Colombia – first impression
Welcome to last continent of our adventure, in the Americas, of course.
We gave our first steps in South America in Cartagena. We flew from Panama City, and our beloved UMM sailed from Colon, arriving to Cartagena after a one-day cruise. It took us three days to finish all customs procedures and get back our faithful partner. Three days in the blazing sun, running from building to building, department to department, every day from eight AM till five PM. Well, to be fair, we can’t complain much. Each day we had two and an half hour lunch break! We thought we were facing one of The Twelve Tasks of Asterix, when enduring the “Cave of the Beast”, Asterix and Obelix, attempted the eighth task of getting a permit document from a multistorey bureaucratic building. One fact worthy of mention is that this shipping costs as much as shipping from Europe to Canada!
Finally, we were reunited and spend the first night on the beach, north of Cartagena. Peace and quiet, near a couple of fishermen’s houses. The next day we headed towards Barranquilla, the home city of the well-known singer Shakira. It’s a busy, hot, dirty city. We decided to go to Medellin, but not through the coast. On the way we managed to visit the family home of the well-known Colombian writer, Gabriel García Márquez. A tiny village, a tiny museum and links to his work everywhere.
Pleasantly surprised by the accidental discovery we continued heading south. Before reaching Medellin, we had a ferry crossing. The bridge is still under construction, so the ferry is the only solution. The journey took around one hour. The ferry consists of two parts – the barge and the towboat. A typical set up, but the age and appearance did not inspire confidence. Relax came only after spotting the name of the welder in charge of maintaining the barge. Please click here and you will see what I mean. Before reaching Medellin, in the parking lot of a gas station, we met another overlander, and what a overlander it was! Goes by the name of Taxi Latino. The owner, Ruben Ramirez, grandson of the first owner of this original Argentinian taxi from 1931, is traveling from Argentina to Alaska. Ruben is living in Portugal for over a dozen years. After our return to Portugal, we have an appointment for coffee!
And we arrived to Medellin. What has Medellin been known in the world for? Crime, through the drug lord Pablo Escobar. But this is the past. Today’s Medellin impressed us. As a rule, we do not venture into larger cities (and this one has about two million inhabitants); in Latin America, all large agglomerations were similar, but Medellin stands out among them. While hiking the city with a guide, we learn more details. For instance the subway is not just a public transport. All Paisas see it as an enormous victory of the people in the constant fight against crime. The subway stations and the carriages are kept in spotless conditions. Everyone has a top civic behaviour whenever using the subway. Most impressive. The cable car is one other public transport that exceeded its main purpose. The inhabitants of districts located on the slopes, usually the poorer ones, felt excluded from their city. Without this means of transport it was very difficult to, for example, get a job in the city. Now they continue poor but no longer feel excluded. The city has undergone a huge metamorphosis and is one of the most-praised and the most inspiring in the world. An example may be the market that didn’t encourage walks and was rather a dark side of the city. Now it is the Park of Lights with three hundred light columns twenty four-meter high. Another example is the former Justice Palace, which was to be demolished, but it was transformed into an original shopping centre. These gave the places a new history, free from the ghosts of the past. In Medellin we met with brother of our friend Sebastian from Elbląg, Robert. Robert started his bike trip two years ago in Ushuaia, Argentina, and fell into Medellin’s trap. His living there for one year now.
Not far from Medellin, we found a great attraction for UMM. Drive on the former railway road with tunnels and one railway bridge. We think that the photos and the movie would show the spirit of this adventure much better.
Another attraction on our route is Guatapé. A picturesque town known for its zócalos, beautifully sculpted and painted depictions of village life that adorn the lower half of most buildings in the town centre. It is something to watch while wandering the streets. While Marzena could appreciate Guatapé in all its glamour, I had to stay in a hostel due to a health problem that I will not describe in detail. Will just say that it was a real pain in the ass, literally speaking! Just remembering it brings back all the pain.
The Colombian road toll system was a surprise to us. Although we knew they existed we did not expect them to be in every road. And in the end of the day it was a considerable sum to be taken in account. Due to this, as well as to better landscape scenery’s, we decide to avoid as many tolls as we could. Colombia is definitely a mountainous country and it slowed us down a bit, because the average speed was about 25 km / h, and after a day we were like James Bond’s martini – shaken, but not stirred. Just we. UMM was shaken, stirred and beaten, but took it all as man.
Leaving Guatapé didn’t go according to plan. In fact, it appeared that there was no plan at all! We planned about 150 km, that is, a whole day driving. GPS gave us three routes. We choose the forest road. The weather was good with clear sky’s allowing nice views of a mountain chain and valley. After two hours the road gets to a dead end. Only horses could continue! Even armed with a UMM we could not continue. Turning back meant going almost all the way back to Guatapé, but had no other choice. We decide on the first GPS proposal. After a few kilometres we faced road works forcing us to stand for an extended period of time. Finally, we were in the move just to be stopped once again. More road works! And this time we were forced to go back. Again!!! Dam, half a day had passed and we were still at the starting point. We were now riding the third and last GPS route. After a few kilometres, wanting to know if this route was clear and would take us all the way to our destination, we turned to the locals for advice. Yes, you will get there, but it’s still far away! One of the rules for safe travels is avoiding traveling after dark. It was already 18:00, and on the dirt road, stony and bumpy, we continued into the darkness. Traveling is not always a sea of roses.
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