I reached the bus terminal of Medellin at 6.45 pm – enough time I thought, to get my 7.30 pm bus to Santa Marta. Colombian buses in general are very comfortable, and the ones run by a bus company called Espreso Brasilia are among the best. So I went to their counter first, but they refused to give me a ticket for anything less than 80000 pesos (Oh, did I forget to mention that the prices of the bus tickets are also negotiable?!). To make things worse, other bus companies were demanding even higher prices.
I thought that 80000 pesos (about 40 USD/2250 INR) was quite expensive for a bus ride. I reasoned that if I could find a flight for not much more than that figure, I would be better off flying. So I searched for an internet centre and checked the air fares. When I saw that none of the flights were below 200 USD, I knew that I had no choice but to go by bus. By the time I went back to the Espreso Brasilia counter, I was told that I had missed the 7.30 pm bus by only a few minutes. Tough luck, I thought and bought a ticket on the 8.30 pm bus, and killed the next 1 hour just hanging around the bus terminal.
At about 7.30 am the next morning, our bus stopped and I alighted to take a leak. I was taken aback by a long line of vehicles in front of our bus, stretching out on the road to as far as I could see. I learnt from people around that there had been a major accident up ahead, and that we would be stuck here for a few more hours at least. Just then, I ran into Thom, the Australian guy once again. He was also travelling in the same bus as I was!
Talking to people around, we gathered that there had been a head-on collision between a bus going to Santa Marta and a truck coming in the opposite direction. Both vehicles had caught fire instantaneously and 14 people had been killed on the spot. What sent a chill down my spine was that the bus that met with the accident was the 7.30 pm Espreso Brasilia bus that I had missed the previous evening because I had decided to search for cheap flights.
It is in moments such as this, that one realises how insignificant one really is. One begins to question just how much one really is in control of one’s life. You have no idea how a choice that you make today will affect the future course of events in your life. Looking back, I saw it quite clearly. If I had decided not to have a beer with some of the guys in the hostel, I would not have heard about the Pablo Escobar tour. If I hadn’t gone on the tour, I wouldn’t have spent too much money to bother about cooking lunch myself. If I hadn’t cooked lunch, I wouldn’t need to wash dishes. If I were not washing dishes, I would not have seen that someone else had ignored washing their plates after using them. If I hadn’t spent the extra time washing those plates, I would have reached the bus station well in time to look for cheaper options, and then ultimately taken the ill-fated 7.30 pm bus.
There is a short clip in the movie “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, that beautifully illustrates this, way better than I ever could in a thousand words:
If I had been among the unfortunate people who did not make it that day; what’s the worst that could happen? Maybe 10 or 20 people would have been very sad, another 50 would have shown their sympathy, and a few hundred would have felt sorry in front of their computer screens. But in the large scheme of things, it would have been an utterly insignificant event. Billions of people have lived and died, and billions more will continue to live and die and the world will still go on. So don’t we owe it to ourselves to live as fully as we possibly can while we can, and to pursue what we desire the most?
I was not on that bus, I was alive, and I was ever more inspired to do what I wanted to do the most – go and experience the world as much as I could!!
Clearing out all the dead bodies (most burnt beyond any hope of recognition) and getting the accident vehicles out of the way would easily take a few more hours. Since there was nothing else to do, I decided to walk ahead and take a look myself. So I took my small bag and started walking. It took me about 20 minutes just to get to the police barricade, which was about 200 metres before the accident spot. Then I got down into the adjoining field and walked past the police line (when you’re a tourist, and you don’t speak the local language, you can take a few liberties and get away with it). The accident had indeed been really horrific. The bus was totally burnt and all that remained of it was the charred skeleton. If I didn’t know it already, it would have been hard for me to guess that the other twisted, melted mass of metal was once the cabin of a truck. Smoke still billowed from the two unfortunate vehicles, and there was the distinct smell of burning rubber and burning flesh.
After clicking a few pictures, I started walking back to my bus. People from neighbouring villages were making a killing by selling food and drinks to the stranded passengers at obscenely high prices (and why not?). When I got back to where I had started from, I saw that something was amiss. At first I thought I was at a wrong spot, but on closer inspection I realised that the spot was correct – just that my bus was gone, and with it, my entire backpack!
I asked some people around where my bus was, and they gaily informed me that it had turned around and left. I stood there gaping at them, while they found my predicament rather amusing and couldn’t stop grinning from ear-to-ear. It took me a while to gather my thoughts and take stock of the situation. I patted myself for having had the sense to take my small bag along – the one that contained my netbook and my passport. Then I went to another Espreso Brasilia bus and told its driver of my problem. Fortunately, he understood and made a few phone calls. Then he asked me to board his bus, and 3 hours later dropped me off at the bus terminal in Santa Marta. He said that my original bus was on its way, and I had to wait for it exactly at that spot.
About 45 minutes later, an Espreso Brasilia bus pulled up next to me. It wasn’t the bus I was in earlier, but it had all the passengers of my original bus including Thom. I learnt from them that our bus had turned around and gone to the closest town where everyone was asked to move their luggage to another bus. Thom had been nice enough to move my backpack also, but overlooked another bag that contained gifts I had bought for some of my friends. After the events of the day, the loss of the gifts bag seemed altogether trivial.
Thom & I had made reservations in hostels in different parts of the town, so we said goodbye, and I proceeded towards La Luna hostel. La Luna turned out to be a comfortable and quiet hostel, a welcome change from the noisy party hostels that I’d been staying in, the past few weeks.
p.s: to get an idea of the insignificance of a human being from a size perspective, try this: http://htwins.net/scale2/scale2.swf?bordercolor=white
(might take a while to load on slow connections, but trust me, its worth the wait!)