Anything that had got damp in the boats the day before dried out overnight. I was up not long after 6 as we’d been told the immigration office might open at 7. With the daily boat scheduled to leave at 7:30, it wouldn’t have left much time to get everything organised. It wouldn’t have, if I’d been in a country like Japan where things run on schedule, where the immigration office wouldn’t have opened before 9am as the sign on the door said. As it was, at 7:30 the immigration official turned up looking like he had just woken up and wearing the vest he had quite probably slept in. No problems, I just wanted my stamp.
He collected the passports from the 4 of us and he started processing us, but after a few minutes he started playing with his phone. I’m not sure if that because the computer system was down, or he just didn’t feel like he had to work that hard as he wasn’t officially starting for another 90 minutes. Either way, by the time we got our passports back, the captain of the panga was standing round talking with us. He probably has a similar situation every day, and it’s not like he was going to leave 4 potential passengers to save 20 minutes of waiting.
The panga was much bigger than the two the day before, with space for about 50 passengers, and it looked pretty full. I managed to get a seat most of the way back, which is more comfortable than the front. The boat was also more luxurious as the seats were padded, meaning that even though we were going at up to 65km/h as opposed to 40 the day before, it was not a bad trip. For anyone who loves going on the log flume at theme parks, it would be a delightful experience. For me, having spent the best part of 10 hours the previous day I was just wanting to get to a road that I could pedal along so spent the ride listening to music.
When we got close to Turbo, the water looked very muddy, and arriving into the port reminded me of going to a dump. The river was heavily polluted, but thankfully holding my breath seemed to work. Everyone else rushed off the boat, into the swarm of touts trying to direct people to their taxis or a bus, but I just waited and let everyone else go first. My bike and bags were the last things off the boat, and after asking a policeman for directions headed to a bike shop.
While Turbo won’t long in my memory for its architecture, that first experience with Colombian business will. If bike shops around the world had that kind of service, I’d have even less motivation to do bike maintenance. I turned up and was given a coffee before I’d said a word. When I explained that I was after – bike cleaning to remove the salt water, headset adjusting, brakes checking, slow flat in rear fixing and whatever else they found a guy took to it straight away. I went to an ATM to get some money out, and then to find something small to eat. When I got back, my bike was in pieces as the mechanic decided to not only clean, but also apply grease. I chatted with the mechanics in the shop for the hour or so that it took for them to sort my bike out, and the whole experience cost me 8000 pesos ($4). I, who don’t really believe in tipping, gave them 10,000 and didn’t take the change. Phenomenal people!
After a proper lunch, I headed north along the coast following signs for the town of Montería which was around 190km away, far too far for one day considering it was already afternoon. Even though there didn’t seem to be that many cyclists out, there were plenty of cyclist signs and the traffic that went past didn’t make me feel squashed in. My next highlight was stopping to eat a bakery, Colombia has the best bakeries so far in the Americas and I’ll definitely be eating at a lot of them on my way around the country. The one strange thing was that he couldn’t refill my water bottle as apparently being 3pm the water was off.
That evening, about 10km into a 30km stretch of dirt, a motorbike went past me ridden by Daglington who was going with his wife to a nearby town where he worked as a teacher. He slowed down so we could ride together for about 10-15 minutes chatting away. When we left, we exchanged emails so we could stay in touch on Facebook.
At the end of the dirt, it was already dark and the little town that I was in didn’t have much of anything more than humidity and heat. There was one restaurant, so I stopped there to get dinner and ask about sleeping. After a delicious dinner, we spent the night watching Colombian TV, which seemed to mainly consist of a reality show and then a drama based on Colombia beating Argentina 5-0 in football back in the early 90s. Then I put my tent up inside the kitchen while he hung his hammock in the same area. I mainly used my tent to hide from the mosquitoes.
After an early breakfast, I was back on the road and ran into Daglington. He was on his way to work and gave me his phone number, saying to call when I got to Arboletes, about 15km down the road. I did so and his wife came to meet me and took me back to their house where I was given a second breakfast and spent the morning chatting until Daglington came home. Then it was time for lunch, and a short siesta. I expected to wake up after about 30 minutes later, ready to ride on to Montería, but slept for more than 3 hours.
When I emerged from the bedroom they told me it was too late to keep riding and that I should stay for the night – what lovely people! We went to the beach for a swim and a run. They had been planning on taking me to the nearby volcano de lodo (mud volcano) in the afternoon, but I’d slept so much that it was off the cards. Instead we had dinner and watched a movie until it was time to sleep. A lovely end to a completely unplanned day.
I was up early as always and although my stomach felt a bit off, I hit the road assuming it’d clear up. Just after leaving the house, I had a puncture which would normally have been no problem, but, feeling kinda dozy and crappy, it took twice as long as normal to fix. The rolling hills mixed with my lethargy made for a slow unmemorable ride. I broke it up at a restaurant where I confused the waitress so much by asking for just a plate of rice because I only wanted something light. She asked in 5 different ways to confirm that I wasn’t somehow wanting something else, but eventually accepted and came out with a very confused look and my plate of rice.
The hills ended at the toll booth, that seem to be on every main road in Colombia. The great thing about them is that they have a space on the side for motorbikes to go through because they don’t pay a toll. Of course bicycles fit down there too, and so there’s none of the having to stop and put your bike on the pavement to avoid the toll booth that you have in other places. On the other side of the toll booth was the town of Montería where I had been planning on staying.
I had been in touch with a Couchsurfer, but that morning when I was asking for his address he said that his house was full and he wouldn’t be able to host me. It was a little frustrating, because if he’d told me earlier I could have found a different host, but as it was I was in a bit of a bind. Nearer the start of the trip, I’d have been concerned, but I’m so used to not knowing where I’ll sleep that it was OK.
I hung out downtown for a while, and then went to a McDonald’s to use the WiFi and enjoy the AC. While there I met a man called Juan Carlos who was also using the WiFi. We started talking about my trip and life in Colombia as he bought me dinner! He suggested that I ask at a nearby police station for camping, and then said his goodbyes. I thought about it, but it was only 15 pancake flat kilometres to the next town so even though the sun had already set I set out.
15km of lovely riding later, I felt full of energy and the sickness from the morning had cleared up. I went shopping at the bakery and set off again. The next town was another 40km down the road and as I’d enjoyed the earlier ride figured I might as well keep going. It meant I got to the city of Lorica at just after 10pm, just in time to see lots of motorbikers riding round honking horns and waving flags as one of the most popular clubs, Atlético Nacional from Medellin, had just won the league. I stopped at the petrol station at the entrance to town and started talking with the police. After a while I got to asking about a place to stay and a minute or two later they hopped in the truck and told me to follow.
We got to a hotel and one of them popped inside briefly and then told me that I would be staying there. Apparently the commander either owned the hotel or had some connection which meant I could get a free room. It was on the 3rd floor, so the policemen carried my fully laden bike upstairs and invited me down to the lobby where I was given a beer and we chatted about football and Colombia until past 11pm when they excused themselves.
Riding along in the countryside
Daglinton plays guitar
In the hotel room