Sunday, 12 October 2014

Medellin to Cartagena

By Mark

Before taking off for Medellin we rode down to the river to take a photo, Rahul followed a little after, along the way he tried to the test the limit of his suspension and his bike failed. I was walking back to my bike and hear the sound of a bike horn, I look up over the river bed and see Rahul looking at his bike lying on the ground wondering how it ended up there. I go over to help pick the bike up and one pannier falls off.  I really don’t know how long this bike will last after Rahul dropping the bike the previous day.  After a giving the clasp on the pannier frame a good whack with my hammer we mounted the pannier back on plus a strap to help keep it in place.

As we set off back onto the main road Rahul follows me straight out onto the road and almost got cleaned up by an oncoming car, after another near brush we made our way back through to Guatape and stopped to take a few more pics at El Penol.  For a change Sanne and I did not have to think about navigating into a big city as Rahul has a GPS (worth more than his bike) which made negotiating the traffic a little easier, not so for Rahul. Since he has no handle bar mounts for his GPS he has it sitting in the top of his tank bag. To check where he is going we both find him constantly looking down and taking his eye off the road but managing to keep it together, that is right up until the point of entering into Poblado which is a very nice neighbourhood of Medellin. As Rahul tries to keep his unruly beast under control while riding through a quiet intersection, he stalls it and drops the bike. A few locals run over to help him pick up his bike while Sanne and I move off the road and park up. All of this happens to take place right out of the front of the hostel that we were actually looking for.

It turned out that the hostel was full so we had to walk around to try and find another place. This is where we met Albert from the borders in Scotland. He just happens to own the first “fake” Irish bar in Medellin. He also happens to have rooms for rent upstairs above the bar and parking out the back of the pub for 2 bikes. After much messing about we finally checked into our humble abode, we were just not sure how much sleep we would get being a Saturday night and the bar not closing until 4am!

With that we decided it would be a good idea to go out. Being tight arses now that we are even poorer than ever we never actually made it into any bars or clubs. Luckily enough the streets come alive on a Saturday night and with no shortage of corner stores selling booze for much cheaper than the clubs we opted to stay on the streets until Rahul wangled his way into a bar and asked a local for a dance. When I tried to get in (climbing over a small fence) after hanging round out the front for the past 15 odd minutes I was caught quickly and asked to leave. Had to try even if it was a poor attempt. We were not quite taken with the night scene here and headed off back to our rooms at about 2am. We did not drink much but the late night was the hardest to deal with the next day. It was a very lazy day spent lying around and eating mainly. 

We did manage to get out and have a look around the centre of Medellin. Well all I can say is that we were very protected staying in El Poblado. The city centre is like being in another city all together. We went down town for some lunch and while walking around we see numerous hookers hanging out around many small casinos that seem to be in a high abundance around this part of the city. All I can say is that you must be pretty desperate if you are after one of these 'ladies of the day' They came in all shapes and sizes and ages. I guess something for everyone? Later we met up with a lovely young girl for our free walking tour of the city that Rahul was able to get us squeezed onto. We all met up beforehand and off we went. We didn't go far but we did learn more about the city and how it has been transformed into the city it is today. Back in the nineties however it was known as one of the deadliest cities in the world with many murders taking place on a regular basis. Luckily for the locals the city became safer after the death of Pablo Escobar. He used to pay his people $1000 per head for each policeman shot dead. There are mixed feelings for the ex kingpin of the cocaine trade, some people liked the guy for his generosity in helping some less fortunate souls and also putting money into the building of churches and schools.

Churches, well the crowds around the churches within the city centre are not the typical crowd. If the hookers are not out the front of the casinos, they will be found out the front of the churches along with the drug dealers and addicts in the parks neighbouring the churches. It is believed that if they are going to go commit a sin then they can go ask for forgiveness first or after, makes sense I guess.
I must say that you would not want to be hanging around this part of town after dark. Along with all the friendly locals you do also have a lot of people you would not want to associate with and could find yourself with all your valuables gone quickly.
After our walk which was good, a little long I must say however we jumped on the metro to head back to the safety of El Poblado.

The following day was bike maintenance day. We needed to give the bikes an earlier service than usual after the head work that was done in Quito. We found a local bike store who was willing to let us use their workshop after purchasing the oil etc from them. In no time we had done a once over on the bikes and things were looking good. Sanne's bike is no longer using any oil and mine a small amount after I stupidly ordered the wrong parts and could not fit the 3 rings for the piston. Rahul's bike was not as easy. Firstly he went to change the oil filter, there wasn't any! Then the guys at the shop had troubles finding the original. We all took off with Rahul returning later to pick up his mighty stead.

Next thing we had to do was speak to Rahul. We had really enjoyed our time travelling with him but just needed a few days travel by ourselves. Sanne and I have travelled together for so long now and have a good routine, when you throw a third person in, things change and we enjoy our routine. We do also enjoy travelling with others. We spoke to Rahul who was not 100% sure of his plans also as he had commitments back in the US. Rahul was fine when we spoke of our plans and it turned out that he was thinking of heading east again and we were headed north west close to the Panama border and of course the Caribbean! We had spoken to a few people and all thought we were a bit mad to be taking the route we were headed for. We bid farewell to Rahul with the promise to keep in touch and maybe ride together again in Colombia when he returns from the US if our plans match up.

We hit the road the following day with no real idea of where we would end up. After a busy escape from Medellin we found ourselves back in the mountains, riding through the lush green valleys. The roads were quiet, just how we like them. We originally had in mind to make our way for Turbo but that was never going to happen. We stopped early in the afternoon in a little village where we seemed to be the centre of attention. Especially when a parade came through town, all the young children were more interested in us and the bikes parked on the street. Just another day for us, something we will miss when we return home.

After a noisy night from all the trucks coming through town all night we hit the road for the coast. The scenery was spectacular, starting the day riding down a beautiful green valley, the road twisting lower and lower down the valley all the time following alongside a full flowing river. The landscape changed from mountainous to flowing hillsides covered in jungle, to farm land and some of the most basic houses I have ever seen since being in South America. We could really feel we were almost down to sea level as the air had changed from a clean crisp fresh feel to a heavy wet and hot feel and along with that the temperature had risen sharply along with the humidity. With that the traffic had become heavy and congested the closer we came to Turbo, we didn't have to go through this place luckily and we had our minds set on Arboletes, a small town on the Caribbean coast line.

Arriving early afternoon we found ourselves a cheap hostel on the waters edge and cooled down with a cold beer. Lucky for us an evening storm rolled through and the heavens opened up and it poured down raining cooling us off completely. We had Cartagena in mind so we were on the bikes the next day still heading north, firstly we had to stop by a volcan de lodo (mud volcano) for a refreshing all over mud mask straight from the volcano itself! It has to be one of the strangest feelings I have felt trying to swim through this thick mud. Just stop where you are and that's it, no sinking no putting your feet down as no one really knows how deep it even is, all the time in the centre mud is bubbling and spewing out keeping the volcano full with mud. After a long and exhausting effort of trying to get all the mud off our bodies, we geared up and hit the road for Tolu, another beach town which seems to only get domestic tourists so we were basically the only gringos in town.

After a couple of relaxed days on the beach, enjoying the warm weather we made our way for Cartagena via a stop at playa Blanca (white beach) which is known for its beautiful white sand and turquoise water. Anyone going here, DO NOT GO ON A SUNDAY! We arrived to a fully crowded beach, both in the water and out. Beach huts everywhere, highly inflated prices along with an even higher temperature and humidity that was stifling especially in our bike gear. No surprise that after a cold drink we were back on the bikes. We had really hoped that we could have camped somewhere on the coastline but was just not going to happen.

We rode into Cartagena on a Sunday afternoon which was a good decision as it was pretty quiet. We made our way straight into the old town where the majority of hostels are. Boy was it hot, being inside the walled area of Cartagena was nasty with no fresh sea winds to cool you down. The next thing was to try and find a cheap hostel which seems to be lacking here in the centre of town. We did finally find a place with air conditioning, we needed a treat after the past few days on the road. Before we could get in and have a shower though we had an interview with a lovely American girl, Casandra who we got talking to out the front of our hostel. I must say that I am sorry Casandra for how bad I smelt, polyester and man made fabrics don't smell too good after sweating in it all day, ok well it was not just my clothes that smelt, I was stinking!

After a well deserved cold shower we hit the streets and went for a short stroll around the streets of where we were staying. Being a Sunday evening it was busy and it felt like there was a bit of a buzz in the air. On many street corners there would be locals asking us if we were wanting any coke, and I am not talking about the cold beverage! I guess that is why I could pick up on the 'buzz' in the air. With such a big police presence on the streets I was surprised at how open these guys were being. We did later see a few guys being bailed up by the cops out the front of a hostel. Even though it was dark out it was still almighty warm and not a single bit of wind in the air to cool us down. Being within the confines of the walled city has its downfalls and one is that you do not get the benefit of an evening sea breeze. We admired one huge beautiful yacht sitting in the harbour and thought a ride across to Panama on it would have been very nice, probably a hell of a lot more expensive though than our possible boat ride to Panama.

The following day we walked further around the old city taking in the sites and enjoying the many colonial style buildings that are so colourful and well kept. We did however have to keep going from park to park and walk in any shade we could find. It was hot here but the humidity was what made it even worse. We found oursleves sneaking into air conditioned shops so we could cool down. By early afternoon we were shattered and were needing a break from the relentless heat. We headed back to the confines of our cool air conditioned room. Well, first surprise was that we no longer had our room and all of our stuff had been placed into the another room the size of a shoe box. No air con or door to the toilet. When we questioned the guy about it he made out as if we were all keen on the idea and that we should be happy to have a room now with a TV, bathroom and air con for the same price as a room without all the extras. We have found more and more lately that the Colombians like to save money on the building of hotel rooms, almost every time we get a room with private bathroom, the walls never reach the ceiling and you usually will not get a door and barely ever a toilet seat! Great for when you are not feeling so well. The managers were super strict when it came to the aircon and only had one single remote for all the airconditioners in the hostel which you had to ask for to change the temperature etc.
Some where along the line Sanne upset the poor guy trying to run the place so next time when we returned after being out he thought it was his duty to turn the aircon off while we were out, so when we returned it was like an oven in our room again. All quite childish really but with a guy like that running the place we thought when we return to Cartagena we would stay somewhere else.

We had got to see a good amount of the city in the 2 nights we stayed but it was hot, really hot and I was wanting sun and surf and a nice quiet place to hang out. I was not going to get it in Cartagena so we decided we would hit the road the next day for Minca and the small coastal towns further north and return later to ship the bikes to Panama and see more of the city then.


Sculptures by Botero

This Botero sculpture has a big hole in it from when someone planted a bag of dynamite inside it and blew it up

In some small town we stayed, the children had a parade but we were the main attraction

Chatting with a couple of local boys

Volcan de Lodo

Somewhere by the road headed for the coast

Prime cattle country here

The Caribbean sea at Tolu

Playa Blanca aka Hell on Earth?


Lots of street art around, this was one of my favourites

Funny enough these cannons do not even face the sea

Our first sighting of an Iguana, and of all places in the middle of Cartagena in a park

No comments:

Post a Comment