El Trampolin de la Muerte : (Death’s Trampoline)
After spending a few days discovering two of the most important archeological parks of Colombia, Tierradentro & San Agustin, we decided to continue our road to Pasto, a city near the border with Ecuador. This area is definitely not the most touristic so it can be complicated to find reliable information, however using Google Maps I noticed the shortest road from San Agustin was going to Pasto through another town named Mocoa. Perfect I thought, a new road, we don’t have to go back to Popayan to take the Panamericana. Avoiding backtracking is always a priority for me!
We were also aware that the road wouldn’t be the best we experienced in Colombia, since taking the Popayan to Tierradentro road we knew that this isn’t the best area in terms of road condition. What we did not know though is that we were ought for one of the scariest ride of our life, with a 9-month-old baby on our lap!
We started our day in San Agustin, a hamlet 1.700 meters high, and the first leg brought us down to the town of Pitalito, about an hour away, inside the back of a jeep.
From there, we were able to catch another bus to get to Mocoa. We spent time negotiating and we ended up getting a bargain, 40.000COP (13US$) each for the whole ride to Pasto. It was so cheap that the driver had to come and asked us to pay more since the amount agreed by his boss didn’t seem to satisfy him. That’s how you know you’re making a good deal. We didn’t flinch though, and he ended up telling us to join.
The first part from Pitalito to Mocoa was nothing special and it was fast, it lasted about 3 hours. Mocoa is the capital of the region of Putamayo and can be considered as being one of the gates to the Amazonia. Unfortunately, the town just experienced one of the worst natural disasters in Colombia’s history a few months ago when a landslide killed more than 200 persons. You could see ruins and rocks everywhere, and a very strange atmosphere.
Arriving in the very messy terminal of Mocoa, we had to change to another bus with the same company. We were scared to be scammed but everything went well and we were back on the road half an hour later. Mocoa is located at 600 meters above the sea level and Pasto at more than 2.500 meters, we understood we had a long way to go. The guy on the phone next to us said it would last for 5 to 6 hours.
We had no clue what was going to come, but in fact the road between Mocoa and Pasto is named El Trampolin de la Muerte, meaning The Death Swing. The road was built in the 30’s when Colombia & Peru were at war. Colombia needed to connect Pasto to Mocoa, in order to bring its army in the Amazonia. The statistics are not glorious though, about 500 persons died since the opening on this road and accidents happen every year. 100 persons died in 1991. 23 in 2008. That of course we did not know.
We were suffocating in the bus terminal, waiting for the driver to leave, but once he did leave we in fact regretted our thoughts, the guy was driving like crazy in the middle of all of these curves. After 30 minutes of race we
started to go up, something we did non-stop for the next hour. The asphalt left room for a dirt road full of gravels and potholes.
Our head started to shake. Our baby was busy with mom’s breast, eating, until he suddenly vomited! We realized that it was only the beginning, and at that moment I thought, what did I get them into? Did I cross the line?
It didn’t get any better as the road kept going up and the conditions worsened. We crossed an uncountable number of rivers and trucks. After an hour of curves and bumping, it was HiuYing’s turn not to feel great. She held off until we finally reached the top in the middle of the fog. We had the chance to take a break there and I quickly ate an empanada. We were halfway there I thought!
We sadly went back into the bus and continued with more sufferings, I started to become fatalistic but I was deeply hoping that there will be not aftermath for our baby backpacker. We eventually reached the altitude of 2.700 meters before finally starting to really go down. The view was incredible though, it’s the kind of landscape where you know that a road should really not be here, with lush vegetation, hundreds-meter drop-off on the side and thick fog near the top making it impossible to see 5 meters in front.
The sun was setting and I became incredibly happy when I saw the first habitation, and then minutes later when I saw 300-400meters down the valley a village with a straight road. A straight road I thought! I’ve never been that happy to see a straight road! We’re out!!
Eventually we made another well-deserved stop in the town of Sibundoy down the valley before heading to Pasto. The hardest part was behind us we knew, but another challenging part was to cross the last bit of mountain, but it was night time and totally dark. It was fatal to HiuYing and another person in the bus who could not resist sharing their meal outside.
At about 8 o’clock we were finally in Pasto’s terminal, for once really happy to pay a cheap taxi to finally arrive to our host’s place. Traumatized.
And you? Have you ever experienced a similiar situation in your travels?