The Colombian Milk Truck

It was April of 2011, some friends and I had time off of school and decided that a trip to Colombia was in order. Not really considering the effects of the rainy season on our travel plans, we packed up our bags and were on our way.

Colombia is a very mountainous and tropical country. Because of this, it is an optimal coffee growing spot. Coffee is a big part of the country’s economy, including tourists that come specifically to visit coffee plantations. My friends and I were visiting the small city of Manizales in the Zona Cafetera, the prime coffee growing region of Colombia. After our obligatory plantation tour we decided that the next day would be spent climbing the Nevado del Ruiz, a fairly sizeable volcano in the region.

After some research, we discovered that there was no way to climb to the top of the volcano and come back within one day, we also decided that a camping site was out of the option due to our collective budget and time constraints. Similarly, the guided tours up the mountain were not a financially viable option for some of our travel companions working on a volunteer budget (something I understand very well now.)

The view from the back of the milk truck...

After asking around a bit, we discovered that there was a milk truck that passed by our hostel each morning at 5:00am that would allow us to ride in the back all the way up the mountain as he made his deliveries. (At this point, I know my mom is probably not thrilled to be reading about me hitchhiking in the back of a Colombian milk truck… but I digress.)

At exactly 5:00am, there we were standing in front of the Red Cross down the street from our hostel, patiently awaiting the arrival of our milk truck as the rain fell down upon us. The truck eventually arrived, and we all managed to pile into the back. As we started moving along, more and more passengers began to squeeze in. Locals making their way to work. Apparently the milk truck is a fairly common mode of transportation round these parts.

As we moved further along, the sun began to rise. After a while, the truck came to a stop. As we peered out from the back of the truck, we noticed a long line of traffic in front of us. After some questioning, we found out that there was a mudslide up ahead and the roads were closed.

Waiting for the roads to clear.

We decided to wait around a while to see if the mud would be cleared. We waited… and waited. After several hours had passed, I was becoming a little stressed out. At this point in my life, I guess I was still rooted in my developed world mentality. I’ve since learned that in some parts of the world, it’s not uncommon to sit and wait for 5, 6 or 7 hour for something to happen.

As it turns out, the mudslide was not going to be cleared that day.

We turned around and started walking down to the next town where we could catch a bus to Manizales. Presumably it would have been several miles, but we were mentally prepared for a hike at this point anyways. On the plus side, our walk back brought us across the Recinto del Pensamientos, a nature reserve and coffee research centre.

At any rate, this was a good lesson in going with the flow!

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