Yesterday, 24th March was another milestone for us; three milestones in one day to be exact. Although this was just a happy coincidence it was exactly 5 months to the day since we departed our home; Jim celebrated his 58th birthday; and we rode into our final destination on the continent of South America, Cartegena. Sitting on the roof terrace of our hotel, enjoying the cooling breeze of the late evening gave us the chance to reflect on our final country in South America, Colombia.
As always on this journey, we operate on a ‘one bite at a time, one page ahead’ principle and had long ago decided to just take each day as it comes. Not always easy for 2 people who like to be organised. Overplanning would just add to expectations, create unfounded concerns and the feeling of being overawed by the magnitude of the journey ahead. Our previous knowledge of Colombia was historical and media led (should that read hysterical media led)? In reality, from the moment we crossed the border we have experienced welcoming people who have been very curious about us and the bike and now even more photos of us are out there in the big wide world (fame has not gone to our heads though) and we’ve seen fantastic scenery that has changed as we headed north. Everywhere we’ve been has felt safe although it has to be said, there is a heavy police presence and there are an awful lot of police and military checkpoints out on the roads. The country is far more westernised than we expected and in contrast to Ecuador, national dress appears to be jeans and t shirts. The roads have for the most part been good although there have been occasions where a bit of a rough diversion has been made to avoid where the road has collapsed; usually accompanied by a steep drop. Video here: http://youtu.be/42jRWwe0kRA 1:09 And steep drops have been quite a feature again as the main road north through the country, the Pan Am, climbs and descends the steep sides of high mountains which are lush and green. We have taken our time stopping off at Ipiales, Popayan, Cali, Salento, Medellin, Planeta Rica and Cartagena.
In Popayan, we negotiated the narrow one way streets of the small and beautiful historical centre, where it is a case of ‘who dares, wins’ at the junctions and foot soldiers just have to take their chances. We did see a car clip the back of a small moto and bring it down, thankfully the poor lass seemed unharmed.
In Cali and Medellin, Jim learnt to ride Colombian city style, which consists of ‘pick a lane, any lane and if no spare lane exists, create your own’. Overtake or undertake, the choice is yours. The main danger seemed to come from the swarms of small moto’s (100 cc to 250 cc) who whizz by very close without warning and then all surround you at the lights. Usually they just want a closer look and sometimes a chat. Sometimes they want to race you away from the lights (we always win that one).
Salento is a small town with either a dirt track or one tarmac road in/out. The day we arrived the main road was blocked by a fallen tree so it was a 10k+ detour on the dirt track with the added negotiation of a road bridge having collapsed so it was deep breath and descend the steep sides and hope with enough welly we would get up the other side. Bertie was a star. Video here: 1:39 http://youtu.be/cA-lfugXS1A The town is in the midst of the coffee growing area and a walk to a small organic coffee farm provided a pleasant diversion together with a good cup of coffee. (Don’t ask for milk in it though, not the done thing).
Between Salento and Medellin we decided to get off onto a road we had heard was very scenic between Manizales and La Pintada. It showed as a minor road on the map so we took our chances with road conditions. It was a great ride with some tarmac and some ripio just to keep it interesting and with the vertigo being tested to its limits we spent the day rising up to small towns perched high in the hills, where their steep roads and one way systems were akin to riding a maze puzzle and descending steeply into the valleys. A treat, and there are always treats, came at the side of a mountain road, in a shack advertising fish for lunch. Turned out the fish came from their little fish farm in makeshift ponds 50 meters away down the hill. Delicious.
We rejoined the Pan Am for what we thought would be a blast down the last 70 km to Medellin. Not to be. The road is steep and winding and is clogged with lorries and buses where we were treated to some of the craziest overtaking in both directions we have seen in 5 months. ‘I can’t believe he just did that’ seemed to be all we could utter. Travelling at snails pace was causing Bertie to run on maximum temperature and it was with relief that we spotted a garage and just as well, as some sweet local driver decided at that point to overtake from a couple of vehicles back and running out of room thought he would sacrifice us. We celebrated temporary deliverance from the mayhem with a ‘just in time’ turn into the garage for petrol, water and an ice cream. In my head are the thoughts of ‘never again’ and ‘why am I doing this’ even as Jim is saying it’s time to get back on the bike. It was a pair of weary bikers who finally located a hostel in the large city of Medellin on the third attempt as the light faded on that particular day.
In Medellin we managed to catch up with Julia, who Jim has worked with on UK hill events. She was there working so it was great to see a familiar UK face. Our favourite spot had to be the Plaza Botero (Fernando Botero is Colombia’s leading contemporary artist). In this square are exhibited 23 larger than life sculptures, which sit happily amongst, the tourists, local enebriated persons and professional ladies of a dubious nature. And there in the fountain are 3 little girls washing their dollies clothes; quite bizarre.
And finally to Cartagena and our last hostel in South America. A historic city where on our first evening in a square we were treated to a free concert in church, the opportunity to join in with a dance class (we declined and drank beer instead) and a street show by 3 circus performers who performed while dodging the police moto’s who keep an overt presence. Here we will sort out our ferry crossing to Panama. Video here: 1:50 http://youtu.be/c347wyv1mSw
But for now, we will enjoy a week off the bike. Five months into our adventure and 23,219 kilometers completed.
PLEASE DON’T FORGET WE’RE ALSO TRYING TO RAISE MONEY FOR SHELTERBOX ON THIS TRIP – AN AMAZING CHARITY. JUST CLICK AND MAKE A REAL DIFFERENCE TO PEOPLES LIVES. A DOLLAR OR FIVE, EVERY LITTLE HELPS SO SKIP THE EXPENSIVE COFFEE JUST ONCE AND DONATE – THANK YOU. https://www.justgiving.com/James-Mitchell15/