My plans to go to Bucaramanga for the weekend were cancelled at the last minute. I had an open invitation for the weekend to visit a friend in his home town of Ibague so I took it. The ten hour ride took me through some beautiful scenery and nauseating turns. When I finally arrived at the Ibague bus terminal my buddy and his family were all waiting at the gate. It was dark and there wasn’t really much to see, but they told me all about where we were anyways.
To make a long (and boring) story short, my friend Alberto showed me around the town for a couple of days. The city was generally dirty. The people were neither welcoming nor offensive, they seemed to just ignore that I and everyone else existed. There was nothing beautiful and nothing horrible. In general, there was nothing worth risking the constant rain to take a picture of. Practically the only picture I took there was of these cows who ran across the field to come see me as I approached their fence while out site seeing the countryside.
Honestly Ibague, Colombia wouldn’t have made it into this blog had it not been for two specific stories.
To Hell With Waiting on the Gubment!
So nobody spoke English and they didn’t actually speak those words, but it was all I could think of when I arrived at Alberto’s house to find his step-father and neighbors tearing the road apart to get to a busted water line. They had already dug the four foot deep hole and were almost done fixing the broken line. I thought this was simply awesome until 3 days later when they were still trying to replace the shutoff valve they had broken while fixing the broken line. After 3 days they finally decided to higher a plumber. But they get mucho kudos for that badass DIY attitude.
Here’s a photo of my buddy trying to dig the hole back out after a part of the road filled the hole partially back in.
A Colombian Meets a Tourist Trap
On my final day in Ibague, Alberto’s family decided to show me around the countryside and the small pueblos in the areas. I didn’t know it yet, but the plan was to take the major highway up to a certain point and then work our way down on the back roads. We drove for about four hours on the highway. I tend to get sleepy in cars when I’m not driving and I was dying for a nap. Every time I was about to nod off someone would jolt me back to life by excitedly telling me some bit of trivia. It was usually to show me another rice field and it was getting old.
We finally stopped for lunch at a place that was something like a truck stop meeting a flea market. There was an open concrete courtyard with a covered dining area. Surrounding the dining area were rows of venders with various dishes and roasted animals on display. We sat at a table and ordered a meal. When I finished my slice of beef, rice, soup, and salad, I took off for the open courtyard for a smoke.
As I stood there enjoying my post meal cigarette, a young lady with a child showed up. She began to speak and I tried to discern what she was telling me. Recognizing my struggle, she switched into English and started over again. Before she had gotten very far in her speech Alberto appeared beside her. As quickly as before, she started her speech over again in Spanish for him. After a couple of minutes of yapping, Alberto explained that she wanted me to buy her daughter lunch. I was not thrilled about this idea but Alberto encouraged me to do it and said that he would explain the circumstances later. So I asked him point blank if “he” wanted me to do it and he said yes. So I offered to buy the little girl of about 7 years old lunch.
Of course it wasn’t that simple. Then the mother asked me if I would buy lunch for her as well. The lunches were cheap and Alberto was completely fooled by this lady, so I bought her lunch too. I didn’t want to come off as too big of a dick head in front of Alberto and his family, especially since he didn’t realize this was a scam. Besides, I’d always rather give food than money.
So the young girls went to a bench and ordered two meals. Alberto began explaining to me that the mother was a college student and yada yada yada… I stopped him and told him that they saw a stupid gringo and just took advantage of it. He began telling me how that wasn’t the case and continued on with their sob story but my attention was out the window.
While the woman was talking to Alberto I’d noticed a man with a large backpack across the courtyard staring intently. As Alberto tried explain that the woman wasn’t taking advantage of me, my attention drifted to the man who was now walking in our direction. The man was no longer staring at me and as he got closer he went out of his way to avoid me. He sat with his back towards me next to the young woman who had just told us that she was alone with her little girl. As the mother looked backed and silently pleaded for a plate for the man as well, Alberto finally realized he’d been played. I agreed to the plate for the man as well, but only to make a point.
The struggle in Alberto’s voice cleared up any gaps my poor Spanish caused in the discussion. His family had watched the situation unfold from our table about 30 yards away and wanted to know what had happened. He tried heroically to tell the story in a way that made me look charitable, rather than him looking foolish.
And that, kids, is how one Colombian got a taste of what it’s like to be an American tourist.