I slept in in the hotel, enjoying the icy cold room – the joys of AC. I didn’t get to have a hot shower, maybe there’ll be hot water when I get up into the mountains. I’ve not had one since Costa Rica. It turned out that the tube I’d put in the day before had a leaky patch on it, so the rear tyre had gone down overnight. I couldn’t be bothered fixing it, so went out to find a place. The bike shop apparently only sold things, and directed me to a place where they were repairing motorbikes, but also had no problem fixing my tube.
It had taken a while to get that all sorted out, but as always I wasn’t in much of a rush. I had a vague idea that I might get to San Onofre, but my next plan was to get to Cartagena at some stage. I rode about 20km and was starting to contemplate stopping for a snack as I’d eaten all the bread I’d bought for breakfast when I was waved down by two people stood next to a car. They turned out to be Sergio and Margarita, a brother and sister from Medellín who owned property on the nearby beach. They’d seen me leave San Onofre and had both individually come up with the idea of inviting me to stay. So after being waved down I was invited and then given Sergio’s business card and an impressively detailed map that they had already prepared while they were sat waiting for me.
I obviously accepted the offer of a day or two by the beach, and so followed the map and 10km later I could see the Caribbean again. We lent my bike against a wall, sat down for a fresh coconut juice, and then went for a swim in the sea. Sergio was a fascinating guy. When he was a similar age, he went to Europe to party and work his way around. He spent a lot of time working at the docks and having experiences that he could still vividly describe to this day, even though he’s in his early 60s. His sister, Margarita, was also in the water and had her own share of stories. She works just outside Medellín with some local children and every year brings them down from the mountains to see the beach for the first time in their lives as well as to interact with children that live near the beach.
The rest of that day, and all of the next saw me lazing around in the hammock listening to the waves hit the coast and alternating between reading my book, napping and sharing stories with Sergio, Margarita or some of their friends. The main problem was the intense sun meant that I’d be able to spend about 30-60 minutes in the water before having to retreat to the shade. Not too bad a life!
On my 3rd day at the beach, I was thinking of leaving. It was a Saturday and while I enjoyed the do-nothing lifestyle of sitting in a hammock, I also wanted to see Cartagena. When I suggested to Sergio that I was thinking of going, he mentioned that I could stay as long as I wanted, and even though he’d be going back to Medellín on the Thursday I could stay beyond that if I wanted. It was amazing to be treated like family, and shown such warmth, from a man who I’d only known for a couple of days and who I met on the side of the road.
It was Colombian Independence Day, but apparently it’s not really that big a deal. It seemed like it was much more important for the military than for the people, and there were a few soldiers wandering along the beach checking out the houses with their sniffer dog. Sergio was very relaxed chatting with them, and even posed for a photo with their gun, although they did remove the clip first.
I saw more military a bit down the road, as I went past a base and saw soldiers out for a run around the paths. When I stopped to take a picture, a bunch of them saw me and started waving or making friendly gestures while they ran along, almost posing for the camera. In that instance, and in the checkpoints I’ve been through, I’ve had very positive interactions with the military.
I followed the coast, listening to my Pimsleur Brazilian Portuguese lessons, and made it to the town of Tolú. It has some tourism, as it’s the departure point for some beautiful local islands, but the description I read made them sound very similar to the San Blas/Kuna islands that I’d seen in Panama. Even though my GPS didn’t show it, I’d read about a shortcut on a crazyguyonabike blog, which would cut the 55km to San Onofre down to about 30km. The majority of that would be on a dirt road, but it turned out to be a very well looked after one, with minimal elevation change and in the late afternoon sun made the red of the dirt made for a beautiful ride through the trees.
In the evening I made it to San Onofre, and found there wasn’t a fire station in town, so went to the police. I asked and was invited to sit down while the officer worked it out. I arrived just in time for the 7pm evening news, with the top story being that Nairo Quintana had won a stage on the Tour de France, and with so secured 2nd place as well as the King of the Mountains jersey, not bad for a 23 year old in his first tour! By the time 8pm rolled around, I went to see what was going on. I wasn’t really in a rush, just I hadn’t eaten anything yet. I was told I could put the tent right outside in a little gap, my tent just about fit although it was a little tight. I asked them for a suggestion of where to eat and was escorted to the only restaurant in town still open. It turned out to be more expensive than I was willing to pay, so I bought some food at a small shop and then went to the food carts in the centre. So much cheaper, and perfectly edible!
From San Onofre I wasn’t that far from Cartagena where Mario and Ana, my Couchsurfing hosts, were waiting for me. I had had to use my water filter a couple of times in Colombia as everyone drinks water sold in bags, and San Onofre wasn’t an exception. I’d amazed the police by using it, and got to pull it out later that day at a petrol station. The guy working there was so impressed by it that he gave me a coke for filling his water bottle for him. I’ve been using it because people in the small towns nearly all tell me that the water is terrible and will make me sick. As I don’t believe in paying for water, especially as I carry a filter, it means I get to either use my filter or ask someone if they can fill my bottle. That happened at a restaurant about 35km outside of Cartagena as I was running low, and he gave me purified water, but then when I stopped at a petrol station 15km outside and tried to use the tap it came out looking like dirty milk.
I was stopped at that petrol station, because I saw a very rare thing, another cycle tourist. He was an Argentinian and the first cycle tourist I’ve seen since Holly in Costa Rica. He had been in the Cartagena area for most of the last 3 weeks and was on his way to Medellín, Bogotá and then south through the Andes. He didn’t seem to be concerned about spending the next few months riding through the Andes in the rainy season, so if I change my mind and go that way I might have someone to ride with. He’d made a good chunk of the money for the trip working construction up in Canada, apparently he could save $3,000 in the month he was there – a very nice chunk of change for a month of work. We exchanged information, but I then somehow misplaced the paper.. hence why I can’t remember his name, I think it started with an A – the horror of a terrible memory.
After saying goodbye, and quickly snapping a shot as he rode away after realising I’d forgotten to get his picture, I finished the ride into Cartagena. Mario hadn’t given me his address, but had told me to make it to a part of town and then call him. That’s really easy in Colombia as there are lots of places called sais which are basically people sat round offering to let you use their mobile phone. They charge 100-150 pesos per minute (5-8 cents) and in some places I’ve seen them have 10+ phones. I thought I saw something that said there are now more mobile phones in Colombia than people, and maybe it’s because of sais.
When I neared the area we were meant to meet up at, I pulled over and asked a guy standing in front of a mechanics for directions. He told me that it was best not to go to that part of town, and called Mario for me telling him where I was. While we sat down to wait for Mario, the man in the shop gave me an ice cold bottle of water and we chatted for a bit. When Mario rolled up, I followed him back to his house where the Tour de France awards ceremony was going on meaning I got to see Chris Froome standing on top of the podium. Is it a coincidence that I start cycle touring and we win two TdFs after having never won one? It makes you think.
I’ve not shared the pictures I took in Cartagena, if you go to Colombia pictures you can scroll through and should be able to find them there.
Lazing in a hammock
Riding down dirt road