Thursday, 30 October 2014

Goodbye Colombia and South America

By Mark

While working on my bike a local guy came to check out what I was up to and when I told him I needed to find a truck to get to San Gil he appointed himself to this job. Straight away he was jumping up on trucks as they passed by. I should explain that we were parked right beside a road toll so all vehicles were at crawling speed as they passed. Most drivers were not interested but some were so keen that they were willing to even lift the bikes up high and put them in the back of the semi trailers full of gravel. After looking there was no way I was going to do that, I also had no idea how we could even get it in. Then came along a car carrier with more then enough space for my baby. After a bit of negotiating on the price it didn't look like it was going to happen and the driver pulled away. Next thing he stopped and realised it was easy money so agreed to the price. In no time the bike was on the truck, I paid my self appointed helper a small tip for getting me the truck and in no time I was sitting up in the cab of the truck while Sanne was in front of us riding her bike.

San Gil was only 60 km's away but it was a twisty narrow mountain road all the way with a high volume of traffic headed there for the long weekend. The truck crawled its way up and up the mountain taking over and hour to travel just 30 km's, from the top it was mainly down hill into the town of San Gil but that also took another hour. Sanne was waiting on the outskirts of town for us. She had had enough time to find a hotel for us and also a place to take the bike for further inspection. We unloaded the bike, said farewell to the driver and I was on my bike rolling down the last 1km into town. After checking into the hotel we were straight off to the mechanic. After telling him about the problem we started pulling the bike apart. We took the head off and straight away noticed the problem. Two valves were jammed shut by a foreign piece of metal, WTF? After closer inspection we found that it had come from the carb, the vacuum release plate had given up and snapped into three pieces, one of the pieces had jammed shut two of the valves while the larger piece was still in contact in the carb. Now to inspect the real damage to the head. Luckily enough there was no further damage. The main problem was that we were unable to get any spare parts for the DRZ400 in Colombia. Bugger!

We only had to ride another 250 or so kilometres to Bogota before shipping the bikes to Miami so I suggested to the mechanic that we should try to make something to get us there. In Miami I knew we would be able to get whatever we needed to get it running properly. It was late in the afternoon and were told to come back the following day. The following morning the mechanic had come up with a reasonable looking homemade plate. After fiddling around we got the bike running, not great but it was running. The bike was horrendous to ride at low speed and there was always the risk that the home made plate could give up but we were going to go for it. First things first we had to pay for the work. Not having enough cash we were off to the bank. This is where things went wrong. Each and every ATM I tried using would not dispense any cash to me, everybody else had no problems just me. Great. I went back to the hotel and checked internet banking, My transactions were showing up on my statements that I had recieved the money but I had nothing to show for it. Over and over this happened. Six times in total. I could not even call the bank because of the time difference.

So with a heavy head I walked back to the bike store to tell them what was happening and that I could not pay them. They did not really care so the bike was staying with them until the bill had been paid. Finally in the afternoon I could call the bank. On their system it was showing no faults. No fraud problems no credit problems, nada. So where does one go from here? Firstly, dispute all supposed transactions which was one very slow process. Next, how do I now get money? The hardest thing to deal with was that we had money, but could not access it. Our other bank cards had just expired one month earlier and we had no place to get them sent to. I was a victim of credit card fraud a couple of months earlier too, so I could not use that either. My only choice was to go through Visa and request an emergency payment. This was fairly easy and straight forward. The problem was getting the money. It was a long weekend so the banks that were affiliated with Western Union were closed so that left us with trying to find a small Western Union office. We found this difficult as they were not even called Western Union but Effy! When asked if we could get money it was a straight 'No' and they would send us onto the next office where we were told the same. Surely there has to be a place we can get money?!
Yes, at the Western Union office. So we actually manage to get directions to the office, closed for refurbishment and so the day continued on like this. We then had to go and explain this to the mechanics again, they didn't really care less. No money, no bike. We then had to tell the managers at the hotel we could not pay for our room and they were totally fine telling us it would be OK and even asked us if we needed any money to get by for food etc. Just pay us when you get the money, it was not a big problem to them. It wasn't like we were going anywhere. They were very friendly and helpful thankfully.

So we ended up back at the first EFFY office where we begun earlier in the day and asked about receiving money but asked the question differently and they said Yes, god damn things can be difficult. There was another problem however, the computer system was down, it had been all day. They said come back and try tomorrow. What a headache, I wonder why I like to drink sometimes. So we planned to leave the next day for Bogota not expecting to get any money after all the problems that day but we were hoping for the best. Surprisingly we got our money. What a test in one's patience. So with cash in hand and a place to stay in Bogota with couch surfers we hit the road. I was so worried the entire ride that my bike was not going to make it, gently applying the throttle and trying to keep it at one constant speed, not an easy feat with everybody heading back to Bogota after the long weekend, on top of that the road was still in the mountains and twisted and turned for the next 250 to 300 km's. The entire ride the bike just didn't feel right, at speed was the only time the bike felt it could make it.

Finally after a downpour along the way we were on the outskirts of the city with every other person from Bogota (roughly 7 million people). I kept calm and managed to navigate our way to Juan's apartment, our couch surfing host who was so kind to leave his keys at the front reception for us to let ourselves in until he came home the following day. Our first 2 days in Bogota was made up of cleaning the bikes and preparing them for flying to Miami. The cleaning part took a long time, then organising what we needed to keep with us and what we needed to send with the bikes. The next day we were off to see our agent, Lynn Cargo, before heading to the airport. This was all very straightforward as we had been in regular contact with our agent and she made it all very easy. So off to the airport we went. Like all shipping, we had to have our patience about us as we would be in for quite a bit of waiting around.

First thing we had to do was drain the fuel from our bikes, or should I say really just mine; since I have a clear tank the agent that came with us said all fuel must come out, well I could leave no more than 1 litre because of my transparent tank while Sanne's bike went under the radar because she has a black tank. Draining fuel by the door to the warehouse caught the eye of a passing security guard. Just what we needed, the security guard was not impressed and called the top dog to come and have a word. This just had to happen as we were about to load the bikes into the warehouse for storage, final weight check and measurement for charging. The guards wanted our particulars but we refused and told them we were just doing what we were instructed to do by our agent. Some how we got around it and they lost interest and moved on after about an hour. The head guy in the warehouse was an arse and our bikes were promptly whisked away from us before we even had a chance to load our bike gear into our panniers, this then caused a problem for him. I tell you, things were all too difficult for this guy. As the day dragged on we finally had access to the bikes and then had another hour plus wait until the police arrived to check our bikes and contents.

We have shipped a few times now, crossed many border crossings but the Colombian police have by far been the most thorough when checking over our bikes. Every single item was inspected, nothing was left and if I had anything wrapped in a bag it had to come out so all the previous day's work of neatly packing the bikes was undone. The policeman, since he did not have a sniffer dog took on this role himself opening many items and having a good whiff of the contents, it was ridiculous. I had had enough by this point and the officals including my agent were not too impressed when I threw all the belongings from one bag all over the ground. I was told by my agent to keep calm "tranquilo, tranquilo" and that it would be all over soon. After all this we were finally free to go, we then had to head back to our agents office to pay.

With all the shipping out of the way we were free to explore Bogota. Our hosts Juan and Gina were a great couple who we enjoyed having dinner together with and going out for drinks and even to the cinema (where we saw the most boring movie known to man). Gina was our self appointed tour guide one afternoon who showed us around the colourful suburb of La Candeleria. Gina knows her home city well and told us many interesting facts about Bogota. We even visited the local police museum to find out more about the notorious ex drug boss Pablo Escobar. Gina also introduced us to a few local treats and so forth before heading home to Juan's apartment. Juan was such a great guy to sit and talk with and we talked of our plans for our last days in Colombia and invited us to stay until we flew out for the US a few days later. Our time in Bogota went quickly and we never really got to get a good feel for the city but we had a good experience here and it was nice to get a bit of cold weather again after the heat of the coast and knowing we were headed for more warm weather in Miami..

I don't even know where to start to wrap our experience in South America. The experience we had with Juan and Gina was just one of many great couples we had the pleasure to meet while in South America over the past 14 months. It was with a heavy heart that we had to leave South America and trying to recall everything we had done, what we had seen and the friendships we had made was all too much to take in. South America was everything and more than we had expected. It has it all, from the vast spaces of Patagonia to the forests, the stunning beauty of the Andes, the Caribbean coast of Colombia, the Amazon jungle, the cultural rich countries of Bolivia and Peru. I could go on and on. The thing that makes it so great of course is the people, the daily interaction we had with the local people who were always willing to help us if we were lost, needing a place to sleep or just genuinly interested in what we were doing. For that more than anything we will miss. To all our new friends we have made, to the strangers in the street who greeted us with a smile, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for everything, we miss you all but we hope to see many of you in the not so distant future, we may be gone for now but you will never be forgotten.

Loading my poor baby

Safe and sound and ready to hit the road for San Gil

The vacuum release plate that my engine ate and caused it to stop

Waiting patiently for my bike to be put back together

Draining the fuel before shipping the bike

All my fuel that caused the problem with the security

Our bikes ready for flying, well almost

La Candaleria, Bogota

Our host/guide Gina and myself

I am so going to miss the cheap street food and drinks of South America

A Harley Davidson that Pablo Escobar gave to his cousin (now the property of Colombian police) you cannot see it but there are gold inlays over the engine casing and petrol tank

Pablo Escobars jacket, a little strange thing to have in a museum as it is nothing noteworthy, there was also a bloody tile from the roof where he was shot plus the phone he had used to make a phone call to his son on his birthday, which lead him to being caught

A very common sight in Colombia - police with machine guns everywhere

A weird Colombian treat, Chocolate Santa Fereno, you actually dump the cheese into the hot chocolate...

Having dinner with Juan and Gina

Fire water (literally) Aguardiente

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

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