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Monday, June 15, 2009

Colombia I

Again about month since my last post. At this point i'm stuck in Bogota waiting for a new rear rim. Bogota is a big poluted crowded city with Candelaria area as only interesting place. Good thing is that there are some interesting museums so since long i can enjoy art for a day or two. The city is on altitude and in this time of year grey, cold and rainy like Holland in autumn. A bit depressing, actually. I haven't been in this weather for months, Guanajuato, mexico, i think. But i does give me time to work on my blog. So, here we go, the first highlights of Colombia.

Cartagena. Hot hot hot! The beautiful historic center is one, or rather the only, of the major tourist attractions of Colombia. The humid heat in this area is just barable, even after months in tropical climate, heat still wears me out. Especially while traveling. Cartagena offers just enough to enjoy oneself for a couple of days.

One of the many beautiful plaza's. It's incredible how location affects beer prices. Outside the center you pay about $1500 for a beer, inside it starts at $4000. Same for the food.  

Cartagena is an old fort, and today the old wall surrounding the center is mainly used as a meeting point for youth and couples to hang out.

Playa Blanca. The Cartagena beaches are not worth seeing, but at  a 45min boat ride from Cartagena is Playa blanca, a beautiful quiet beach. I went there to see Chiara, who i met on the boat from Panama. Wonderful, smart and sweet person. And spend a day (again) in a hammock reading a book. Live can be so simple and cheap if you want it to be.

I didn't take the boat though, afterall i'm traveling by bike.
To get there by bike was a short 2 hour ride. First through a very ugly industrial area at the outscirts of Cartagena, then a 'ferry' and a 15km bumpy dirtroad to Playa blanca. At first it looked like there was no road to the beach, but eventually i found someone who pointed out a trail through the jungle all the way up to the beach. Nice.

(If you want to go there, ask for the trail to hostel Wittenberg from the parking lot. Continue to the beach from this hostel, and you can drive right up the beach. The trail is blocked for vehicles at the parkinglot with trees, but you can squeeze you bike through if its not a very big one.)

"Road" from "ferry" to playa blanca. Playa blanca is definatly recommended. Quiet, and due to the total lack of ambient light the night sky is astonashing. Best so far.

From this little paradise i went to another, Parque National Tayrone....

....with a short stop in Taganga, just outside Santa Marta. Nice former fishing village, but run over by backpackers. There's not much to do, except scubadiving. And hanging out on the beach or in the numerous restaurants. I stayed here basically to write my previous posts and stayed at hostal Dolfine at the end of the main road paralel to the beach and with free secure parking. Cheap too, $15000 for a private room with shower and toilet.

Note: The main road from Cartagena to Santa Marta is not interesting at all, except from the part between Baranquilla and Santa Marta. The relatively new road separating the coast from a swamp/lake area inland, caused a major ecological disaster, which they try to reverse.

National Park Tayona  -WOW!
Probably the most beautiful beaches (and i've seen quite a few) till now. The route from Taganga was a nice ride through a jungly setting. From the park entrance you can take your vehicle to a parking lot a few kms into the park.  It was a tough decision to leave my bike at the parking, but the idea that there's 24hour gards, and it's inside the park, and pretty remote. I took the change and only paked my daypack. 'Funny' detail is that before this area was apointed national park, this place was a huge mariuana and cocaine growing and shipping area. With a lot of violence etc. I've been told that this is also the reason why many locals have american first names.

From the parking lot it's a 45min hike through the jungle to the beach. Hot, humid. Thank god i didn't carry a full size backpack.

After the first hike to the beach you're not there yet. The really good
stuff is another 1 hour hike through jungle and over beaches to Cabo
San Juan de Guía. Stunning.

Here you find all the tourists in a big
campsite where you can rent hammocks and tents.

My spanish teacher for a few days. I met Jessica on the hike to the beach. From Chile, psycologist. She doesn't speak english. I had a great time hanging out with her. Wonderfull how she kept correcting me or saying things in a way i could understand. With the patience of an angel. Hope to meet her again when i'm in Santiago.

From what i heard from here about Chile, she really made me anctious to get there and take my time to see it.
So how it looks now, Equador and Peru have to do with little of my attention.

From Tyrona i went back to Cartagena. I wanted to go to Mompós, and could not find out if there was a route from this side (there was as it turned out later) .  Took me one looooong day to get all the way back with a little detour to Aracataca, the place where Gabriel García Márquez, the famous colombian writer was born. This place turned out to be a bit of a deception. So i turned around and got back to Cartagena asap.

This time i went to hostel hollyday, a smaller but nicer hostel at the other side of the Art Hostel Media Luna (no art!!)
And a private room was a little more expensive than a dorm at the Art hostel. Quieter. Friendlier.

I met a great brittish/australian couple on a bike here. Forgot their names but they were travelling all the way up from Ushuaia following the east coast of SA on this bike, a tiny 250cc honda, bought in Ushuaia.

Two up, with homebrew luggage system. After 6 months on this bike they still had their sense of humor and still loved each other. Yes, they did carry camping equipment too. RTW Bikeprep is for pussies. Had too fix their rear suspention twice though. The engine was still in great shape, hardly used oil. Something i cannot say of mine...
Crazy: the guy crossed Australia, the 3000 km long road through the dessert on a 250cc honda rebel chopper.

Ofcourse i stayed longer than planned. Jessica was here and i took the oportunity to further improve my spanish by spending more time with her. After a few days i took of to Mompós, a colonial town in the hart of north colombia. 

Because of the remote location, and long busrides few tourists go here. Riding through this part of Colombia is beautiful. Reminds me a bit of Holland: flat, lots of water.

To get to Mompós from Cartagena side you have to take a ferry just outside Magangué. So far the road is good. At the other side, the last 20km to Mompós is a puthole filled road. 

Nice ride on the river.

Unloading the ferry, hectic. pretty well developt though ;-)

Taste of colonial Mompós. This street along the river is packed with beautiful colonial houses belonging to the rich families in this area.

One of the streets with nica atmosphere. People here are not yet used to tourists and they are friendly and curious. Wandering around town for half a day without seeing other tourists is pretty interesting.

Hostel La Casa Amarilla - opened a year ago by Richard, a brittish guy. Perfectly restored colonial building, and only backpackers hostel in town. Dormitories, private rooms, luxurious private rooms available. 

Richard lived and worked for 10 years all over south america and is very knowlegable about it, and Colombia in particular.

The road from Mompos to Bucaramanga, the first town from here worth
visiting, is interesting. About 4 hours of terrible bumpy dirtroad with
quite some mudpools when i was there. This was too much for my rear
rim i noticed later. Ofcourse i only took pictures of the least terrible parts.

Funny: the unpaved road has one bridge, the bridge and about 100m on both ends are paved. Then it turns to dirt again.

On both sides is a clear sign that cattle is not allowed on the bridge.

Aparantly not everyone can read....

Great riding here.

After about 4 hours pushing it a little i reached the main road from Santa Martha to Bacaramanga. This is a totaly uninteresting road straight road of about 250km till about 50km from bucaramanga, where you enter a mountainous area. Nice.

Bucaramanga as such has not much interesting to offer unless you want to go paragliding. There is a great hostel uptown, Hostel Casa Guane near shoppingmalls and restaurants. Good people, nice vibe, secure parking around the corner (not free)
This area looks well.

Bud the center of the city looks like this.

At the edge of town are large areas with huge shoppingmalls. Interesting about this city is that its modern, new but not used to tourists, whish makes the positive (female) attention pretty entertaining.

Just outside Buca is another hostel, owned by the same guy, Richy, with
campsite primairilly for people who do a parapent course.

Great view during the day.

And at sunset.

Sometimes it almost looks like if i know what i'm doing with that camera!

I ran around the afternoon flying session shooting away. One of the paragliders was so happy with pictures i made of him he bought me diner and beers. Cool.

The paragliding hostel was nice, i took the opportunity to clean my
bike. After the dirtroad from Mompós there was sand everywhere.

And then i noticed this. Not on one but on 13 spokesockets, or whatever it's called. And why 13?? Bummer. I continued to Bogota, where i am now,  and stopped at several nice places between Bucaramanga and here. More about that in my next post.

All Colombia pictures can be seen here.