The marshy land mass that connects North America and South America called Darian Gap does not have a road, so I took a ferry from the port of Colon in Panama to Cartagena in Colombia. The ferry ride was 17 hours plus 8 hours of immigration and check-in bureaucracy; the rough sea made my stomach turn. In spite of the not so great ferry ride, I was highly excited to land in South America with my bicycle.
The Centro area in Cartagena was enclosed by a high rise stone wall. Its colonial architecture and small narrow streets paved with cobble stones was interesting. After a total of 675 Km’s over nine continuous days of cycling I am now in Medellin (at the time of writing), the second largest city in Colombia (route map here).
On my first day, all my excitement to pedal in South America was soon quelled by the nightmare traffic. In addition, there were plenty of motorbikes some of whom are called mototaxis since they function like taxis; they were licensed to carry passengers for a small fee and these guys were a menace when they are on their bikes. However, they were very friendly when they were not riding. When I was on the road most Colombians including pedestrians, cyclists and motorbike riders were curious about my trailer-bike setup and wanted to know where I am from etc. Once outside the city limits of Cartagena, the road was quieter and much more pleasant.
For the first five days the road was mostly flat and there were only slight undulations if any. I only cycled 70 or 80 Km’s per day because it was too hot to ride in the afternoons. The large number of fresh fruit juice stalls on the road was a welcoming relief and moreover these were served ice cold. I enjoyed the water melon juice the most, fruits in their native lands are the best I think.
On the second day I stayed with a local family who lived next to the gas station. They made a living by washing the trucks and cars. They seemed happy to work any time of the day. The trucks would pull up all through the night but he got out of his bed without complaining. The roof of the house was made of palm leaves and the floor was cement. The house was just a single room and the front ‘open area-living space’, where I slept. This setup reminded me of my younger days. I was very humbled by their friendless.
The land scape was not particularly interesting, it was mostly dry until I reached the town of Caucasia from where I cycled next to the river Cauca for two days. Water being the basis of life, made a huge difference. From Caucasia onwards it was lush green with plenty of trees and shade.
In Caucasia I camped out in a restaurant where I met Julian and his brothers. Julian had just finished high school and was waiting for his University studies. He wanted to know my opinion on some geoengineering technologies to tackle climate change that he had heard of which led to a bit of scientific discussion with him and his brother. I was very impressed by his motivation and the amount of research he had done to learn. His aunt wanted to try some Indian food; I was only too happy to make a chicken curry for them in their restaurant.
On the fourth day one of my rear wheel spokes snapped and the wheel got buckled, I had to undo my brakes in order to be able to wheel it for 7 Km’s to the next town Planeta Rica where the local bike shop fixed it. I was dreading greater damage to my rim which would not be easy to replace here, but luckily it was all fine.
As soon as I crossed the river Cauca in the town of Valvidia, I was on the Andes mountains. From the route profile I expected it to be hard but it was more than that. The next 35 Km’s from the town of Valvidia took me from a elevation of 50 metres to 1990 metres. At the end of every corner the road opened up another vista with another climb. The ascent was non stop for 35 Km’s and at a speed of 6 kilometres per hour I was pedalling hard for almost 6 hours. Andes mountains tested me on the very first day, I saluted and called it a day after 35 Km’s.
The mountain was still there the next day and after another 10 Km’s climb I reached 2450 metres altitude from where the road descended for 10 kilometres to the town of Yarumal. From Yarumal the road ascended again to 2770 metres over the next 15 Km’s. After about 70 Km’s for the day, I reached the town of Santa Rosa de Osos and stopped for the day. From Santa Rosa de Osos the city of Medellin was 80 Km’s and at lower altitude too. There road was up and down initially but the views were stunning. As soon as I crossed the town of Don Matias, at the top of the pass, was an excellent view point with superb vista. At the bottom of the drop in the valley was the town of Barbosa. Paragliders take advantage of this stunning location. I stopped for a well deserved coffee at the cafe which had a lovely ledge overlooking this valley; the pumping music at the cafe added to my excitement. The next 15 Km’s was all downhill but the narrow roads and the heavy truck traffic called for extra caution. I stopped at two different places along the downhill ride to cool off since the constant use of brakes heated up the wheels.
One of the main objectives of this trip is to cycle in some of the Andes mountains. During the three days in the mountains I heard myself saying several times ‘this is what I am here for’. To live the dream is very satisfying; it was only appropriate to take lots of pictures.As soon as I descended, a three lane highway opened up and led me to the city of Medellin.
The route (Km’s): Cartagena – San Cayetano (70) – Ovejas (80) – Sincelejo (40) -Pueblo Nuevo (102)- Caucasia (87) – El Quince (85) – somewhere in the mountain (55) – Santa Rosa de Osos (70) – Medellin (85)