March 6, 2018
I was meant to leave today for Tauramena, then proceed onwards the next day to Monterrey prior to arriving in Bogotá, but it seems my plans are foiled yet again. Not that I really have a big urge to leave the tremendously comfortable hotel room I am staying in. The excellent air conditioning alone makes it worthwhile, given how hot and humid it is outside. Just when I am about to leave for the bank to withdraw money to pay for the hotel, the electricity goes out, apparently a result of the excessive rainfall yesterday. Well, the infrastructure isn’t that great here to begin with, but what matters more is how I resolve my problem. I could always just go to Tauramena for the day, return to Yopal, and perhaps find something else to do on the last day.
And the journey to Tauramena is hardly that complicated, involving a short hop to the small plaza along the highway a few blocks north of where I am staying, then jumping onto a waiting buseta. The trip is quick, the town located at the cusp of a shallow winding road running north from the Villavicencio-Yopal highway, which is itself relatively straight. The ever-changing Colombia weather seems to be holding up for the moment, and when I descend at the bus station in the outskirts of leafy Tauramena, the world is bathed in sun.
I walk along the Calle 2 emanating from the bus station, passing along the overgrown and seemingly deserted residences. A few blocks to the south of the smaller park mark the historic centre of town, to the extent that the town actually has some history. A line of low rooftops continues downhill towards the bush at the far end. Further up, a building complex whose walls are laden with bougainvillea, in front women smiling broadly at me as I amble by.
There is something very peaceful and beautiful about Tauramena. I am not sure what it is: the balance between the modest homes, the light, the colour, the amount of greenery and flowers giving the town a sense of irreverent quaintness, a bucolic serenity, that all the same is difficult to justify spending too much time in, as the streets also seem just too narrow, the town is too small, and there is nowhere to go. A jewel in a box …
As with many of its peers throughout the country, Tauramena features walls covered in murals and graffiti, artistic, provocative, and omnipresent. Somewhere a nuisance, they provide a colourful backdrop to unremarkable if not ugly architecture.
Tauramena is a town of people, that is, a real environment where I encounter people living their lives, shopping, at work, children playing, and so on. As with anywhere else in small town Colombia, locals are incredibly friendly. The modest homes I pass have an appealing and inviting feeling to them. There is a sense here – similar to other towns in the region – of people leading comfortable lives in pleasant, attractive surroundings, far removed from the idea of a region thrown into turmoil as a result of insurgencies. It turns out that instability did characterize the region – but it abated some time ago, and today things are different. How long the sense of peace and contentment here will characterize the region remains to be seen.
As with Yopal, smallish trees with trimmed, rounded canopies line the streets, flowering bushes abounding as everywhere else in the country. Then the 450 metre elevation assures a subtropical climate this close to the Equator.
A small plaza is located at the centre, with benches, planters with flowering shrubs, the main church on one side, an obvious hub of social activity. Not far away is an even large plaza, with more colour, social activity, and naturally the local police, keeping the peace, not that it looks like there would much chance of anything non-peaceful occurring. Some slightly fancier establishments line the larger plaza, including a surprisingly posh hotel. Colour is added to town not only by the floral abundance but also with rainbow of colours with which houses are painted. Then a huge blue sky crowns the town, mottled with billowing white cumulus clouds.
I walk to the fringe of the town in the direction of the bus station. The road widens, and the modest private residences turn into spacious workshops and warehouses, the world ringed in green, with a blue sky mottled with white clouds looming overhead. A tiny kiosk appears to my right, the owner assuring me that the masato she has prepared in the plastic tub is delicious, and she is right. Fermented pineapple blended with panela and stewed rice and oats, perfect for the heat. I don’t have enough cash to pay her, and yet she laughs my predicament off – it hardly matters!
The wait for the bus returning to Yopal is not long. Soon we depart, and then soon after that enter Yopa again, following along a long boulevard of commercial establishments, with some retail and restaurants thrown in for good measure, one block following another, and yet I can’t seem to determine where we are. We loop into the terminal, but I am still not clear as to how we arrived. From the southwest, one of the passengers assures me, an area of town I admittedly know nothing of.
The taxi driver brings me to the back of the Exito, familiar territory. Now I want to visit the fitness centre allegedly behind the supermarket, but I can’t seem to find it. The owner of a small almacen points me further down the darkening block, past the talleres that are still busy in the early evening. There is in fact a gimnasio, but a cross-fit centre, which I am not looking for. The owner gives me the address of a place I should actually be visiting, although I am tempted to stand at the entrance and watch the patently unfit and seemingly almost unmotivated participants.
Time to eat dinner, always a challenging proposition in Yopal. The Camaron Rojo next to the Hotel Estelar is a possibility just east of the Parque Santander, but the prices are ridiculously high. Sure, they serve exclusively seafood, but I am very sceptical of the quality, considering how far we are from the sea and how long it would take refrigerator trucks to get here, never mind managing the quality of the seafood from the point of catch to delivery. Quality was definitely an issue with the leathery flavourless ingredients of the food at the Peruvian restaurant.
On the far side of the town’s plaza, Kokoripollo may be the apogee of convention in this environment, but at least the quality is predictable, the prices reasonable, and the tables placed along the wide sidewalk offer plenty of opportunity to watch the night approaching on the Parque Santander. But the entire area is suddenly deserted, bathed in a sense of foreboding …