The Journal  

10 January 2006

Christmas on the Road

Author: Jeremiah

Photographer: Holly


Christmas on the Road: Panama City , Panama ; Cartegena and Bogotá , Colombia

December 24-25


Our Christmas portrait, taken in a bulb borrowed from the Christmas tree set up in the hostel's television room.

Our goal was to be in Bogotá , Colombia on Christmas Eve, but the only flights we could find available left Panama City on Christmas Day. On Friday, December 23, I dropped the bike off at the airport to be shipped and that evening, found a Christmas Eve flight with a small Colombian airline called AeroRepública. The late evening flight left at 7 p.m., had a lay-over in the Colombian city of Cartegena and was supposed to get to Bogotá before midnight. We booked the tickets online, but were never asked for a credit card payment.

On Christmas Eve we headed to the airport, unsure of whether we had tickets or not. The AeroRepública ticket desk confirmed our reservations; we paid for the tickets and cleared Panamanian exit customs. Our flight left a few minutes early, with only about a dozen passengers on the 727-sized Airbus.


I snack on patacones, which are fried green plantains, while we wait for our flight to Bogotá , Colombia on Christmas Eve at the Panama City airport. Photo by Jeremiah.

Cartegena is a beautiful colonial city on Colombia 's Caribbean coast. Though we arrived after dark, the city was still spectacular. As our plane descended for landing we could see the yachts in the harbor strung with Christmas lights, the town's glow illuminating the waves that crashed on its white sand beach. When our plane touched down we were told that we would have to exit, pass through Colombian customs and get back on the same plane for our flight to Bogotá.

We were the only two passengers continuing on, so an AeroRepública flight attendant rushed us to the front of the customs line. Two baggage handlers brought our checked luggage from the plane, the customs officials looked at them and nodded and they were taken back to the waiting planes cargo bay. Apparently smugglers don't travel on holidays. We had purchased bananas and apples to eat during the lay-over, but as we were rushed through customs, our bags weren't checked. We ran back to our plane, airline employees motioning for us to hurry, like pee-wee football coaches encouraging a five-year old wide receivers. The Airbus was waiting for us and started to taxi for take-off before we were even in our seats. Our first visit to Colombia had lasted all of ten minutes on the ground.

On the flight to Bogotá we were two of five passengers. I had always wondered who would travel late on Christmas Eve and now I was finding out; another young couple, a solo passenger and two American motorcyclists. From our window, the Colombian landscape below was deserted except for the occasional light and Holly and I sang Christmas carols as our plane made its way to the capital.

We arrived in Bogotá early at 10:30 p.m. to a deserted airport and found a cabbie who agreed to take us downtown for $5. Christmas lights greeted us as we passed through Bogotá's affluent northern suburbs on our journey to the city's center. Our bargain fare didn't seem so good when our cabbie couldn't find our hostel. He wandered through the night streets, while I sat in the front seat and gave him directions from our guidebook map. A few minutes to midnight, we were in front of our hostel, which only had beds in a dorm room to offer us. We dropped our bags and were back on the streets while it was still Christmas Eve. The streets were alive with a mix of holiday revelers and soldiers as we searched for a church holding a midnight Mass. At 12 a.m., Christmas Day was greeted by the sound of fireworks being put off throughout the city.

We woke early Christmas day to a hug, kiss and ¡Feliz Navidad! from our hostel's cleaning lady, who was cheerfully cleaning up the remnants of our fellow guests' holiday excess from the previous night. Our contraband fruit, along with the hostel's free coffee, provided breakfast. We unwrapped gifts that Holly's aunt had sent with us, that had somehow managed to survive 6,000 miles in our saddlebags. Holly had a small gift for me, but in my rush over the past few days, I had gotten her nothing.

We spent the rest of the day planning the itinerary for the remainder of our trip. We'd traveled nearly 7,000 miles and had at least that much more to go. With just under two months on the road, our timetable was also at the halfway point. We had crossed nine borders and had five more ahead. We planned to pass through Colombia , Ecuador , Peru , Chile and Argentina before returning to the U.S.

Bogotá's Christmas streets were nearly deserted in the afternoon, as we walked them in search of groceries. We found a supermarket open, where we purchased the ingredients for a Christmas dinner of chili and rice. It was dark by the time that supper was completed and we were sitting down in the dining room of our hostel. In the dim glow of a single light bulb, nearly a third of the world away from Virginia , Holly and I celebrated our first Christmas spent away from our families.


Our homemade Christmas meal of chili and rice, bread and butter and hot coffee.



All photographs © Holly Marcus / Page design by Robin Marcus