Tell people that you are gong to Colombia and their first reactions don’t tend to be “Wow, what a beautiful country” but “Are you crazy? It’s full of drugs and guns and when will your funeral be?”
Tell people that you are going to Medellin and that reaction just becomes more extreme. Let’s face it, any city that produces the answer “cartel” ninety nine times out of a hundred in a word association game has a significant image problem.
But reputations aren’t reality and Medellin’s reputation, although changing, is still based on the situation in the city that is now twenty years old.
Look on any map and you might be forgiven for thinking that Salento is just a short drive from Ibague, what with it being a mere seventy miles along a main road. But, as I travel around Colombia, I am beginning to realise that maps are not always a reliable way of estimating travel times. This is especially true when the route takes you through the mountains.
My journey was on a public bus that spent most of the time following a succession of large trucks that were slowly insinuating themselves up and down the hillsides. Passing places seemed to consist of any straight stretch of one hundred metres or more, and overtaking manoeuvres were very much reliant on the good nature of the drivers of any oncoming traffic that the bus encountered.
I tried to keep my head in my book as much as I could.