Thursday, January 2, 2020

Our hair-raising drive through the Andes

The steep, narrow road through the Andes curved left and right and left again—no wonder people got carsick—and, without guardrails, those drop-offs took my breath away.

Every few moments the driver blasted his horn and we bolted forward. He used his brakes as often as his horn.

Buses and cars careened toward us down the mountainside and around corners.

Drives through the Andes were the stuff of legends—not myths, not made-up tales, but the histories of dozens of families. (If you missed recent posts about terrifying trips, click on Of Andean hairpin turns: I tried to stifle my hysteria and No, no, no! Don’t look down!)

Today you could sit down with anyone who spent time in Lomalinda and he’d tell you hair-raising accounts of journeying through the Andes—stories about upchucking, of long delays due to mudslides, other delays at police checkpoints, and reports of filthy restrooms along the way.

But especially you’d hear stories about the dangers of the trip: appalling road conditions, no shoulders—only drop-offs. You’d hear about urgent prayers for safety. (If you missed it, read No, no, no! Don’t look down!)

So there I sat in a van-type taxi with Dave and our kids, ages four and six, careening down those infamous roads.

I tried to stifle my hysteria, but Laura wasn’t fooled. She was returning to Lomalinda after studying Spanish in Bogotá for the summer and knew the route well.

“We have such a good cab driver,” she said. “He’s driving more cautiously than usual because he has new seat covers.”

What? A good, cautious driver?

And what did new seat covers have to do with anything?

I must have looked frantic because Laura hurried to explain, “He doesn’t want us to get carsick all over them.”

Rattan furniture for sale in the Andes
High in the mountains, we saw houses smaller than those near the city, patched together with scraps of wood, bricks, sheets of metal or plastic. Emaciated dogs poked at ever-present trash.

The longer we traveled, the fewer houses we passed—shacks made of boards or branches, dirt floors, gaping holes in walls. Chickens and pigs meandered in and out. Metal signs, fastened to homes or fences, advertised Lux Kola or Alka-Seltzer.

Some places displayed bananas in front, or papayas, or hand-crafted rattan furniture in hopes travelers would stop and buy. Children played in yards. Laundry, draped over bushes, dried in sun that poked through fog.

Our driver slowed and pulled to a stop. Uniformed men approached.

A potty stop in the Andes
“Don’t worry,” Laura said. “This is a checkpoint. They’ll look through our bags for drugs or weapons.”

The cabby got out and showed them his receipt. They poked through our luggage, without really looking, and they were finished. The driver hopped back in and we resumed our journey.

Sometimes we spotted shacks hugging steep mountainsides. Crops clung to land that appeared too steep to navigate, let alone cultivate.

Luxuriant tropical vegetation surrounded us—hibiscus in red, pink, and white; leggy poinsettia trees in full bloom; carpets of flowers in orange, magenta, and gold. Coleus, tall and crimson, grew beside the road, and philodendrons and other tropical plants I couldn’t name—all nestled among the Andean forest.

“Watch now!” Laura called. “You’ll see something special!” (from Chapter 5, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir).

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