Andrew Evans is traveling by bus from Washington D.C. to Antarctica, and recounts a dangerous encounter while traveling through the Colombian Andes.
Not only did the Darién Gap throw a wrench in my plans for crossing into South America–the natural barrier between the two continents also marks a distinct break in the species of buses that I encountered. Panama represents the end of the migration of Blue Bird school buses from the United States, whereas the Colombian buses are all imported Chevys or big, fancy Mercedes.
My final leg through Colombia took place on a Bolivariano bus all the way from Bogotá to the city of Ipiales, near the border with Ecuador. The ride took some 22 hours and winded through some beautiful yet treacherous scenery of the Colombian Andes. Thousand-foot drop-offs were common on the right shoulder of the road, while on the left, steep cliffs climbed even higher. Signs for falling rocks were posted every mile or so and with good reason, as I personally witnessed a giant boulder fall and crush a truck traveling in the opposite lane.
The truck rolled over and was utterly demolished by the weight of the landslide. Amazingly, the driver and passenger were able to crawl out the window unhurt. But gasoline was spilling out of the tank and the engine was still running. Our bus driver was quick-thinking and, having parked our bus at the edge of the cliff, ran up to the truck, smashed out the windshield with his foot, then pulled the keys out of the ignition. In my opinion, this dramatic event required far more attention than hitting a cow, but we were off on our way within a few minutes. Blocking traffic on a precarious high mountain road can cause even bigger accidents, and so after clearing one lane from rocks, our bus driver hurried us back on the bus and we drove away. I don’t think I will ever see a “Falling Rocks” sign again and not think of that crushed truck.
We made it to safely to Ipiales the following morning and from there I grabbed a collectivo (a kind of shared minibus) to the border with Ecuador. Honestly, I was sad to leave Colombia behind–my trip gave me an amazing introduction to the country and I am eager to get back some day.
Andrew is currently in Bolivia. Follow his Twitter feed @Bus2Antarctica, and the map of his journey here. Bookmark all of his blog posts here, see videos here, and get the full story on the project here. Photos by Andrew Evans.