La Camioneta de Cerveza by Amy Bovaird
Renata and I struck up an unlikely friendship. We couldn’t have been more different. Like most Colombian city girls, she looked like she stepped off the pages of Glamour. With her immaculate make-up—from well-penciled eyebrows to highly-contoured cheeks and deep red lips—she intimidated me.
Both in our mid-twenties and from the same church, once in awhile we took in a movie or sipped thick, pulpy juices, but we had never traveled out of town together. This time she invited me to meet her family in Corro Morro.
I threw on a pair of blue jeans and t-shirt with sneakers, and, traveled light with an old army backpack. Renata wore a tanktop, short-sleeved tailored jacket, and pressed blue jeans. She carried a red valise in her hand and looked even taller in her three-inch heels.
Though I was as casual as Renata was chic, I still held clout as a foreigner. This status, I suspected, brought about the invitation.
On the bus, Renata leaned over and said, “Amy, I translate. No worries.”
“I can speak Spanish,” I assured her, knowing my foreign language skills far surpassed her belabored attempts at conversation in fragmented English. Like most locals, she wanted to practice English, so I deferred to her.
The bus came to a shuddering halt when it reached Corro Morro. As is typical in Latin American pueblitos, whole families congregated around the market square--a large central fountain, flower-lined walkways, a park and a church, all situated together. The crumbling, solid-colored but faded, painted buildings were lettered in black--Supermercado, Restaurante, Gasolinera.
The locals slowed or stopped all together to stare at me, the gringa. Renata reigned in her glory and introduced me as a “close” friend. When people tried to strike up conversations with me, however, she cut them off. “Ella no habla espaῆol.”
She knew I spoke Spanish. I gritted my teeth and bore the lie, so she would appear more cosmopolitan.
Renata’s father, a pharmacist, held status in Corro Morro. Although he was considered wealthy there, her family lived extremely humbly by American standards. In fact, my guest bed was a door perched on top of two sawhorses with a sheet spread over the wood, no mattress, and a light cover for me to use. I can’t remember how my makeshift “bed” didn’t tip over, but their ngenuity intrigued me.
The visit itself was unremarkable until it came time to leave. A monsoon-like rainstorm struck the night before and washed out the roads. All public transportation stopped, and we were stranded.
I needed to return to Bucaramanga in Santander, another state, to teach the following day. We started hitchhiking, with no luck, slip-sliding through the streets. Mud covered our clothing—more mine than Renata’s. I even had splatters of mud in my hair.
When we reached the outskirts of town, Renata stopped. “Time to eat.”
“But what about Bucaramanga?” I asked, fearing a long delay. I imagined arriving home in the wee hours, the Mud Monster Incarnate.
“We’ll find a ride,” Renata promised.
A short, heavy-set older woman served as the waitress in this hole-in-the-wall joint. She smiled shyly at me, showing off her only tooth and took our order. I asked for pollo asado, grilled chicken.
The waitress nodded and scrawled it down. “Jorgé,” she called, pointing to a scrawny chicken in the side yard. A teenage boy caught it, and ignoring the squawking, wrung its neck. I sat in shocked silence, unable to look away. It was that poor chicken that caused me to be a vegetarian for the next year and a half.
As we waited, Renata ducked in and out of her seat. “We have a ride,” She pumped her arm. “Viajamos en una camionetta de cerveza.” Of all things, we would travel to Bucaramanga … in a beer truck.
A beer truck? How would a truck make it over washed out and muddy roads that much larger buses wouldn’t take on?
As we prepared to leave, Renata pointed to the inside of a brightly-colored truck. I peered in and found the truck jam-packed with crates of filled bottles.
She said, “You can lay down on them. I’ll ride in the cab.”
I was the smaller one, so I crawled inside, noting crate upon crate of beer, stacked three levels high. When I lay down on the open-topped boxes, I had only half a foot between me and the truck’s canvas ceiling.
“Adios,” Renata waved as she backed away and situated herself in the passenger seat of the cab.
After the door closed, I didn’t worry about the tight fit because I had to find the handle of the nearest beer crate to keep from sliding or banging my head.
The rickety truck bounced and jounced along the deeply-rutted dirt road, and I bumped and thumped along with it. The tops of the bottles dug into my skin through my clothing, especially when we rounded the curves. The stench of so much beer overwhelmed me.
We stopped shortly after we started our journey. I then learned what motivated the gregarious driver—a strong following and muchos pesitos—lots of money.
After I discovered what a daring ride I took on, I cushioned my blows with the clothing I took from my backpack. Then I settled in for the many stops I would encounter for the next six hours to Bucaramanga.
Somewhere along that horribly rutted journey, I decided Spanish would become my preferred language for travel, especially with Renata.
One viaje por camioneta de cerveza was enough for me.
If I had to have such adventures, at least I would have some bargaining power to tip things my way—in the best case scenario I’d be drinking the beer instead of riding on top of it!
The translation of viaje port camioneta de cerveza is ‘journey by beer truck’