Fresh out of the Amazon I was facing another time crunch. I was back in Quito, Ecuador and had 5 days to realize my dreams of becoming a salsa dancer and wedding my Colombian teacher. The odds were stacked against me. It was my last task (6 out of 7 I might add if I accomplished it ) in South America though, so it was time to move one last time. I hopped on what was supposed to be my second last bus trip and headed across the border into Colombia. Knowing I was almost to my last hostel made having to stand in the aisle for the first three hours somewhat bareable.
I crossed the border with little to no complications, jumped into a shared cab and headed to Ipiales to board my LAST bus. I was on my way to Bogota for my last four days and was SO excited at the thought of no more road trips for the forseeable future. Well, as luck with have it, the stars had other plans for me on that fateful night.
When we got dropped off at the bus station it was apparent that something was wrong. There were tons of people outside and all the major bus kiosks were closed down. Speaking little to no Spanish, I had no clue what was going on, so thankfully the fellow I shared the cab with was a local boy who spoke enough english to help me undertsand the situation.
Lanslide. BIG LANDSLIDE.
The road to Bogota was completely shut down and it would be another 5-6 days until it would be open again. HAHAHA…ofcourse. Why would things be easy in the final days?
I watched on as my cab buddy hustled between local Vans and automobile abled opportunists trying to find us a viable option to get where we needed to go. After about half and hour the options didn’t look all that promising. I had two possible scenarios:
1. Take a cab to the landslide, get out, walk an hour or two over top of it and look for a local motorcyclist on the other side taking on passengers. Then go with him to the next town and jump on a bus to Bogota.
2. Jump in a van (family van) with 9 other people and head to Cali; thirteen hours out of the way and jump on a bus from there to Bogota.
Neither option was quick, but what they lacked in comfort, they more for made up with adventure.
Well, misery loves company, so I chose option number 2 and all ten of us (At 2am) jumped in the minivan and headed for Cali. Although it was thirteen hours out of the way, I felt compelled to give Cali my attention one last time. Colombia, being the salsa captial of the world and Cali being the pulse that keeps its blood pumping, something was pulling me back there. My first impression wasn’t great, but I couldn’t justify going straight to Bogota without putting my finger on that pulse and checking it one last time.
If there’s ont hing to be said about the driving in Colombia (And south America for that matter) you get where you’re going in a hurry. We were flying through the mountains at break neck speed. And considering we were dragging 10 people and all of our cargo, this was no small feat.
About five hours in, our driver presented us with th option of taking a dirt road up and over the mountain rather than around the base. He said it would save us about 5 hours and we all jumped on the choice. I think most of us were ready to chew a leg off just to create a some extra space. The road was sketchy to say the least, reminding me instantly of my time on the “death road”. The only difference was this time it was raining and our driver was channeling the likes of a professional rally race driver. To say it was epic would be an under statement. We were smashing our way up this mountain, fish tailing the corners, hammering through the mudlines, it was awesome…..right up until the last 5k. Thats when we hit the oncoming traffic. And by traffic I mean 2 Semi’s stuck in the mud. Shit. We were about 10,000 feet above sea level on a ten foot wide dirt road and there were two freaking cargo truck leaning sideways in about 3 feet of mud! At this point things started to get interesting. Traffic began to back up in both directions behind and in front of these bohemouths with little hope of any sort of progression. On one side of us, a sheer cliff down and the other, a sheer cliff up. Slowly a crowd formed and eventually planned attempts to rectify the situation began to amount. We pushed, we dug, we pulled and we screamed, with little to no effect. The crowd began to grow over time and there had to be close to a hundred people. Soon the merchants from the nearby town had caught word and sent their kids and friends out to make good on the situation. Tea, coffee, soda and chips were being sold up and down the frozen line of vehicals, with the only ones actually having sucess being the bikers, who were slipping and sliding there way through the crowds. As soon as we got one truck out another would slip into the steadily worsening(?) mud and we would have to start all over again. At one point we had to unload and entire truck of flour to lighten the load enough for it to actually be freed form the mud. At the end of it all I think we had to save 7 trucks. I WISH my camera was chagred! I had never seen anything like this before and surpisingly; given that mudslides and road closures are comoon in Colombia, my travel buddies hadn’t either. But like most things…thankfully, after eight hours of pushing, pulling, swearing and mudding we were on our way and the adventure had come to an end.
Now what does this have to do with Salsa you ask? Well, it turns out that Hugo, who happened to be a fellow van man had a few connections in Cali and offered to help me out once we arrived there if I chose to stick around. After such a long day in the mud I was considering just heading straight for the Capital. But when we were finally dropped off at the bus terminal, Hugo sweetened the pot.
“Scott, please come stay at my families home. We will rest tonight and tomorrow I will bring you to a few Salsa schools and we will find you a suitable teacher. You just tell me the price you are comfortable with and I will help you out.”
Really? I knew Hugo for less than a day and he was welcoming me into his home? I love it! How can you pass something like this up? I didn’t hesitate. and I’m SOOOOOO glad I decided to take him up on his offer.
You see, Hugo had a little secret he wasn’t telling me. Hugo’s role in the Salsa community had been a little understated during our conversations. Hugo Osorio, the man who had taken me in was a World Champion Salsa Dancer. Not only that, he was considered by some to be the BEST Salsa choreographer in the world. What the fuck? Was he kidding me? How had he failed to mention this? It wasn’t until we entered his old Dance Studio (Home of the 5x World Champion Salsa Team) and the entire team pratically fell to his knees that I became fully aware of who I had been hanging around. It was as if his accomplishments were of little concern to him and for the next four days he barely mentioned a word of it unless I pryed it from him by way of nagging.
At any rate, for the next four days I was not only able to watch the worlds BEST SALSA team pratice, I was also given private lessons by one of the team members (Mi Lady laPeke) in Hugos home. On top of that I was brought to a premeir Salsa club with Hugos friends and watched them all do their thing. The club was AMAZING. It was something out of the old days of dance. Everyone had their own private table with bottle service and the doors were shut once the tables filled. The dance floor was always full and everyone was spectacular. And when Hugo stepped on the floor……..wow, it was a sight to be seen. As good as everyone else was (and the were GOOD) Hugo was heads and shoulders above them. Barely breaking a sweat he had every girl linging up to be his partner. It was such a beautiful thing to watch; all of them. To date it has to go down as one of the funnest club experience I have ever had, if not the very best. I even got out and had a few “spins” on the dance floor; although to be fair I looked like crap. I spent most of my time during my lessons in awe of my teachers beauty and skill that actually learning anything I could use was close to impossible.
To say the least my last few days in Colombia were amazing, between the dancing, the time with his nephews (his nephews were my daytime spanish teachers) and his mothers cooking, I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to South America. Although, I didn’t end up with much Salsa in my feet and I never scored my Colombian wife ( i think the constant drooling turned my teacher off) I was leaving Colombia and S.A. on the higest note possible. Not only did I accomplish my goal, I did it in the BEST way imaginable, surrounded by amazingly talented, driven and most importantly kind and caring people.
Back home now, with 99% of my travelling behind me, I’ve still got work to do and that’s where my focus needs to be…but wow….what a way to end the trip? Right?