Going for Gold (and cold) in 2012
Date: 21st May – 2nd June 2012
Where: Arjona (Colombia) – Carmen de Bolivar – Sincelejo – Pueblo Nuevo – La Apartada – Taraza – Valdivia – Yarumal – Llanos – Medellin
Distance: 2595 to 3010 miles
The number of photos in this post give an idea of how photogenic, colourful and lively Colombia is. Our start-point, the Northern port of Cartagena has a beautiful old town with thick defensive walls protecting a myriad of narrow streets. It seems to be a regulation that each wooden balcony should flow with flowers, and the window bars be freshly painted stair banisters. Every corner had a new photo opportunity. In many ways it reminded us of Granada, Nicaragua, but with less tourist pandering. However, having been off the bike for two weeks now we were keen to get going to colder climes. Other than the obligatory walks round the streets and walls, we only visited one of the many attractions: The Museo de Oro (Gold museum). This gave a fascinating background to the area before the Spanish arrived, and we saw that most of the gold came from the Rio Cauca which we would be following for much of our time in Colombia.
Armed with a shiny map, many provisions, fresh sun cream and dubious bike fixes from even more dubious bike shops (eventually fixed by ourselves), we set off into what we hoped would be our last week of heat for a long time. We quickly pedalled past miles of farms all skirted by white-tipped fence-posts, and only interrupted every now and then with small settlements blaring out joyful music with their open-air pool tables. The majority of the time we were just happy to be mere days away from escaping the heat. Our only pain (apart from Geoff crashing into the back of Sarah) was when we made the rather silly decision to camp in a school! A fantastic experience, but it gets a bit boring answering the same question from the hundredth over-excited school-child. Exhausted we fell into bed only to find the humidity and heat overwhelming. Neither of us slept, and we sneaked out before sunrise to escape any further grilling. The kind caretaker ensured we had a coffee and some mangoes though.
Soon we reached the Cauca river, and as we wended our way up it we spotted multiple machines churning in the water apparently searching for gold. Speaking to some locals, it turns out that they do still find it, though it is hard to believe they can make much of a living looking at the ramshackle houses they live in. We were glad to make use of the many waterfalls tumbling onto the edge of the road here for our water bottles. For their part, the locals have made use of this water to create one of the World’s longest lorry-wash set-ups in the World, with hosepipe fountains lining the road for miles.
Always tired, but increasingly determined, we finally crossed and left the Cauca with its gold sifters for the last time, and immediately started to climb. That night we stayed with a family in a box room donning jumpers for the first time since Guatemala. A brilliant feeling! Tiredness forgotten, and filled with the delicious, cheap food and hot chocolate, we pushed on the next day reaching a new height record for Geoff with a bicycle of 2600m (parts of Mexico were higher for Sarah). Spectacular views and fantastic skies surrounded us as we climbed into and out of small valley after valley. We took advantage of the lack of heat the next day to have a lie-in, utter bliss, before rolling a few more miles in the cool midday sun to reach a small village called Llanos. Still 60 miles short of Medellin, we set off the next day with a small hope of reaching there before dusk, but that became a definite target as we passed the small town of Don Matias. We got chatting to a couple of motorbike tourers who had been to Ushuaia in the past (Hernando & Isabella) and they offered to guide us to a hotel once we reached Medellin that night. We had to make it to Medellin now! A few miles further when we caught up with them at a fantastic viewpoint of the Rio Porce valley Hernando changed that to ‘you can stay at my house’. Amazed at his kindness we flung ourselves down the winding downhill to the valley floor, and as darkness fell, arrived at the agreed petrol station meeting point to be guided to our lodgings. 3000 miles into the trip and absolutely exhausted, we flopped into bed but not before admiring the beautiful city view from Hernando’s balcony. Medellin sprawls along a valley, creeping up the sides as it goes. It truly deserves its nickname of ‘La Ciudad de Las Montanas’.
We’re glad that for the first time we are in a country where everyone seems to understand what we’re doing and gives us accurate projections of the road ahead. Combined with a good map, we’re finding navigating a lot more relaxing. We’ll spend some time here resting our bodies with our new ‘Motoruteros de Colombia’ friends and improving our Spanish before the adventure continues as we re-join the Cauca and follow it South to Cali. So far Colombia is as people have said: bustling, friendly and safe.