Gone Bike About...

Nov 21 — Dec 29, 2006

Bogotá – Doradal – Medellín – Caucasía – Coveñas – Cartagena

Colombia wasn’t an integral part of our planned trip. Though, on meeting various cyclists and numerous Colombians speaking highly of this controversial country, we decided to give it a go. We have all heard the guerrilla, paramilitary and cocaine stories which have cast a shadow on Colombia’s image. However, with a change in presidency some 4 years ago, Colombia has made an amendment for the better. Uribe, whose father was a victim of the guerrilla, has taken a 
strong stand on security, making all major routes safe to travel.

A mix of precaution and cheap flights resulted in us flying from Quito, Ecuador to Bogotá, Colombia, thus avoiding the most tender stretch of the Pan American highway between Pasto and Popayan. Aero Gal, doing a 2 for the price of 1deal was a grand way to get to Bogotá. Actually, the service was second to none with hot and cold towels, and champagne/wine to accompany a fine meal all on the house. Pity it was such a short 
flight! Yet again, we got away with excess luggage and without having to disassemble the bikes.

 
  
Still shocked by the sudden death of our friend  Juan Andrés, we included Bogotá on ouitinerary to visit his family. Tatiana and Sergio, Juan André’s mother and brother received us with open arms in their warm home.

Spending time with his lovely family it was easy to see why Juan Andrés was such a popular lad, who is so sadly missed. We were able to help put names and commentaries on some of Juan Andrés’ photos and recount our days cycling with him back in Argentina. It was a tough farewell, but the knowledge that we found two new friends there, did help to soften the blow.



Tatiana and Sergio

  


The cyclists gathering

Alain (Switzerland) and Tanj
(Germany)
called over one of the evenings 
when there was a huge gathering from Tatiana’s family to meet the European 
cyclists and hear about life on the road. That’s when the invitations 
began to whisk us round from A to B in VIP fashion.

  


Álvaro
, Juan Andrés’ uncle kindly took a morning off to drive us round Santa Fe de 
Bogotá to include the Montserrate viewpoint, the 
botanical gardens and a shopping mall, of all things!



Tanja, Alain, Álvaro and Kurt

  


View of Bogotá


Montserrate
offered a
spectacular view of this city of 8 million. Red brick is a popular 
building material and with little gardens in front of the houses, quite a few streets have a London air about them. At rush hour, unfortunately, 
there’s an almost solid lid of soot hanging over down town.

  


Pico y Placa
is a 
system introduced in Bogotá and Medellín to reduce pollution. Depending on 
the last digit of the registration number, vehicles a
re curtailed from transiting during rush hours on certain days of the week.



Pico y Placa restrictions today

  


Colombian palm trees


The Botanical Gardens have a fantastic 
greenhouse simulating the various climatic zones of Colombia and their 
characteristic vegetation. The orchid garden is also a magnificent display 
of colour. Kurt lost the run of himself and shot no less than 300 pictures
!

  


Seemingly, one of the “things to do” in Bogotá is to 
visit one of its many shopping malls. Álvaro drove us to the Centro 
Comercial Andino
that even back in November had an impressive 
Christmas display of reindeers complete with snow and snow storms.



Snow scenes in Bogotá

  


Kurt, Hector and Jorge


Everyone got into the spirit of showing us round, including the neighbours. Jorge drove us into town and then, with 
his brother
Hector, walked us 
round the downtown area to the Gold museum.

  

In the
Gold Museum
, there is
wonderful collection of funerary objects, masks and unique body ornaments 
in gold, dating back 2
,000 years. Surprisingly enough, it all escaped the 
hands of the Spanish and the likes of Sir Francis Drake.



An interesting nose ring!

  


The Candelaría district


No visit to Bogotá is complete without a gander through 
the Candelaría district. Right in the centre, this colourful area 
of colonial houses, balconies, courtyards and museums offers a delightful 
glimpse into Bogotá’s past.

  


Nuestra Señora de Carmen Church



Candelaría Church

  


As a preview to Medellín’s Botero collection, we 
visited his museum in Bogotá and enjoyed the witty depictions of little 
fat men, women and horses.



Botero’s witty characters

  


Just 5,000 odd miles from home!

  


The salt cathedral’s dark interior


Zipaquirá, 60 Kms out of Bogotá ,
is home to another tourist oddity. Right in the depths of the local salt 
mine cavities, is a huge underground cathedral carved into the solid salt 
structure. It takes a full hour to appreciate at a glance this magnificent 
piece of architecture but with its dark, damp and gloomy underground 
atmosphere and lack of natural lighting, it is not really the cosiest 
place to contemplate or meditate, never mind pose for that cheery wedding 
snap!

  


Back in Bogotá, Darina was surprised to find 
herself on the menu of Crepes & Waffles! In a rare act 

of autocannibalism, she tore through herself to fully appreciate her 
well developed flavour and texture. Darina composed of wild 
mushrooms, goat’s cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, sprinkled with a pesto 
dressing on a bed of rucola is certainly a feast for the
eyes and taste buds alike.



Darina on a plate!

  


Ciclovía, Bogotá


Leaving Bogotá on a Sunday is akin to Quito, Ecuador 
and the other major cities of Colombia. Some of the main roads are closed 
to motorised traffic and from 7am they fill with cyclists, joggers and 
in-line skaters taking advantage of this ciclovía.

  


In addition, throughout Bogotá there are many
bicycle lanes crisscrossing the city, 
providing safety from regular traffic.



Bicycle lanes, Bogotá

  


Highway bike lane


Once out on the main road to Medellín, we even had a 
bike lane on the highway through grazing pastures.

  


For the first 50km we had hundreds of colourful 
cyclists accompanying us to the first pass. A friendly bunch that gave us 
advice on the road ahead and even bought us lunch.



Gustavo, Arturo and Kurt

  


La Bandeja Paisa


By the time we hit Villeta, 70km out of town, we had 
dropped 2
,000 altitude meters. Boy was it hot! 
But with cycling done for the day, Kurt was ready for a 
Bandeja 
P
aisa: minced meat, black pudding, 
chorizo sausage, pork crackling, fried banana, beans

avocado, fried egg, arepas (corn bread) 
and rice... all for one!

  


A couple of steep passes later and we were down at the 
Magdalena River, with the Cordillera Oriental behind us.



The only way is up…

  


Ahhh!
100
K
downriver we were glad of a rest day by the pool in Doradal, at 38 

degrees Celsius.
  


Colombia would be a fair contender for the 40 shades of 
green title
 but of course would have to compete with Darina’s Emerald 
Isle!



40 shades of green!

  



Loads of rivers

  


Cloud forest


From Doradal we had a few long hard climbs on our way 
to the top in Sanctuario.

  
Pipes of 
running water by the roadside advertise truck wash stations, but were 
appropriated by Darina to cool down
in the midday heat.



The business!

  


The boys in green


On this stretch, we had an army guard of honour. Every 
few 100 meters there were 3-4 soldiers protecting a bridge or corner and 
generally watching over us. It was a friendly bombardment of Colombian 
accents from all corners of the country, when we were surrounded by the
boys in green
on military service.

  



Colourful chivita bus

  


 


It was a lovely 15km downhill to Medellín, where our 
good friends Yolanda and Manuel, from Barcelona days had a 
welcoming party and an apartment waiting for us.



Yolanda and Manuel

  


Ana Lucía’s 4th birthday


We had a very enjoyable week of family gatherings and 
birthday parties with Yolanda’s huge extended family
in Medellín.

  


In between, we were shown around this city of almost 3 
million, built up into the hills on both sides of the valley.



Plaza Botero, Medellín

  


The elevated metro, Medellín
Getting 
round in Medellín is cheap by taxi, but even better on the metro
Impeccably clean, this 10-year-old elevated train line is a great way to 
see the city from a height. A cable car up
Santo Domingo hill is 
part of the deal.
  


 


Botero, Medellín’s famous artist has donated numerous 
sculptures and paintings to his native city. Plaza Botero is a 
great open air museum with tourists from all parts of the country posing 
beside his gorditos (fatsos).


 



One of Botero’s gorditos

  


All the cane sugar you need


La Minorista
market in 
Medellín is well worth the visit. Highly organised and varied, you can 
find everything imaginable from panela (cane sugar) to plastic flowers.

  
Here, Darina 
was approached by a stern security guard asking for her authorisation 
papers for shooting pictures. Convinced he was pulling her leg, she 
slapped him on the shoulder and complimented him on his Miami Vice vibes. 
Not in the mood for a joke
, he escorted her off 
to administration, where the boss was called to interrogate the Irish 
market spy
!



Top secret pic… for your eyes only!

 

As if this wasn’t enough publicity, the local press arrived at the apartment the next morning to interview us about our ganders in their vast continent. Colombian rivalry with their Latin neighbours came to the fore on printing and so we have had to photoshop out a couple of our journalist’s creative quotations, as they do not reflect our opinion. To read the article, Casa de dos ruedas (House on two wheels), click here.
  


Lights over the River Medellín


The seasonal highlight though is the illumination of a 
2
Km stretch of the Medellín River and a 
downtown thoroughfare. 12.5 million light bulbs were used to depict scenes 
from the different regions of the country as well as Santa, stars, 
reindeer and the nativity scene. This spectacle employs 1
,500 
people and a few hundred more make a living ped
dling 
their wares to the spectators strolling up and down throughout the
Christmas season
.

  


Lights depicting 
Cartagena and the coastal area

  


A wide variety of street food is available 
especially in the evening. Stalls are generally strategically located in 
front of late night liquor stores where the neighbourhood congregates for 
a few social kebabs and booze.



Snacks on the street

  


Now, do a right job on them, d’you hear?
  


Don Matías


After a week, it was time to move on and being experts 
at leaving we chose the Sunday to take advantage of the 30 Km of closed 
highway on the way out. Being our last ascent of the Andes, we 
didn’t mind our 2-day climb up to Alto de Ventanas.

  


On the road, we bumped into Jessie (USA), Clyde 
(USA)
and Peter (UK) on a 
mission to cycle Alaska – Ushuaia in 11 months. Amazingly, they fitted in 15 minutes to chat us 
despite their busy schedule.



Jessie, Clyde and Peter

  
Yarumal is renowned for being feo, frío y 
faldudo
(ugly, cold and steep).


TV strikes again!


We didn’t find it particularly ugly, it 
was quite fresh
, but it was definitely way to
steep for comfort. In fact, had it been any steeper we would have been pushing upside 
down! In any case it took us so long to get to the centre that the local 
TV camera was already waiting for us by the time we got to the plaza. And 
once the shooting was completed they also cashed in on a radio interview 
for Medellín.

 


The next day was our last one in the Andes. After 11
months criss-crossing the backbone of the continent, we celebrated our exit 
with a 40km downhill. Since leaving Ushuaia
at the end of the world, in January, we have experienced an amazing 
variety of landscapes, climates and cultures.



Our last Andean pass

 



Flat at last!
We worked 
our ways up, cruised our ways down and rewarded ourselves with excellent 
campsi
de cuisine or stale biscuits, depending on available supplies. It was 
at times taxing, seldom boring and often exciting, but after 10
,000
Km of ups and downs we’re looking forward to nice flat 
coastal stretches for the next while.
  


Our first Post-Andes day was indeed flat, but very hot.
We’d better get used to 35 degrees plus
, as it’s what’s ahead. Excellent 
weather nonetheless for salpicón: a finely diced fruit salad in its 
own juice, topped off with a scoop of vanilla ice and a blob of whipped cream.



Salpicón

  


Where’s MY beer?


Colombia is one of those places where it’s still 
possible to see a horse tied up in front of a downtown bar/store while

its owner is in stocking up on supplies or knocking back 
a shot of aguardiente.

  


In Caucasia, we came across a goose 
merchant skil
lfully marching his goods up and 
down the busy market streets.



He’d mind geese at a crossroads!

  


Lots of black exhaust fumes


One of the negative features of Colombia is the poor 
quality of diesel used.

  
At the end 
of most days on the road, our appearance was more like that of chimney 
sweeps
than cyclists. This is certainly the worst we came across in 
all of South America.



Filthy dirty

  


Thirsty weather


Another disappointing aspect was the behaviour of many 
drivers, especially those employed by the Expreso Brasilia Bus Company. 
A little more respect for human life (and cyclists) would be greatly 
appreciated. Travelling on the main drags for security reasons, coupled 
with heavy holiday traffic resulted in noisy days and exhausted bodies.

  


In Don Pelayo we were sent to a motel when we arrived 
at 4pm. It turned out the caretaker was given an hourly rate for room 
rental and couldn’t get his head around the idea of an overnight stay. 
He directed us to the 
next village.
Of course
there was no hotel, and after being sent from Billy to 
Jack looking for a vacant room to rent, Luís and Alejandro
approached us and offered us their spare room for free.



Luís and Alejandro

  
There we pitched our inner tent as a protection against 
mosquitos. Across the road in a little bar we had a couple of drinks by their mega speakers pounding out salsa rhythms, while a neighbour rustled up dinner for a few pesos.


Mosquito protection under thatch


The whole village was on for sacrificing a hen or two for a gallina criollo (hen stew) dish in our honour when we finally retired for 40 winks.
Unfortunately, the disco went on until 3am, when the noise was promptly replaced by dozens of cocks crowing. It was then that Darina
went on the rampage
armed with her Swiss-army knife, 
to get hold of the main ingredient for a few tasty gallo criollos (rooster 
stews
)!

  
The nice flat coastal stretch wasn’t far away. We hit the Caribbean coast at Coveñas just before the Christmas rush.


It 
was exactly like those mid-winter ads selling idyllic tropical seaside 
holidays with palm trees, white sand, turquoise waters and a few fishing 
boats for decoration. Traffic doesn’t make it’s way down to the 10km 
coastal stretch of private holiday homes, making this beach just what the 
doctor ordered.



Paradise yet again!

  


Caribbean rhythms


After the Atlantic Ocean, the Beagle Channel, the 
Magellan Straits and the Pacific Ocean, this was the last remaining body 
of water left for us to discover. Once plunging into the sea, we felt we 
had given this magnificent continent a fair go.

  


Striking it lucky, we managed to rent a house for a few 
days and a few dollars. There we lounged on the hammocks, strolled along 
the beach, jumped into the sea and treated ourselves
, once again, to
some splendid home cooking. 



Wee house for a few days

  



View from the hammock

  


The best hairdresser location


The world came to us on the beach, being the only
gringos
in town
, and we got morning price for everything from Darina’s plaits to our new beach bum attire.

  


No more bad hair days for a while!
  

¡A la orden! is probably Colombia’s most popular and frequently used expression. 
Meaning “at your service” it’s the opening and closing phrase of everyone 
who has something to offer or sell, whether you buy or not! Walking 
through a market place, there’s a chorus of
¡
la orden
! with every melody, tone and degree 
of enthusiasm imaginable.



¡A la orden!

  


Painted fruit… true!



Thatched cottage

  


Herons by the roadside
There’s a great variety of 
birds on view by the roadside including ibis, herons, spoonbills, parrots 
and a lot we would have to invent names for!
  
A typical lunch 
consists of fish/meat served with rice, beans, salad & banana chips. To 
drink there’s 101 flavours of fresh fruit juices, but a favourite is sugar
cane juice with lemon. All of this comes for a reasonable price of less 
than 2 Euros.



Typical lunch

  


Sugar candy colours of Cartagena


Cartagena de Indias 
was certainly the perfect place to round off our 15 
months in South America. This magnificent fortified colonial town of sugar-candy coloured buildings overlooking the Caribbean was once a pirates’ paradise.

  


Views from 
Cartagena

  


The Spanish empire used Cartagena to store their looted 
spoils from the Americas before shipping them home. For that reason, 
Cartagena was a prime target for pirates, and a few managed to hold it for 
huge ransom. The infamous 
Francis Drake was 
one of the successful ones making off with a nice little handful.


San Felipe Fortress

  


Canon protection


Raids like this led to the building of a massive
defence system
including a colossal city wall and the San Felipe 
Fortress. With canons scanning the Caribbean, it’s easy to take a step 
into the past and relive a little of Cartagena’s colourful history.

  


Cartagena is a very special place to spend Christmas
Unlike Europe, where everyone is wrapped up behind closed doors, here the 
celebration is out on the street. The music blares from open windows and 
everyone pulls out a chair to share a chat and
a rum 
with their extended family in public.



Life is out on the street

  


Traditional costume


Children play in the streets, show off their new toys 
and have impromptu carol singing get-togethers on their doorsteps into the 
wee hours. The doors are wide open and Christmas trees, flashing lights, 
cribs and snow scenes are there for all to see. It’s a far cry from the 
turkey and pud in winter woollies that we’re so used to.

  


Our international seafood 
Christmas lunch

  


Beyond the beautiful, green landscapes, the best thing 
about Colombia is its people. They’re a cheerful crowd who always had a 
friendly shout or joke as we passed through. Rarely did we sit in a 
restaurant without someone joining us to entertain and quiz us.
These smiling
, happy people are wonderful ambassadors for their own country
They do all in their power to make the tourist feel at 
home and so promote Colombia abroad. Colombians love their country 
and we were very happy to share a little of their paradise
with 
them these past 5 
weeks.



Colombian flag

  
In South America, 
we bumped into 85 other touring cyclists on various trips, mostly on or 
near the Pan American highway. We really enjoyed their company… and as you’ll see from the graph below, it’s 
no wonder that Darina’s German skills have improved no end this past year! 
One third of the cyclists were female. 
 



Touring cyclists we met in South America

  
After 14,000 Km in South America, we have reached the 
final shore alive ‘n kickin’!


14,000 Km later…


If Rio de Janeiro was the perfect starting 
point, Cartagena is most definitely the icing on the cake and a wonderful 
place to raise our glasses to this amazing continent and the New Year 
ahead. Since
our curiosity is not yet exhausted, time is not an issue and 
Central America is just around the corner, wouldn’t it be an awful pity not to check it out? Watch this space…

 

 

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