A brief visit to Colombia

As the ship approached the coast, it was clear that an immense thunderstorm sat over this part of coastal Colombia, towering forty thousand feet into the sky over Santa Marta. The gloom grew as evening wore on, partly from the failing light, partly as we slid underneath this colossal storm. Lightning flickered, and the storm took all our attention as the supply ship lumbered along, rolling gently in the swell.

We made landfall at Santa Marta as rain started in earnest, lightning almost constant at this point. We waited patiently for the shore agents to arrive, listening to the warm rain lashing down. When three vehicles swung into the dockyard, we gladly ran out into the downpour to climb in and ready ourselves for the journey to the airport. The route to the airport lay along switchback mountain roads, during which the rain increased for a time to an absolute tropical frenzy.

At the airport, we all checked in, and it became apparent that some form of unforeseen local airport tax was payable. We have agents to deal with this kind of thing; we ourselves retreated to the café and drank beer. Outside in the darkness the rain came down.

Later, around 9.30p.m or such, the aircraft arrived, and we paid for our beer, which was a vanishingly small amount for the thirty or forty beers we had sunk, perhaps US$30. As we boarded the plane the rain was still falling, lightning was still lighting up the storm clouds, thunder booming away even above the noise of the engines.

At Bogota, we collected our bags, and almost immediately made the acquaintance of the security teams, the “Men in black”. These were smartly dressed, unfailingly polite, fit looking young men in dark business suits, all clearly but discreetly armed. Part of the experience of visiting a country like Colombia at our employer’s expense. James Bond eat your heart out! Swiftly then in MPVs to the hotel, where, after a swift check-in (so much quicker than the sluggish desk at the Mexico City Airport Marriott) we went to the bar for more beer. It was after 11p.m when we arrived. I called it a night at 1.20a.m; some of my colleagues were still going strong at 5a.m.

After a troubled night’s sleep I didn’t go down for breakfast until 9.30a.m, and breakfast was superb. Freshly prepared omelettes with all the trimmings, fresh orange juice and black coffee. Can one ask for much more for breakfast? Together with a colleague I took a stroll around the enclave surrounding the hotel, buying a few trinkets in the process. Cash was easily available at the ATM, and it was conspicuous that the cost of living was low, in that the amounts of cash available in the machine corresponded to low dollar amounts. Also very conspicuous were the private security guards, everywhere, in various uniforms, all heavily armed, all polite and well mannered, and many with dogs. Restricted as we were to the immediate environs of the hotel, further exploring seemed pointless, and we returned to the hotel. For a couple of hours I read a book.

Around noon I had a couple of beers with some of the guys, and discovered that the British Airways flight had been cancelled. The airline had contacted some but by no means all of us. This put the cat amongst the pigeons…I took myself to reception and worked the phone for a while, but, frustratingly, took nothing away from those calls. I resolved to go the airport anyway, a few hours early at around 2p.m, and see what could be done there.

As we arrived at the airport the depth of security was revealed – unknown to us there was a point car behind us as we’d motored to the airport, and as the five of us moved across the road into the terminal, it was clear to see four of the immaculately suited and suave security guards forming a box around us, and all very alert and attentive to his surroundings.

After another wait of half an hour or so we were all safely checked onto an Iberia flight to Madrid, and off we went. As we passed onto the airside, the security guards asked me if I’d thought their service was good. I thought it was and I said so. But as we passed through Customs and Immigration – and this is no lie – I knew it was going to be alright. The guy on the customs desk was a long haired youth in his twenties, and he was listening to Nirvana.

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