Cali to Cartagena: ¡Bienvenidos Caribe!


"Mi interés fundamental es pintar una naranja más naranja" - Ferdinando Botero

Cycling through Colombia is a joy. The scenery is beautiful. The people are the most open, friendly and generous of my trip. Especially as you travel north. Also the girls get slimmer and prettier, the weather gets warmer and even the traffic seems to ease off. Most days someone will offer me some fruit, beer, cake, or share their lunch with me. Many cyclists or motorbikers will slow down and accompany me for a chat.
I camped at the Casa de Ciclistas in Cali and Hernan, who is a great guy, showed me a map of Colombia that had elevation profiles. I copied these out into my note book and it has been fun to watch the last few hills roll by. I tried to leave the large, long and complex city. Navigating out of a South American city is no easy task. Firstly, there are little or no road signs. If there are signs they are not necessarily acurate. Then, there are road works, often with a single diversion sign. It seems to say: turn right into the barrio and fend for yourself.
But back on the open road things are simple again and the PanAm winds up and down, loosely following the course of the Rio Cauca. I swerved the Pereira and Manizales conglomoration and stopped in Chinchina which is in the heartland of coffee production. This is the sort of place that comes alive at night. Street vendors selling arepas con queso (a fried maize bread, stuffed with melted cheese, and dribbled in honey), girls gossiping on benches smoking cigarettes and men laughing their way through cans of Poker beer in cafes.
Medellín nocturna
Before long I reached Medellin. Another stretched out city. Tower blocks, built on a hillside, continue for mile after mile. I took a rest day and visited an art gallery which has a lot of stuff by Botero. He makes paintings and statues of thick people (but not fat because it doesn't hang - just looked it up and the arty term is "exaggerated proportional deformation"). I think they're great fun. His pictures are a bit of a game too. It takes a while to spot some of the things he does. The security guard told me that doors and windows in his pictures are always open. You notice there are lots of horses often with humourous expressions. There are lots of hands and feet too.

Enough of that, time to hit the last hill. Very cold and raining. I needed waterproofs and thermals again for the first time since Patagonia. Also, I got a bit of a dodgy tummy again so I checked in to a swankyish hospedaje and visited the phamacy. Then down down down. The Cauca was huge when I rejoined it and full of brown mud. It whips along at a fair old pace too. The coconut palm lined valley is full of people living in shoddy shacks and eating fruit whilst lazing in hammocks.
The fruits are fantastic and juices too. Zapote, Lulo and Cheremoya are some of the best. Once, when I was leaning against a tree reading my book and munching some bread, an old man walking past threw me a fruit. I have no idea what it was or what it is called. It was green outside, pink inside, not sweet but very flavourful and delicious.
Colombia 002

It is very common to see people walking, or cycling about, even quite far from towns. Often they have a machete sheathed on a belt with colourful leathery tassles. Sometimes you see 8 year old children hacking away at stuff with a machete taller than them. There is also a distictive straw hat here, sort of like a cowboy hat but with black and white weaving. It's pretty neat.
Colombia 008
From Caucasia the road takes you away from the river and through mainly flat and hot countryside. Then I reached Cartagena and my first view of the Caribbean sea!
Colombia 017

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