Now that I’d come up with some kind of itinerary for my trip, and was excited about visiting Putumayo, I went ahead and booked a flight back to Los Angeles from Quito on December 15th, just in time for Christmas. Even though the challenges waiting for me were greater than ever, it would make my mother happy if the whole family could get together, and I figured I’d just do what I had to when I got there. When I was at my depressed worst, my wish was to escape by somehow dying before then, but I realized it wasn’t going to happen just by pushing a button. If I had to take matters into my own hands, it probably wasn’t going to happen at all. Either I was a coward, or all I really wanted was to get out from under the pain.
The next stop then would be Cali, the capital of salsa music in Colombia. I was told I could just buy a ticket when I got to the station, which was good to hear since the station was far away and the traffic unimaginably bad. When I looked at my options it only made sense to take another night bus if I wanted to arrive in Cali during the middle of the day, as opposed to the middle of the night.
The next day then, I stayed in my room until checkout time, and then asked to store my bags with them until that evening. The guy at the front desk, Chico, was a good guy, an aspiring hippie from Leticia in the Amazon. If I hadn’t found out about Putumayo, Leticia might have been my next destination, but I’d never had a good feeling about it. It would’ve been too much money and too much hassle. I was happy with the lineup I’d stumbled across. All my projected stops were in the right order and seemed to make sense.
There was one last museum I wanted to visit, the Museo Nacional, and I had all afternoon to get there. Walking past the Plaza de Bolivar I saw that they were setting up a concert stage for some kind of political rally. I started walking in the opposite direction of the museum, just to kill time, through a very rough neighborhood, lined with graffiti scrawl and human excrement. Carrera 10 was a big commercial street with a large market on one side of it. I did see a mural of Gabriel Garcia Marquez on a high building, above the name of his fictional town of Macondo.
I arrived at the museum already short on attention, ready to be on the road again. It was once a prison, and that’s almost how I felt, trapped inside, trying to focus on artifacts beneath glass cases. They do have a great collection, and in a different frame of mind I could’ve spent a few hours there, but needed to walk more than anything and found myself just hurrying through.
When I got back to the Plaza de Bolivar the concert had started. That was more in line with my restless mood, but I really just wanted to go. The rally seemed to be in support of their president, Gustavo Petro, as a big-headed replica of him was making the rounds, giving hugs, and posing for pictures. I never found out the name of the band, but they must’ve been successful on some level, as everyone in the crowd seemed to know the words to all their songs. One old man behind me began clanging on a cowbell so enthusiastically I nearly went deaf.
When I got back to the hostel there were still a few more hours before it made sense to head to the station. I asked about the traffic and Chico told me it was always bad, night and day. I sat and talked to him while I waited. His dream was to own his own hostel one day, and build it from bamboo. There was an architect he admired in Bali who specialized in bamboo constructions, and he hoped to travel there and learn from her.
Around six, the girl at the desk called a taxi for me and when it arrived, the staff all came out to see me off. Even the owner emerged from her office, in her winter coat and wool cap, to give me a hug. She wondered if I’d gotten any information about the yellow fever vaccination for the Amazon. I told her I was now going to Putumayo, so it didn’t matter.
I got in the taxi, and we just sat there in traffic for over an hour. When we got to the station, I was worried about how much the fare would be, but it only came to five dollars. There was a bus leaving in a half hour and in the meantime, I ordered a chicken dinner for just three.
If I could live like that in America, I’d still travel as often as I could, but wouldn’t worry about returning. As it turned out, my greatest fear was being in my own country without enough money. Everyone there would rush to assure me that, yes, it was all my fault, seeing no value whatsoever in the experiences and writing I’d been accumulating my whole life. That had always been the case and would never change. Not unless I got very lucky.