The main road north from the border has been the site of some local community unrest over the past month. A number of sections of the road had been closed when local indigenous people set up road-blocks and refused to let anyone pass in an anti-government protest. The indigenous organizations demand access to land, fair prices for coffee and subsidies for coffee-growers. Traffic was disrupted for weeks before an agreement between the Government and the protesters was reached and the roads reopened. As we were leaving Ecuador we were told the situation was about to flare up again and given both us and Tom and Jeanette now had deadlines to meet in the form of flights and shipping, we were not going to hang around in the disputed area. With this in mind we planned a big day travelling north, to get as far as we could.
Unfortunately, covering big distances quickly in Columbia has proven to be difficult. On this day, we drove for 10 hours, stopped once for a cuppa and covered 326 km’s. The road surface was generally good, (if you forget the earthquake damage and the remains of rock and mud slides) but the heavy traffic, number of trucks and buses, tight windy roads and maniacal Colombian drivers and motorcycle riders made this a day to forget! Pulling into the agreed campground just on dusk, it took 3 or 4 beers and a significant debrief for the 4 of us to get our pulses back to normal! Little did we know what was ahead …..
Under the threat of more community unrest, the Government had responded by moving troops into the disputed areas to avoid a repeat of the road closures. Hence, sand bagged bunkers and groups of armed soldiers adorned the roadsides at strategic points, particularly at bridges, small towns and anywhere else where a roadblock could be easily set up. By midday, the road had moved out of the mountains to some extent and we had a much quicker and less stressful day as we traversed the disputed section with out any problems. It must be said that this is a beautiful country. The mountain scenery is lush, green, dense tropical forests of huge trees, tropical plants and flowers and fruit trees – bananas, mangoes, pineapples and coca. We arrived at the campground on the outskirts of Salento mid afternoon and settled in for a few days of R and R!