While the minutes ticked away as we waited for our driver, I talked to the hotel receptionist in Spanish.
“You liked Medellin?” she inquired, clearly proud of her city.
“Yes,” we loved it,” I replied. “It’s nice that this hotel is so close to Park Lloras, because everyone knows where it is and that made it easy to get around.”
Actually, I probably said something like, “This hotel it nice close by Park Lloras, because all people are wise about it and it was much easy for to travel around this place.”
She gave me a blank look.
I had done it again—in addition to my crap Spanish, I had called it Park Lloras, which means Crying Park, instead of Park Lleras, its name.
“I meant Park Lleras,” I corrected myself. What a difference one little letter can make. The evening before, Lynn and I had hailed a cab back to the park to meet Roxana and Ricardo. I told the driver we were going to Park Lloras.
“To where?” the driver asked. I repeated the wrong name several times, slower and with clearer enunciation. How could this guy not know about Park Lloras! He must have figured out what I meant because he laughed and turned the radio up to drown me out. It took almost an hour in rush hour traffic, but he dropped us off in the park. The park, as in a deserted wooded area a few blocks from all the bars. It had grown dark and was pouring rain, but we got where we needed to go in the end despite my best efforts at speaking Spanish.
About an hour later it suddenly hit me what I had been saying; I told the group and they had a good laugh at my expense and we all started laughing about how there could have been a place called The Crying Park in that old movie The Crying Game.
Responsible Travel kept messaging me to say they were working to find our driver. By now he was almost an hour late. I told them we would call a taxi. Then there was a knock at the front door of the hotel, which was kept locked, and there was a man with a van.
He was young and had braces; his hair was wet and his clothes were damp but impeccable. The van was deluxe and appeared just-bought. He wasn’t in any hurry until the receptionist explained the situation to him with much urgency and arm waving. Apparently he hadn’t been briefed that we were running an hour behind.
And so he drove fast, and texted nonstop. He had placed his phone on a dashboard holder, but still—we were going 50 or 60 mph on winding roads overlooking steep cliffs. Every few minutes he would jerk the steering wheel to keep us from drifting into the oncoming lane or the cliff edge. Lynn and I, through a series of silent facial expressions meaning, “We’re going to die!” to “We have to get to the airport!”, agreed to let it pass.
Then he pulled over onto the side of the road. Was this it? Was this the real Medellin, still full of criminals and murders? Was this where he robbed us and buried us in a shallow grave?
Instead, he spoke into his phone, then turned it around to face us in the back seat. A canned-computer-generated voice translated, “You must pay 60,000 pesos for this ride.” He beamed at us, proud of his app.
Just think. On the positive side, you may never make a mistake speaking another language by using a translation app. On the negative, you’ll never know the exhilaration of trying to master a language. And you’ll never have the laughs from making mistakes.
I explained, more cautious to get my Spanish correct this time, “We already paid the tour company.” He was off like a bullet again, this time yammering with the phone to his ear to confirm we had paid, swerving as he drove one handed.
This was the most memorable thing in the airport: screens over the sinks with ads and public health messages. Ugh. Is there no escape!?