Traveling by bus between Villa de Leyva and Mongui is a relatively simple move. Though you need to take three buses, the total travel time adds up to around two and a half hours. To get between these two pueblos, you need to change buses in Tunja and Sogamoso. Mini and short buses ply the entire route, and they are the quickest means of transport. A minibus from Villa de Leyva to Tunja takes 45 minutes (6,000 pesos), from Tunja to Sogamoso is roughly one hour by minibus (6,500 pesos) or two hours by the long bus (5,500 pesos), from Sogamoso to Mongui is a half hour (3,000 pesos) by short bus. The total cost of the trip is 14,500 to 15,500 pesos, or roughly eight USD at the time of publication.
MONGUI, Colombia- The middle aged, mustached driver looked at me like I was an unexpected obstacle as he joined me in the front seat of his minibus. As he figured out how he was going to shift gears in between my legs, a two year old protruding from my lap, and my messenger bag, I flashed him a big smile that said one thing: we’re not moving. Neither I, nor my kid, were going to take the back seat of his minibus — as most self-preserving Colombians also refuse to do. Another passenger — who laid his bags down on the seat to my right, also jumped into the bus, as four peas in a three seat pod made to ride out of Tunja.
The goal was to make it to Mongui from Villa de Leyva in a continuous stretch of travel. Our goal was not extreme, as Mongui is only a couple of hours from Villa de Leyva, but we would need to take three buses to get there.
Changing locations with a two year old is a tumultuous act, to say the least, but the kid is usually a good traveler, and knows that “bus days” mean discomfort, new sights, sounds, crowds, snacks, movies, and, if on winding mountain roads extreme nausea and hours of puking her guts out. Though, she takes it all in stride — it is her parents who get nervous about changing location. As ironic as this may sound, traveling is the worst part of family travel.
We boarded a minibus for Tunja, and the 45 minute ride went off without incident. I looked for someone to talk to — as this usually always gives me something to write about — but the people on this minibus were either cultivating iron gazes through dusty window or their heads were tipped backwards like Pez dispensors, sleeping. I stared out the window, taking photos whenever the bus stopped to pick up passengers, but soon just fell back into the gentle stupor of bus travel.
Tunja to Sogamoso
Arriving in Tunja we made to board a bus for Sogamoso right away. We were told in the station that the long buses were a thousand pesos cheaper but took an hour longer to arrive than the minibuses. Out of pure reaction, I went for the long bus amid wails and yells from the minibus entourage:
What are you doing, stupid, this bus is direct, that one takes two hours instead of one!
“Es directo, es directo, pero es directo.”
I caught a bus conductor as his ride to Sogamoso was leaving the bus lot. “Take the minibus,” he told me, “this bus takes longer, that one is direct.”
“But your bus is cheaper.”
“Take the minibus.”
Consider that taking the long bus would double the trip time, the logic of the bus guys was, oddly, very sound. We sacrificed the dollar and got on the minibus.
The Art of Riding Minibuses
In a minibus there are two seating areas that are often the last to be filled: the front seat with the driver and the backseat. When passengers get into a minbus, they tend to fill from the front of the cabin up until the back seat. Nobody wants to sit in the rear row of seats, and with good reason: it is bumby, is sometimes filled with exhaust, and it is a puking sentence for anyone who experiences motion sickness. The rear row of seats in minibuses all around the world are reserved for idiots and tourists.
This is why I, like a brute, often jump over the front seat and plop down next to the driver, and buckle up when riding minibuses. If questioned, I say that my daughter will get sick and puke all over the bus if forced to sit in the cabin — which is true. I usually don’t mention my claustrophobia.
It is understandable why nobody wants to sit in the back of these buses, but what is interesting to me is that the front seat is often left empty and ripe for the taking when all the other seats are full. When I see an empty front seat — which is often — I jump right up, buckle in, and refuse to move: this is the best seat in the house.
Sogamoso to Mongui
A free seat near the front of the bus’s cabin was soon filled by myself, a rucksack, a messenger bag, a day pack, and a two year old. I plopped the kid down on top of the pile and tried to position myself in a way so I did not take up two seats. To no avail, I sat the kid down in the other seat, though I had no intention of paying the price for her to sit there. Kids under three years old ride for free on buses in Colombia, though they are suppose to be in a lap.
I would move the kid back on top of the pile if someone wanted to take the seat. Halfway through the ride, someone did. No problem, this ride was short.
The area between Sogamoso and Mungui is a brink manufacturing epicenter of of Colombia. I began seeing old style, beehive like kilns in fields and by the side of the road. Some of these kilns were old and in disrepair, a few appeared to be in ruins, while others were still in service and had thousands of freshly minted bricks stacked up in neat rows all around them. At first look, brick making appeared to be a cottage industry — something that the local people made with less than industrial methods to support themselves — but as the bus continued on the lone kilns became interspersed with full fledged brick manufacturing plants. Everywhere along this stretch of road were brick makers, and they produced wares of both stone and adobe — the finished products laying in neat piles on the side of the road.
The bus then rounded a corner into an area alive with residential life, and then came to a halt in front of a cobblestone plaza that rose up into a massive stone cathedral. We had arrived in Mongui.
“I was good on that bus,” Petra said as I set her down on the ground. She was.