Updated: Apr 3, 2018
Describing a little less-than-inviting town near the popular Santa Marta, Colombia.
January 08, 2016
Many of the women and girls wear gold, patented leather chancletas, as if a relic of those past civilizations still existed on their feet.
Since the rough arrival to Colombia, it has been a series of highs and lows. I travel far and on a moments notice. Some cities have their appeal, while others simply do not. I've also slowed down unexpectedly at a few of these 'un-liked ' junctures. Once in the not so shaky Barranquilla and here again in the little pueblo of Bonda.
(a pueblo is a small town)
Just East of Santa Marta, at the cusp of the the Sierra Nevadas, the major highway splits and to the right is a dusty road and the similarly dusty, little pueblo of Bonda.
The air bnb hosts who both came to pick me up from Taganga offered to quick show the city of Bonda, which didn't last longer than 3 minutes.
It's claimed to have the oldest church in all of Colombia, but we know how those claims go. Stating to have the oldest house, nations' first pub, first school, oldest street, etc. It can keep one constantly exploring new cities to find all of these, and all the while different towns making their own similar claims.
The couple, who were gay and maintained a civil union from the courts, had moved from Bogota to try and get a start here. I'm not entirely sure why, there might be some tourism in Santa Marta and Taganga, but this little spot is easy to miss. And truthfully, it's tough conditions here.
They built their house like Fort Knox with 10ft high concrete walls topped with 2ft of barbed wire and broken glass. Surprisingly, nothing too unusual about that, but thankfully the inside was very presentable.
Fresh, lush landscaping helped to cover up the image of those massive, unneeded walls. And of course, a tip of the hat goes to the gay men for their superior interior design skills. With sleek, modern furniture and eclectic African/Asian stylings on the wall. They had a good sense for how to piece together a room and give it proper flow.
There were ten dogs in total stashed away in their room which I've barely seen out more than once or twice. It's some enormous family of grandmothers, daughter dogs, brother and sister dogs and a litter of playful baby pups. I'd love to play with them, but I feel their yapping and pent up aggression causes stress to the owners so they remain locked away. Only signaling to us that they are there by sniffing loudly from beneath the door cracks.
Colombia is one of the most respectable Latin countries to be openly gay in
As soon as I got there, Hernan, who was the person listed on the Air B&B profile was leaving for Barranquilla where he had a job and a separate apartment. They tried opening a restaurant in Bonda as Carlos, his partner, was an acclaimed chef, but unfortunately this town wasn't the same as Bogotá for being openly gay. Due to the lack of support they received from the community, it tanked. Colombia is one of the most respectable Latin countries to be openly gay in, but it's not everywhere and contained mostly to the larger metros.
But enough about that. You're still probably wondering why we can't go to the bathroom in Bonda?! While in Santa Marta I had noticed a slight drop in the water pressure and even had it go out for an hours time. However, here in Bonda, it has now been over a day since the town had water. They prepare for these moments by filling garbage cans outside and pots in the kitchen for when the water does run dry, but I was already through two expired trash cans and a little unsure for what happens next. To flush toilets you have to use buckets. To wash dishes you have to use buckets. To shower, you use a rigged up, gravity-fed garden hose that comes in through the window of the bathroom. Its cold too, by the way.
There's water you can purchase (in bags) for drinking, but I prefer using the gravity filter that uses tap water. It's free and easy. Though as the mature folks in life know, not much comes to you freely.
The reason for the drop in water is the municipalities divert the resources to other, more touristy spots instead. And entire towns like Bonda.. Well, they just run dry. The entire region is in a drought. The rivers are empty. And even if they could flow, I'm afraid the heaps of litter and debris would prevent it from doing so. The only trickles of water you can see are the pipes running out of the houses, into the streets and into the already polluted ravines. Carrying chemical detergents and waste. You have to hold your breath anytime you do see a bridge as there is no fresh, sparkling stream down below to captivate your senses. It's a river that's diminished in size and now contains a waste flow of toxic materials and a smattering of styrofoam containers.
It's sad, but nothing too troubling and new from what I saw in Panama. When you have this amount of people, unfortunately the lack of accountability and resources causes it to just stack up. To fester and provide something for the street dogs and homeless people to rummage through. And for travelers to hold their breaths, close their eyes and see if they can make it to the other side without inhaling too much.
A very nice and happy guy my age asked me on the bus what I though of Bonda. And it was the first time I had to lie and say I liked a place that disgusted me.
The dogs lounge in dirt piles and people do their best to sweep things along, but their own kind are just pouring it back into the land. A very nice and happy guy my age asked me on the bus what I though of Bonda. And it was the first time I had to lie and say I liked a place that disgusted me. What could I say, nay what could I admit about a place I am just visiting and will likely never come back to. He is choosing to live here.
Some places I'm just at a loss for what hope there is for a pleasant future. If sitting at tiendas sipping cheap beers and listening to too loud music surrounded by trash is pleasant, well then it's just the current stop-off on places not for me. I'm not condemning the place either because as I've found, Colombia is a very warm and happy place. So, I actually do the opposite and commend them for being happy in what they have. That they can make the most of life with the least of things. That to me is a special trait and Bonda... Well, Bonda is the example of it.
And so, here I've remained for five days choosing to keep myself locked within those big, concrete walls like the dogs in their room. It's not like I can't access the city or I have some fear of going out. Frankly, Colombia has been very populated for the most part and with that comes safety in numbers. It has been a complete non-issue for me being out after dark. People, family, kids all sit out on their porches, walk the streets, ride the buses. You can say, 'Buenas noches' to that shadowy figure cast in darkness and expect to hear it said back jovially and without malice or trepidation.
(buenas noches means goodnight, but it is usually used in parting, not as a greeting)
No, I've just opted to stay and rest for a bit. Enjoy the gift of unrequited bedroom A/C use and prepare for camping in Tayrona National Park. Tayrona, like most of Colombia, is a crowded destination, but has exquisite natural beauty.
And maybe I am afraid. Afraid that Colombia, this rich in culture and liveliness country, is burying itself in filth and debris. I talk a lot about community involvement and for me, much of it has to do with the education. Though, education on subjects like nurturing your environment and rewarding your body with healthy foods.
This is certainly a place I could enact those goals, but it's would be such a selfless move to come here without having much else for to enjoy.
What do I see..
There is just the faint glimmer of natural beauty peeking out beneath the foul, smelly sludge that once was a river. You can imagine the beauty of the hillsides that now have sloppy, thoughtless design to the development. The rich history of a city might be noticeable in a certain stoop with its tall framed doors or above, with its wooden balcony peering out, but the haze of the combustible engine fumes spreading their way into the litany of tiendas and druegerias take away the chances of that history being able to speak. They gut the buildings leaving their facades to crumble and deteriorate into piles. Deserted, once prominent structures of dignity and prestige are now hollow, picked apart shelters for dogs and homeless persons to claim.
It's sad for me to see this and I look for the ability to see past it. See the beauty in the people. Many of the women and girls wear gold, patented leather chancletas, as if a relic of those past civilizations still existed on their feet.
(chancletas are flip-flops, or more commonly used as sandals for women)
There's always the matter of noticing the small details and recognizing all life and all moments are miracles. And for me, the journey is not over. Colombia has only just begun. I will venture out from these walls. There is great culture and sights calling to me. The Sierra Nevadas with the great peaks of Cristóbal and Bolívar carving into the skyline, downwards along the Andes to Bogotá and the interior valley of Medellin. The rainforests to the South East and the coastal diving islands in the West near Calí.