My mother and I often traveled to Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia, when I was younger. We traveled twice by airplane and the rest of the time we took small buses that carried four or five passengers. Usually the night before the trip, when I arrived at my house from school, my mother had already packed all our belongings, including long, warm jackets and coats for the cold temperatures. They were always folded neatly, inside two large black suitcases that seemed about to explode.
The next morning, my mother and I would reach the bus terminal. We always searched for the bus company Velotax, among the isle of infinite buses in the lot, until finally we would see the vehicle with its white doors and purple logo. After everyone was on board, the driver switched on the engine and began driving slowly through the busy, crowded city of Pereira. As he increased his speed and we all prepared for our eight-hour trip, my mother and I enjoyed looking at the many farms and animals that soon appeared through the small window of the bus. We liked to examine the cows standing under the hot sun, the horses eating the vivid, lush grass and flocks of pigeons and beautiful sparrows flying in the horizon.
As the hours passed, I always felt very glad to have my mother by my side. Usually, she was extremely busy with her job and I was highly occupied with school assignments. Thus, on each trip, as I gazed at her beautiful beige eyes and listened to her melodious, calm voice, I felt an incredible happiness. We would talk about family members we loved to visit, such as my aunt Dora, who always took good care of us. Every morning the smell of her delicious, dark, sweet coffee would permeate the air. Also, her three meals for the day were delectable. They reminded me of the unique, delicious taste of family meals. They included traditional plates of yellow rice, steak and a natural guava juice to drink. During our last trip to Bogotá, we also wanted to see my aunt Fanny, who had recently undergone heart surgery. Although her house was small, it was very cozy. It was a one-floor house, which was beneficial for her since there were no staircases. Then, there was my mother’s oldest sister, Vita, who had played the role of mother to all of her sisters since their mother had died at a very young age. Vita was a very dedicated woman who never married and did not have any children. She spent all of her life helping her family both emotionally and financially. She used to take care of her friend’s children for a living. Her house was amazingly beautiful. It had a comfortable, well-illuminated living room where young boys and girls could play with or throw their myriad of toys all around. The house also had two small bedrooms, all fully decorated. One of them contained many framed pictures of my family. The other bedroom was painted white and had flowered curtains. However, what I liked most about her residence was the aromatic smell of Cinnamon candles.
Also, on these trips, my mother and I conversed about our expectations for the future and our hopes for the coming year. For instance, my mother always wanted to come to the United States and I yearned to join the Volleyball team. While my mother and I held these spirited dialogues, the one or two families accompanying us on the bus would sleep, read books or simply stare out of the window and admire the wonderful landscape. The parents would sometimes talk about the traffic on the road and by listening to their accent, it was easy to identify that they were paisas, a nickname given to people born in the coffee producing region. Most of the time the children would get sick because of the long trip and the turning motion of the bus. On some trips, the adults were also very excited about their vacation time. They would sing or tell jokes that would make us laugh.
After the first four hours, the bus would stop for a break near a restaurant. We would all get off and take a few minutes to eat. My mother liked to order a delicious bandeja paisa and I often chose rice and chicken. It was very hot on our last trip. The restaurant had metal chairs outside, under massive plants that looked like oak trees, so it was very difficult to eat while the sun roasted us. It felt as if the light penetrated our clothes to scald our pores. After we finished eating, we went back on the bus to continue the trip for the next several hours.
During most of these trips I would eventually fall asleep. However, my mother liked to stay awake. When I would open my eyes and feel my mother's shoulder supporting my head or her soft hands brushing my hair, I always wished we had more time together. What prevented my mother from falling asleep was the route itself, which was known to be very dangerous. It featured hills full of curves and an overcast sky all year round. She still recounts that she always felt as if the zig-zag terrain never had an end. Her heart would beat very fast and her hands would tremble each time the driver made a huge turn. She always wanted to stay alert and warn me in case we were in danger. Typically, we sat in the front row, so she could communicate with the driver and warn him when she felt he was going too fast. She never reacted angrily to the driver’s negligence; after all, she understood that it was a very long and exhausting drive.
It is important to understand that my mother had been greatly traumatized by an accident we suffered when I was three months old. It was the only time we had taken a regular bus holding approximately forty-four passengers. As my mother recalls, the driver was going very fast and a truck was approaching in the opposite lane, also at a great speed. A collision between both vehicles was inevitable. However, at the last moment, the driver of our bus was able to maneuver the wheel and drive the bus down a hundred meter ravine, while controlling the vehicle enough that it did not roll over. Sadly though, because of the severe movements, my mother lost hold of me. When she found me, my head was bleeding incessantly. After many hours of desperation and shuttling, I received surgery. Thanks to God’s power and my family’s prayers, my mother and I survived. However, the accident made a lasting imprint on her.
Finally, eight long hours after leaving Pereira, we arrived at the bus terminal in Bogotá. I immediately thanked God for having brought us safely to our destination. I also turned to my mother, held her long, soft hands and thanked her, not because I got to travel to visit my family, but because she allowed me to enjoy her company.