Joe O’Connor is a feature writer at the National Post. Twenty years ago, he was a backpacker, trekking around Central and South America with his then girlfriend, Karen Nasmith. Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama — everything was perfect — until Colombia.
We needed a bank. But everything in Barranquilla, a dusty, heat-blasted Colombian port city, was closed. The banks. The restaurants. And the eyes of the locals, it seemed, who, after three days of Carnival and partying like those three days were their last on Earth, were sleeping off walloping hangovers. We were down to our last US$20, or so, with money belts full of travellers cheques to spare, but nowhere to change them. We needed a bank. But first we needed a bus out of Barranquilla.
Our plan was to head to Popayan, a colonial mountain town — an overnight bus trip away. Our guidebook warned us that this was a bad idea. Bandits occasionally targeted overnight buses. But what were the odds they would target our bus? We had climbed volcanoes in Guatemala, … continue reading