Saturday, 5 January 2013

3 things that nearly killed us this week

It's been a more than usually exciting week on the foreshortened mortality front. We are currently in Medellin, having got here after spending a few days in el valle, near Cali. We travelled north and decided to break the journey by stopping at the Santa Rosa de Cabal thermal spring complex. We lounged in volcanically heated water (up to a temperature of about 40 degrees, according to the book), and then dried off and walked back to the car. As the complex did not, as advertised, have any towels to rent, we had had to take turns with the one towel that my mother had brought all the way from Belfast to Santa Rosa de Cabal. This meant that the girls, the first to dry off, were already back at the car waiting for us as the boys, Oisin and I, grudged through the twilight to join them and head off to find a hotel. As we got to the car, Pati turned and yelled "HIJUEPUTA, una serpiente!" This roughly translates as "FUCK ME, a snake!" I froze for a second, and then turned to see a one metre long snake sliding past where the boy and I had just walked a moment ago. The lad minding the car park went "jesus" in a fairly un-reassuring way, and we all fumbled like mad to get into the car and lock the doors (not the car park lad, we abandoned him to his own fate, which seemed to involve directing the unsuspecting newly arrived 4x4 to drive over the snake. This was unsuccessful and only seemed to guarantee that he would have to share the car park with a really, really, irate snake.) As we stared at each other in disbelief, Pati told us that the car park lad had shouted that it was a "rabo de aji" (chilli tail) - "Coral Snake" in English. I did recall seeing black bands on it, which tallies with the description. A description that includes, according to the Wiki entry, the observation that "New World coral snakes possess one of the most potent venoms of any North American snake". Presumably the South American ones will be harmless, then, eh?

A lunch stop in Cartago revealed the winner of the year's best
misuse of an apostrophe. And it's only the first week of January
The next day we were half way to Medellin driving through astonishing mountains (it's sort of hard not to drive through astonishing mountains anywhere in Colombia, but these were fab). This, though, involves an astonishing amount of hairpin bends. The road, despite being part of the Pan-American Highway that connects Argentina to Alaska, was a two lane carriageway with little else in the way of twentieth century road adornments (markings, defined edges, crash barriers between your vehicle and the hundreds of metres of drop down on either side, things like that). Being a main national highway meant there was an enormous quantity of heavy goods traffic on the roads, and this included an unloaded car transporter that came zipping round a hairpin bend towards us. Without really thinking about the fact that a long, rigid vehicle like this would be obliged by the laws of physics to cut the corner, I drove on towards the apex, confident that the other gent would shortly repair to his own side of the road. At the last minute the physics clicked in my brain and I stood on the brakes, with just enough time to watch in horror in the wing mirror. The transporter passed so close to us that I couldn't seen any daylight between it and the back of our car. It all went slow-mo, and I had time enough to realise that if he clipped us, he'd probably knock us backwards and off the road, and that meant off the road and down the hundreds of metres of drop on the right. The gasps of shock from the passengers in the other cars were audible to me as I stared dumbly at the wing mirror, and then the lorry was gone. There was a silence in the car - we moved on. The small mercy was that Oisin slept through it all.

Pereira's stunning cathedral. I've never seen
wooden timbers used like this before in a
modern building.
And to top it all off, at some point on this blissful, stress-free drive through the Andes, one of the local pot-holes kept the last 30cm of my exhaust as a souvenir of our passing. This meant that the exhaust fumes were jetting out right against the inside of the back bumper, which was doing a marvellous job of redirecting them up into the boot compartment. And on this lovely car there's a really handy little hatch which opens between the back shelf and the boot (I nearly always have to shake hands with Oisin if he's in the back while I'm loading the boot. Hilarious every time!). So we got to Medellin last night with banging headaches and no appetite and queasy stomachs. Carbon monoxide poisoning, wonderful. Even the dodgy blokes at the traffic lights asking for spare change weren't enough to make us want to put the windows up. And we arrived on a bank holiday weekend, just as everyone seems to be shutting up for the long weekend. But bless Colombia, we found an exhaust shop today at the first try, and he had a new silencer welded on within an hour, so we're back in business.

And what car do we have, you ask? We bought a Mercedes Benz, lol. We're posh as fuck we are!! Sadly it is 29 years old and probably classifies more readily as "banger" than "classic", but it's already hauled our asses some 1500km round the Andes, so we can't complain too much. Only about the state of the roads... and the driving... and the price of the tolls...

Xmas lights in Medellin


  1. Hmm interesting. Two very lucky experiences you might say. If you were to chose 6 numbers between 1 and 59, what would they be? Very glad to hear the family are well and safe and we wish you all a very happy and, to be frank, rather boring continuation of the new year in comparison! Gx

  2. I think we needed some real samurai action to chop the snake's head off, G! Thanks for your good wishes, although frankly, in Colombia, I doubt we'll get "boring" for very long ;) I'll settle for not-life threatening.


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