Last week, I took a few days of R and R and headed to the Zona Cafetera, which is the coffee country for you gringos. My journey included nearly every type of motorized vehicle you could think of - my lovely roommate drove me to the airport at 7 am, a tiny crop duster sized plane carried me over the towering Andes (bumpy all the way), a surly taxi driver got me from the tiny airport in Armenia to the ramshackle bus station in the center of town. And all before 10 am.
For the last leg, I got on a small bus headed towards a colonial town called Salento, where I would have four days of coffee plantations, hiking and some R and R. The ride was a curvey one as we scaled the emerald hills with 60-foot high Wax Palm Trees that stood waifishly against the indigo sky and fincas fertile with bananas, pineapples, coffee, blackberries and bamboo.
The bus weaved through a small town or two, someone even gave the driver a package to deliver to the next pueblo, extracting promises that the package not break during the journey. There are kids with their parents, excitement in their eyes as they embark on visiting a family friend or relative and young men who are fragranced just a tad over the top, every hair in place.
The bus moves along for a while but suddenly, we stop. I look out the window to see what the commotion is, but before I can focus a young man in fatigues gets on the bus. A gun lays along his back, spanning from his narrow shoulders to equally narrow thigh. He barks a greeting in Spanish (the Colombians are the most polite people, always) and then asks the men to exit the bus with their papers. The men? Why only the men? I think.
It’s a government checkpoint and they are searching for rebels on our way into this tiny town of less than 10,000 people. Seriously. Although the military is not an uncommon presence in Colombia (or most of Latin America, really) nor are extremely large machine guns. At first, I was a bit freaked out. I mean, here I am in the middle of nowhere in Colombia and the military has boarded my bus. With big guns. But then, I became kind of incensed – I mean, why only the men? Hadn’t they ever heard of Gioconda Belli, who was a Sandinista? Women can be rebels (like Belli) or drug mules too, ya know.
I guess the most disappointing thing is that this is the depth of Colombia’s sexism I have seen so far. There’s no stares or yells or talking to my legs. Only an assumption that I’m not a lefty rebel. Boo and hoo.