...and no, this is not some forgotten Hope & Crosby "Road" movie, co-starring Ginger Rogers & Betty Grable.
This is a "Guest Post" by Janine, and I'm running it here because it's well-written and also because I'm so frickin' burned out right now that I would have great difficulty stringing together an account half as coherent as this about some of the surprises we've encountered here during our "World Tour 2007-8" of Colombia for Andiaros and the government agency SENA. Earlier today, I was able to show the roomful of very young journalists here just how easy it is to use the TypePad software to post something to a blog (BTW - the pic that appears there was take about 2 months ago, in Moscow, at a restraurant located on "Clean Lake" across from the Moscow offices of OLMA.)
Anyway, here's Janine:
This picture was taken by Dave through the window of a military checkpoint that we hit on the way to Baranquilla, a medium-sized city about an hour's drive from
Cartagena. W e hit a nasty rainstorm on the way here so it took us
nearly two hours. As we drove, our driver told us about how the road was
impassible only a few years ago because of the Guerillas/Narcotraffickers.
Now there are Colombian military stations every several kilometers along
the way that protect the road and have made it possible for people to make
the drive without fear.
To help us appreciate how things have changed, he told a personal story
about a bus trip he took to Bogota a few years ago. Part way there, the
bus was stopped by guerrillas who boarded the bus and demanded everyone's
Cedulas (the national ID). They then consulted the laptop they carried
with them, looking up each person's name in a database to see if they were
related to anyone rich enough or powerful enough to make them worth
kidnapping.(Dave and I noted this was an impressive use technology, albeit
for all the wrong reasons.)
As the Guerrillas checked IDs, they had one of the children on the bus go
around and collect everyone's shoes, which he explained they did routinely
to make it harder for anyone to run away, especially when they are being
led through the jungle at night and stepping off a path in the dark could
cause serious damage to bare feet.
But what really amazed us about the story, was that apparently the
guerrilla's radio discussion about the bus was picked up by the
US-supported Colombian army, which then called for a Black Hawk helicopter
to be sent to help them. That radio message was in turn intercepted by the
guerrillas, who took off once they realized they'd been discovered and
that the helicopter was on the way. (An interesting case of spy vs. spy,
and a moment that I think represents well the turning point that led to
these roads being so much safer.)
Unfortunately for the passengers on the bus, the guerrillas had already
poured gasoline all over the inside of the bus, which they planned to set
on fire before they left. They didn't take the time to burn the bus. but
the passengers had to ride to the next town in a bus full of gas fumes so
strong it made most people sick. Still, I'm sure they all agreed it was
better than being kidnapped and walking barefoot through the jungle.
Today, he said he drives down these roads without fear, happy to see the
Colombian military on the side of the road. And I have to admit, Dave and
I both appreciated the soldiers a bit more after his story.
For my part, I've been amazed by how much more peaceful things are here
than they were just 6 years ago the first time I came to Colombia.
Everyone we've talked to about security has commented on the improvements,
how President Uribe has made such a difference by cracking down on
corruption and guerrilla activities, and how great it is that they can now
go out at night and travel the roads around the country without fear.