South America: Peeps at Many Lands - Edith A. Browne

We Journey to Bogota

From Colon we go by a Royal Mail steamer to Puerto Colombia, a busy port on the Atlantic coast of the republic of Colombia. The next stage of the journey to the Colombian capital is a forty minutes' run by rail to Barranquilla, the headquarters of the steamers that provide travelling facilities on the River Magdalena.

At Barranquilla we have to make various preparations for the trip to Bogota, and whilst so doing we are "mothered "by the English hostess of the Pension Inglesa. We secure accommodation on one of the Colombia Navigation Company's mail steamers; next we make a round of the shops for the purpose of stocking our tuck-boxes; then comes the business of packing our river kit. The cabins on the river boats are provided with folding cots, but as no bedding is supplied, each of us must have a pilgrim's bundle, containing sheets, pillows, a mosquito-net and a rush mat to serve as mattress.

The steamship Barranquilla steams out of the port of that name at 5 p.m. on a Friday night, and, picking her way carefully along a short length of canal crowded with shipping, swings out into the River Magdalena.

The Barranquilla makes us think of many a delightful picnic we have had on house-boats up the Thames. In model and in gay appearance she is related to those house-boats, although, necessarily, various details in her construction and equipment have been specially designed for service in tropical waters and on a river which sets particularly difficult navigation problems. Her shallow draught and stern wheel, for instance, are essential features of any vessel that has to plough a passage through the shallow, sandbank-studded River Magdalena.

Old refuge hut in the Andes.


Early on Saturday morning we reach Calamar, an important distributing centre for exports and imports. By midday the foothills of the Andes are in sight, and the panorama is hourly becoming more picturesque. Late in the afternoon we pass Tenerife, which was a military stronghold of the Spaniards; here, in 1811, Bolivar, the liberator of Colombia, fought his first battle in the struggle for independence.

By 3 a.m. on Sunday we are at Magangue, the jumping-off ground for a rich coffee-producing district. Santa Cruz, the outlet for an extensive cattle-rearing region, is the next port of call. During the afternoon we put in at Pinillos, at the mouth of the Cauca River; the Cauca gives access to a vast tract that is famous for gold and coffee. A gorgeous sunset on this particular evening is quickly followed by a memorable exhibition of tropical night-life; weird and beautiful insects, little and big pests, come on board in thousands.

The outstanding features of the scenery through which we pass on Monday are vegetable-ivory palms and bamboo-trees on the river banks, with the sky-high rising Andes in the background. The principal port of call is Bodega Central, the trading depot for a famous coffee-growing district. Just beyond Bodega Central we see numbers of very large alligators reposing on the sandy shores; shooting on board is against the rules, but some of us have conscientious objections against not having a pot at these dangerous reptiles.

Owing to increasing difficulties of navigation, our boat is tied up for the night. She is under weigh again at dawn, carefully picking a track through the deepest shallows of an island-studded course; occasionally she bumps a sandbank, and two or three times she gets aground, but quickly clears herself by whirligig manoeuvres.

We are fast nearing a main chain of the Andes on Wednesday, and rapidly the scenery becomes more wildly beautiful.

The excitement of assisting in a hunt of amphibious wild pigs makes a short day of Thursday. By the evening we are at La Dorada, the terminus of the Lower Magdalena route.

Early on Friday morning we start off by train for Beltran. The railway first traverses a region of flower-bedecked Bush, then crosses vast plains, which resemble the richest of English meadow-lands and are the grazing-ground for thousands of cattle. Beltran, on the Upper Magdalena, is reached at 11 a.m., and here we embark for Girardot.

The adventurous course of the Upper Magdalena, as it finds a way among ravines through the Andes, is a waterway situated amidst some of the finest scenery in South America.

Girardot is reached on Saturday. On Sunday we start off on the last stage of our journey, to make our fourth railway trip across the Andes.

Almost immediately after leaving Girardot the train begins its climb of 9,000 feet up the Andes. The track to Bogota is remarkable among Trans-Andine railway routes in that it scales the mountains almost entirely without the assistance of tunnels and bridges, and that the surrounding country is luxuriantly fertile. Sugar-cane plantations and banana groves are prominent features of the cultivated region in the tropical zone traversed by the railway. When we reach temperate heights, bracken, blackberry-bushes, and a wealth of mountain flowers make us feel very much at home. The only tunnel in the whole course of the journey is approached through a glade of foxgloves.

A first view of the Sabanas, or tablelands, is obtained soon after the train emerges from the short tunnel. The last stage of the journey is made on the Sabana railway. Our new train, a veritable train de luxe, speeds across the Sabanas, past country mansions, pretty farmhouses, cosy cottages, rich pasture-lands, fields of grain, and well-stocked flower-gardens and kitchen-gardens. In the background there is a fine stretch of downs. Here, 9,000 feet up the Andes, after a nine days' journey through the wilds, how easy it is to imagine that we are being rushed through Sussex by the Brighton express. The fine city of Bogota, the most remote capital city in South America, is reached at 7 o'clock on Sunday evening.

Although all passenger traffic and the transport of all merchandise had to be performed on muleback from Girardot until a few years ago, the civilization of Bogota is of a higher standard than that of some of the more famous Latin-American cities.