We left Medellin for the 5 day ride to the coast at 6:30 AM hoping to avoid the chaos of rush hour traffic. Following the location-indicator on our GPS app with the phone mounted on the stem of my handlebars, when on a multi-lane road, with on/off ramps in rapid succession, in fast moving traffic, can be tricky. Somehow, we managed and after about an hour we were on the much quieter ‘Antigua Via al Mar’ (old route to the sea). The ‘new’ highway, which most Colombian riders preferred, involved a 4 km tunnel, hardly our idea of fun. The ‘old route’ was a 3 hour, stiff climb on deteriorating road conditions but much more aesthetic. At the summit we stopped at a convenient roadside stall for a lunch of chorizo, arepa & queso (typically Colombian). I asked a tough looking character about road conditions on the descent and he mentioned something about a bridge being out and a detour but his poor diction and demeanour were such that I didn’t seek clarification and so we set off on the long, glorious descent figuring in our good luck to sort things out.
The road had almost no traffic and the further we descended the less there was. Regrettably we sailed right past the unmarked detour, after which traffic was nonexistent and the road looked suspiciously untravelled. The ride was so sweet we just kept descending until, that is, there was no bridge! The river the bridge was supposed to cross was small but swift and, at first glance, unfordable.
We were initially despondent at the thought of having to climb back to the detour until we spied a flimsy looking 3-pole bamboo bridge upstream. We worked our way up to it, I stripped the bags off my bike and, without hesitation (I.e., without thinking), threw my heavy bike over a shoulder and set off across the ‘bridge’. Walking slick, round bamboo poles in cleated bike shoes was a mistake. Halfway across, looking down at the rushing water below, I momentarily froze, thinking “I’m getting too old for this’, but there was no turning back at that point. Whatever……I managed to cross without incident. Four more return trips and we had all our gear across the river. As we continued descending to San Geronimo I made the mental note to work on my failing balance when we return to Squamish (see video below – this time with Claire’s bike and a ‘little’ more confidence).
The following days, as we rode towards the Caribbean coast, we had one more gruelling climb before descending to the hot, humid coastal plain and the last 600 or so kilometres to Cartagena. We now regularly get up at 5:30 AM and hit the road by 6:15, hoping to arrive at our destination before noon. Thank God for frequent cloud cover because riding otherwise, after 10 AM, is totally draining.
If we thought the ‘motos’ (motorcycles) were bad inland, now that we are near/on the coast we have a whole new perspective . As we approach towns, even small villages, the moto density increases. They weave about in all directions, most riders and almost all passengers without helmets. I have seen 4 adults and 2 toddlers on a (+/-) 150 cc motorcycle. The little kids look so vulnerable and at the same time so comfortable! We find it chaotic, noisy, dangerous and bothersome. (and yes, we are getting too old for this too!)
But this pales in comparison to that other ‘costeño’ (coastal) phenomenon, namely the music. Wherever we go we listen to Latino music played at ear splitting volumes. On a single block in front of our hotel in Arboletes (an otherwise pleasant seaside town) were four, open to the street, bars blasting music, all different tunes, in a seeming competition to drown the other out. The locals are oblivious to the racket, even the old folks sitting in chairs on the sidewalk enjoying the cooler evenings. Maybe they are all deaf? We are flabbergasted at the noise, completely unable to understand why and frankly, it makes visiting the coastal towns, at times, painful. Thankfully the consistently friendly and welcoming Colombians make up for the shortcomings.
In some towns the only available accommodation can be a ‘love motel’. Usually located on the outskirts of town, all very discrete, where clients pay by the hour (24 hr service) and drive right into a garage with direct access to the bedroom. The perfect place for clandestine affairs, casual quickies and/or unsanctioned sex. (Jim seems to know a lot about these places, doesn’t he?) We’ve seen some pretty tawdry affairs (pun intended) that look more like storage complexes and a few more upscale places, one might even patronize. Whatever the case, they reflect what we see as a liberal attitude towards sex. Our last night before reaching Cartagena, struggling to find a place to stay, we ended up unwittingly staying in a sort of hybrid, love motel, as evidenced by the coming and going of short term clients. An old, rickety air conditioner drowned out any distracting noises.
Though not exactly ‘beach people’ we’ve had great access to the ocean in a number of coastal communities. The water is deliciously warm. The sand firm and fine, and despite the noise levels near the, ironically, more popular beaches we’ve enjoyed our long beach walks.
We’ve arrived in Cartagena, our final destination, more or less as planned, six months after landing in Ushuaia. The last two weeks have sort of dragged on and we’re keen to get home. Nevertheless, we’re feeling good, maybe a little tired but thankful our trip has been so successful. We’ve had no major mechanicals, no accidents or illness worth noting and no criminal threats. More importantly we’ve had all sorts of wonderful adventures, experiences and great personal encounters. We are now in a small but comfy AirBnB taking care of last minute details awaiting our flight (an overnighter in coach, ugh!) We’re enjoying ‘luxuries’ such as an actual shower head, a toilet seat and a bath mat! The famous walled fortress and port of historic Cartagena is a maze of lovely architecture, small plazas and funky, tasteful tourist amenities that, of course, are great to visit but of which, I remain ambivalent. Anyway, better wrap this up, Claire wants to go shopping (ugh)! See you soon.