “Just how many uniformed young men are lurking in theses beautiful hills?”  Unknown. I also do not know if it is necessary. I just don’t have enough information to form a judgement. I have heard (and read online) that there was a time, not all that long ago, when buses were boarded by armed men (revolutionaries?, I don’t know) and the passengers were robbed at gunpoint.  I have heard (and read online) that these occurrences no longer happen or are very rare.  I asked and was again surprised that I was allowed to get a photo of two more soldiers who showed up at the restaurant in full combat gear.


The ‘regular’ stop took about 45 minutes. Once again we were underway. This time the terrain became more curvy, and steeper. More traffic. Hence, we were going very slow much of the time. We finally pulled into the bus station in Pasto about 6PM.  To my surprise, all the other passengers got off at this stop. There was only myself and the driver left. I thought we might be taking on more passengers. That did not happen.  I was once again surprised (lot of surprises happen during adventures).

After having been parked at the Pasto bus station, the driver opened the door where the passengers get in, and grabbed my ‘carry on’ bag and pulled it out of the bus. He handed it to me, and a piece of paper. He then quickly  opened the rear luggage door and grabbed my other bag and said I should follow him.  We walked briskly towards another mini bus. It was now dark.  He handed off my luggage to a man who turned out to be the driver of another company. The piece of paper my original driver had handed me was a ticket for passage to Ipiales on this new (to me) bus.

I could understand the dilemma. I was the only passenger left on the bus I arrived on.  It would make economic sense for a company to not want to proceed 2 hours with only one fare and then have to return.  I could have objected… ‘Hey, I bought a ticket to Ipiales with ‘Transipiales’ …(the name of the company I bought the ticket from in Cali).  I didn’t make  squawk because  I really understood the maneuver. I don’t know whether the driver bought the ticket with ‘cooperativa integral taxis belalcazar’ (the new bus company) or not. Maybe this is standard operating procedure. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. What matters is I got to Ipiales in the time that I was originally quoted in Cali… 12 hours.

The trip of Pasto to Ipiales did take 2 hours. It was dark. The road conditions remained, up, down, back and forth.  The last hour the bus could not have been doing more than 35mph. We were traveling safely.  The driver pulled into the bus station in Ipiales at nearly 8:30PM. Departed Cali 8:30AM… 12 hours, as quoted.  Nothing to gripe about.  Adventures… ya just gotta love ’em.

Did hit the ‘I’m OK’ button on the Spot device while standing in front of the Hotel Metropol. Hope the message got sent.  If not, this is being sent through cyberspace… now.  I’m logging off as soon as it’s sent. I’m beat.


One thought on “12 Hours on a Colombian bus”

  1. Hi Rik,

    Your SPOT message was received as expected. Nice safe bus ride. That’s what I like.


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