The previous night had ended with us lying on the beach, followed by a failed attempt to rinse off in the bowl-style shower in the pitch dark. By the time we woke in the morning, the plastic bed sheet had turned into sandpaper and we were both a little raw, Lily more so than I as she’d been plagued all night by a mouse that simply didn’t exist. The hangovers didn’t help.
We got up, packed, showered and had an arepa while waiting for the motorbikes to pick us up. We paid Yesenia the small sum of 180,000 COP (about £40) in total for both of us, for four nights and three meals a day. Bargain. The bikes brought us all the way along the beach to Ladrilleros, then along roads past the military airport to Juanchaco for our boat back to Buenaventura.
When you think of “motorboat” you may think of dual engine sexy vessels skimming lake tops. This was not that. Ours looked like a large, old-school fishing boat with wooden planks tacked on for seating and a canopy on top for the sun. We idled away from shore, then sped out into the ocean. Oncoming waves pitched the front of the boat skywards, which would drop down onto the face of the next wave with an intensity that I found immediately thrilling.
Whack! A big one. Whack! What an experience! Whack! I can’t believe this is an acceptable form of travel! Whack! Ow, fuck! Whack! This was an ocean, the waves seemed to be reminding us, not the flat and listless tidal lake we’d waded in these last few days.
The smile on the face of the girl on my left was wiped off by a particularly strong thump that sounded like a boat breaker. No longer taking cute “holy fuck!” selfies, she gurned, green and forlorn. Lily, not great at the travel part of travelling, nor someone who appreciates risk, was unsurprisingly silent. People in front of us, bearing the brunt of the boat’s bobbing, gripped anything they could to cushion the spine crunching smacks. Only the baby behind me was keeping a cool head, sleeping throughout.
I appeared to be the only one enjoying the trip
After a painful, disturbing 30 minutes, the waves shrank a bit and I could take in my surroundings. We passed a humungous UPT tanker ship, a giant Wan Hai Lines container ship and a barge with a Marco polo oil exploration rig. We also passed flocks of white birds circling fishermen on tiny boats throwing out their nets. Black vultures rose on updraughts above jungle islands that carved out of the sea with palm-topped sheer cliffs. And behind it all the Andes rose in all their awesomeness, capped with steaming puffy clouds in the blue sky.
As the boat putt-putted into the water around Buenaventura I was desperate for the loo. The spine crunching journey had rearranged something inside me. But, I was determined to hold on until we got to our room at the finca. At the dock we bought spikey brownish fruit that looked like large lychees, which had a juice that’s apparently good for kidneys, but which tasted like muddy water. In the bus station we got cocadas (little coconut sweets) wrapped in banana leaves, and manjar blanco (a bit like toffee, a bit like caramel) in half a coconut shell, then got onto a minivan that would take us via Cali to Armenia in the heart of coffee country.
Just before we boarded the van I saw a minute’s worth of T.V. news in the bus terminal: police with guns chased other people, parts of the country were suffering 45º droughts and a taxi driver was fighting with a gringo in Bogotá. I caught a glimpse of myself in a window – long curly hair, slightly darkened skin, happy, rested. La Barra had been good to me, but I could do with a nice coffee. I looked forward to what was next.