Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Caribbean Coast

By Sanne

We were more than ready to leave the stinking hot city of Cartagena behind. As beautiful as it was, it really was quite unbearable to walk around in that heat. We knew of a small village in the mountains just inland from Santa Marta, Minca, that was meant to be a bit cooler so we headed for there.

We bypassed the huge city sprawl that is Barranquilla further east on the coast and eventually found the small road leading up to Minca. Sitting at only 600 metres above sea level, to our disappointment there wasn't that much respite from the heat, however as soon as the sun went down it did become pleasantly cool. We stayed in a little guesthouse right next to a river and the first thing we did when we arrived was to jump straight in for a refreshing dip. It was here Mark got absolutely slaughtered by mosquitoes and when he got out of the water his back looked like it had been pelted by a pellet gun!

Minca is a really quiet place, not a whole lot to do there but it was just what Mark and I needed. We spent the days swimming in the river, going for walks and lying in the hammocks reading. While we were here we started talking about how to get from Colombia to Panama. Because there are no roads linking the two countries and the Darien Gap is an impassable wilderness most people opt to take a sailboat from Cartagena to Panama. This would cost us US$2,000 which is quite a lot for such a short distance. As my history with sailing and boats in general hasn't been the best I was considering to fly to Panama City while Mark would go on the boat with the bikes. At this point I threw into the conversation the idea of shipping to either Mexico or Miami. We couldn't find any info on Mexico but quite a few people seemed to have shipped to Miami. We contacted a shipping company that had been recommended on Horizons Unlimited, Lyn Cargo, and they replied back to us really quick with information. First of all they shipped mainly via air as this was the most cost-effective way due to big port charges at destination. The problem was that they did not ship out of Cartagena, just Bogota. Well, Bogota was a 1,000 km ride south from the coast where we were so it was a bit out of the way. Despite this, the idea really appealed to us for several reasons:

1. The price of shipping to Miami is around the same as shipping to Panama.
2. The bikes are starting to get tired and developing a few quirks here and there - shipping to the US would have the benefit of being able to get parts easier (and cheaper) than in Central America.
3. WE are getting tired! After 3 1/2 years on the road we are starting to loose the passion a bit. It's not like we are not enjoying ourselves - we are - but not as much as we once did and we're becoming a bit jaded as in we don't see or appreciate the beauty so much of the places we are going through. I think we have been spoiled by TOO much beauty since we have been in South America! Also, if we were to go through Central America we would be faced with 8 border crossings. 8 very corrupt and time consuming border crossing. And we just don't feel up for that.
4. We need a change of scenery. We have been in South America now for over a year and we have loved it! But moving from hotel to hotel and eating the same foods can become a bit monotone and we want to see something completely different and be excited about travelling again! We were thinking that Central America wouldn't be that much different than what we have already seen so far.

We still hadn't made up our minds yet but this new change of direction gave us plenty food for thought. Part of us were wondering if we were missing out on something great by bypassing Central America. We both had wanted to see Mexico especially. With all these thoughts in our heads we left Minca after 4 days and headed to Costeno Beach which is a surf camp owned by two Canadian brothers. It's only been there for about 4 years but already has become quite popular with travellers. It's a very chilled out spot right on the beach with cute little beach huts amongst tall coconut palms.
We camped here as it was the cheapest option. The surf here was not great so you had to walk down the beach a good few kilometres to catch some waves. To swim wasn't great either as the ocean was very rough. Not the best spot for a surf camp. Despite that it was a nice little spot to hang out for a few days.

Next stop was Palomino, a wide sandy beach which is really quiet and underdeveloped, which is something we have noticed along the Colombian Caribbean coastline - it's very underdeveloped - which is great! The beach here was much more swimmable than at Costeno and the surf was better too. We camped here as well at a nice place called Finca Escondida right on the beach. Super nice place in beautiful grounds but with one major drawback: a massive amount of mosquitoes and sandflies! We were constantly spraying ourselves with mossie spray and slapping our ankles to no avail - it was supremely exasperating!

Colombia has been the country in South America (together with Brazil) with the most amount of street dogs. And a lot of these dogs are in really poor condition. But the worst cases I have seen was in Palomino. Imagine a dog with its hind legs broken and destroyed, dragging itself by its front legs up and down the street. It was a horrible sight and no one seemed to pay any attention to it. I mean, this dog really would have been better off dead. On top of that it was all bones and obviously had some kind of skin condition. When I asked around to find its owner no one claimed it and when I asked the police if there was anything they could do i.e. put it out of its misery they said they were not allowed to use their guns. With no vet in town they promised me they would see if they could contact the vet in the next town to come and take care of it, however I don't hold many hopes that anything will actually happen for this poor mutt.

Then there was this exuberant little puppy who hung out around the beach where we stayed. Severely malnourished and underweight with a really bad skin infection with open wounds which sandflies were feasting in. It also had worms. Basically it was in a really bad way. In spite of all these ailments it was the best-tempered dog I've come across and clearly all it wanted was a little bit of love. But no one wanted to touch it because of its skin. We wanted to help it so bad but knowing there was no vet in town we didn't know how we could help. If I was in a car I would have taken it with me but on the bike it's not so easy. One evening as we're sitting in the restaurant we hear this loud slap and a yelp and everyone turns around to see what is going on. A man is chasing and belting the puppy with a stick down on the beach. Well, I can't just stand by and watch an innocent animal being beaten so I approached the man and asked him what the hell he was doing. This was all in Spanish and at one point I may or may not have called him "Puta" which translates to "Bitch" or "Whore". Maybe not the best choice of words bu it was the only swear word I knew! Well, he wasn't too impressed with being called that so he started waiving his stick at me sort of to say "No no, no Puta". I asked him if he doesn't have a heart and he flatly replied: "No, I don't have a heart". I replied that that was pretty obvious and turned my back to him.

The next day we met an American girl with her Colombian boyfriend. They also had sympathy for this dog and had contacted a shelter in Santa Marta where they were going to take it. We gave them a lift up to the main road on the motorbike (with the puppy in a cardboard box!) from where they were going to hitch a ride on the back of a truck to Santa Marta. We never got their details but I hope they made it there and that the puppy is recovering so it can have a good life as someones pet. All this confirmed my belief that nothing will ever happen unless you take matters into your own hands. You can not expect anyone else to care and do something (because most often they won't). Kindness is worth NOTHING without action.

As we were almost at the Venezuelan border and the end of the Colombian coast, it was time to make up our minds about where to go from here. Should we go back to Cartagena to catch the sailboat to Panama or should we ride south to Bogota to fly to Miami? Weighing up the pros and cons we landed on the Bogota-Miami option. Now that the decision was made we quickly booked our flights as there was a good deal on flying with LAN in two weeks time. Then we had to register online for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) which is required when you travel via the Visa Waiver Program which is something we are eligible for, it basically means we don't need a visa. We had a couple of questions related to this so we emailed a few offices to get some answers...well, that didn't get us anywhere. I don't know why they have help centres for these things because they are certainly not interested in helping! The answers we got ranged from giving us addresses of websites which we already had looked at and found nothing to this cryptic answer "A law is a law. You must comply with our immigration law all the time". Jesus! All I asked was if I needed to purchase a return ticket! Very helpful. This did make us wonder if we really wanted to go to a country with such an unwelcoming attitude but we hoped it was just a case of unhelpful authority figures.

After a few days we could stand the onslaught of mosquitoes no longer and now we had a deadline to be in Bogota in a weeks time as we had to be there one week prior to flying out to sort out the shipping. It was a slow ride south on a small road with nothing but trucks. That night we stayed in a hotel in the small "town" of San Roque, really it was just a gathering of trucker hotels on the side of the highway. Shortly after entering our room the heavens opened and the rain started pouring while thunder and lightning were vying for attention. Then the rain started entering our room from underneath the door and the room started flooding. The young girl who came to mop up the floor thought we had had a very enthusiastic shower!

The next day our aim was to make it to San Gil, the adventure capital of Colombia, but halfway in between Bucaramanga and there Mark's bike just gave up and stopped. We were on a steep hill so had to turn around and roll all the way back down to where we had come from. Here we had to spend the night in a small hotel on the side of the road worrying about the bike. The next morning Mark went to work trying to diagnose the problem. He tried swapping numerous parts between the two bikes but nothing worked. In the end he put it down to be a problem with the valves. For this we had to get the bike to a workshop. We had to hail down a truck to take us to San Gil to get the bike to a mechanic. From here followed a time of extreme nuisance...stay tuned!

Santa Marta as seen from Minca

Swimming in the river

Bringing Sexy back....not!

View from our guesthouse in Minca

The garden had an interesting selection of plants...

The countryside around Minca is really beautiful

Costeno Beach Surf Camp

These hammock sheds are used a lot by travellers on a budget...
I have never tried them but doubt they are very comfortable to sleep in for a whole night

Lots of driftwood on the beach here coming from the nearby rivers

Palomino Beach

The little puppy dog that was taken away to a hopefully better life

Looked quite comfortable as a biker dog!

Chicamocha Canyon, around the spot where Mark's bike broke down

1 comment:

  1. Hi Mark and Sanne! We took the pup to a vet in Santa Marta, where she was de-wormed and is being treated for her mange. We heard that the shelter is over-crowded and has recently suffered an epidemic, so instead of taking her there we are looking for an owner for her and plan to bring her to Bogotá as soon as she´s put on enough weight to handle the vaccinations. She´s got a lot of fight and being so sweet-tempered, we are hopeful to find her an adoptive home. Drop us a line when you´re in Bogotá and let´s have a beer! -Jess and Yei