Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Cartagena and the road south to Medellin


The main gate into Cartagena old town
Cartagena is a city that I have been quite interested to visit ever since I saw that 80's classic "Romancing the Stone" where Cartagena features in the grand finale. The city is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Colombia and for good reason, the walled old town is beautiful. It was great to spend a few days here with Julien and Jesa checking the place out.

Jesa, myself and Julien checking out the fort

Inside the old town in Cartagena

Street mural near the hostel

Vibrant street around the corner from the hostel

Colombian flag over the fort

Square in the old town
It was also a much needed opportunity to do some bike maintenance after all the lugging around on boats in getting to Colombia and previously with all the rain in Panama. I was assisted with the bike maintenance in no short measure by Kurt, a fellow bike tourer that I had originally met in Panama City when I was doing my rounds of the hostels. Kurt and Chris were about to set off to do some bike touring in eastern Colombia and Kurt was continuing on to do a round the world bike trip (http://pocket-thunder.blogspot.com/).

After I had walked all the side streets in the old town and sorted out the bike it was time to finally start cycling South America. I was very excited to be finally back on the bike as it was cycling South America that I had dreamed of for as long as I can remember, the appetisers of North and Central America were more recent add ons when I started really looking into this trip.

Packed up and ready to go for the minor matter of cycling the South American continent
As I've noticed before whenever I've had a prolonged period off the bike, the going was slow and to be honest it took me a few days to get the cycling legs going again. Thankfully the first few days riding were not too challenging although even the rolling hills were more than enough to contend with in some stifling heat.

A father and son pulled alongside me on their motor bike intrigued to find out about my trip and looking for a photo. One of the many friendly faces I met on my first week on the road in Colombia.
The thing that really stood out for me over these few days was the hospitality of strangers. Every evening from about 5pm I would start looking out for a suitable place to set up camp for the night. I had decided that for the moment in Colombia I was going to play it safe and camp beside people's houses. This obviously involves walking into somebody's garden and asking them in broken Spanish would it be okay if I camped in their garden or near their house for the night. Despite my limited Spanish I have a spiel that I stutter through about the length of the journey and amount of time on the bike. Mr. Exhausted-Innocent-Smiley face also helps. I was very pleasantly surprised that almost everywhere I asked over the weeks cycling were happy to take me in and showed me some exceptional hospitality.

Away in a-a manger... first nights camping in an old disused animal feeding barn, at least I hope it was disused.

My second night was spent camping at the back of this incredibly generous family home. This is only part of a big extended family that all lived next door to each other. Apparently I wasn't the first touring cyclist to spend the night.
A different night spent in a family's front porch, making sure to do my best to litter their entire front garden.
After about four days on the bike the rolling hills came to an abrupt end as I crossed over a big river mid afternoon and the proper climbing up into the foothills of the Andes began... gulp.

Crossing over this river marked the start of the Andes...

Some beautiful mountain scenery
The next few days were slow going as I wound my way up into the foothills of the Andes. Two days later I was up at altitudes of 2,500 metres which brought some welcome cooler weather after the hot humidity nearer to Cartagena. I slept in my sleeping bag for the first time in months.

This fella was about a metre long and as soon as I looked away sprinted up a tall tree about as fast as a squirrel.
Sunrise just outside of  Santa Rosa de Osos
The guys where I stayed here were up at 4.30 to milk the cows, I had a lie in 'til 5.30
I was more interested in the winding downhill in the background to bring me towards Medellin. a week after 
Just over a week after leaving Cartagena I had made it to Medellin, which I cycled straight through to get to the Casa de Ciclista at San Antonio del Prado about 15km south of the centre of Medellin. I was going to return to downtown Medellin later.
Was glad to see the bike acknowledged on the way into Medellin which is a bike friendly city.

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