Although I’ve always been a lone wolf, I do have two families. The family that I was born into and the family of travelers I continue to meet on my trips. We don’t know that much about each other. We almost never keep in touch. But whenever we meet up, we always have a lot to say. Nobody cares about our stories. We care about our stories. Most people hate to suffer. We will suffer if we have to. If you can tell me how to get to a place I’ve never been, I will sit and listen all night. If I can save you some time and trouble, I will do it for free. The young can learn from the old, but the old can also learn from the young.
It was strange for me to be staying in hostels at the age I was at. Most of my life had been spent in cheap hotel rooms. In America, at the moment, it was a necessity. In Colombia I could spring for a private room from time to time, but if I stayed in a dorm, could get by on ten dollars a day. What I needed was time to find a job and complete my song and poem galleries. So far, I hadn’t come close to finding a job, and my website was messing up what should have been an easy project. It looked like I might spend the rest of my life in a dorm. Either that or on the street.
The bus to Mompox didn’t leave until two-thirty the next day. That gave me three hours to kill after checking out of my room. At this point I’d developed such serious crotch rot from the humidity that I was walking like a barrel rider. I picked up some cream at a pharmacy, but applying it felt like pouring gasoline on a fire. I got to the bus station and just stood waiting for an hour, sweat dripping down into my shoes.
The assistant, or ayudante, was standing at attention outside the bus a few minutes before we boarded, and it soon became apparent he was new to the job and eager to please. The driver seemed to be hazing him. He had him sit in a little folding seat right next to him, and as we got underway, was trying to teach him the right way to clean the inside of the windshield. He had a little towel that he liked folded in a very specific way. Then there were two different cleaning agents to choose from. You had to know which one was right for the occasion. The assistant got up and had to stretch so far to reach across the window that his shirt came untucked from his pants. Apparently, the job he did was just OK. The driver had him do again, watching as he folded the towel from scratch.
It got dark early and the air-conditioning was cranked up all the way. My clothes had gotten damp from sweating so much, and suddenly I was freezing. For a long while we sat in backed-up traffic, due to construction they were doing, and then, when we reached an intersection at Cuatro Viento, got off the relatively smooth road we were on and began to journey down one that was riddled with potholes.
Right at that moment it started to storm. Lightning and thunder filled the sky, and rain came pouring down. The driver had the assistant working as hard on the inside of the windshield as the windshield wipers were working on the outside. All the time, he was talking on the phone, steering with one hand, never slowing down for anything.
When we reached a town called Banco, everyone got off the bus except me and a teenage boy. At this point the driver handed the bus over to his assistant. Mompox was supposed to be an hour away. It probably took us another two and a half hours to get there. The assistant got behind the wheel as rigidly as a missionary mounting a blow-up sex doll, and proceeded to drive, his white knuckles tensely gripping the steering wheel. We got behind a truck that wasn’t going more than thirty miles an hour, but the assistant never mustered up the nerve to pass it. When it finally pulled off the road and we could speed up, the assistant hit a pothole so hard it nearly buckled the bus in two. The teenage boy and I went flying and the driver swore in surprise. This was the teachable moment he’d been waiting for all his life.
The driver produced a headlamp and made the assistant accompany him as they went out and inspected the bus for damage. We must have sat there for twenty minutes. I think the assistant would’ve gladly resigned his commission at that point and handed the bus back over to the driver, but the driver made him finish the route. By the time we crept into Mompox, it was close to midnight. We pulled over by the side of the road and they told me we’d arrived. There were no lights, no station, nothing. I had no idea where my hostel was or how to get there.
Just then a man pulled up on a motorcycle. The driver talked to him and they called me over. The man took my suitcase and put it on his handlebars. I got on behind him, just as it started pouring again. That is why I travel. Racing through the rain, holding on for dear life, praying that you’re not being swindled. We pulled up in front of the hostel just as they were bringing the last chair inside. Although I didn’t see any horses, the room that they assigned me appeared to be a stall.