A local’s tour of Medellin

Brightly coloured buildings in Medellin

In the old part of Medellin

6 October – Day 76

Distance: 0kms

Another excellent day in Colombia, a country which continues to exceed my expectations and has been one of my favourites so far.

As we were walking around looking for a café for brekky before heading off, we for some reason decided to go up a little side street… where Juan, the helpful stranger from yesterday, was sitting at café with his wife! How he recognised us I have no idea; he’d only seen us in all our gear including helmets… but he did, and came and sat with us for quite a while. He was pretty disappointed that we were planning on leaving Medellin straight away, and said that he’d love to take us around the city if only we stayed in town for another day. Plus his favourite local soccer team was playing that afternoon, and we might want to watch it with him? It was an opportunity not to be missed – spending a day with a local, in his own city?!! Yes please!

Twenty minutes after breakfast we were at the designated meeting spot, and the tour began with a close look at the Gaudua bamboo that was growing nearby, and a discussion on how it’s used in construction. It’s apparently known as ‘nature’s steel’ because it’s so strong – and flexible, which is helpful in earthquake prone areas.

We were going to get a taxi into the town centre, but while we were waiting the bus arrived and so on we jumped. It was our first local bus ride in South or Central America. It was pretty obvious that we were tourists, so along the way almost everyone in the bus was pointing things out to us, wanting us to know which street we were on (‘the car street’, where all the car dealerships are) etc etc. They were just so friendly! I know I keep saying this, but really – it’s such a change from previous countries, where people were either not friendly, or just wanted money. Colombians are friendly for the sake of being friendly.

Anyway, we hopped off and Juan was right into the tour, taking us to San Antonio Square which is where, in 1997, the FARC set off a bomb inside a statue, killing 17 people. 1997… it’s not that long ago.

We then went to look at the second hand book sellers’ offerings… on Sundays, the streets are lined with people selling old books. It was bliss. Our tour also took in a couple of the big churches in the town centre, as well as the more famous buildings, made all the more interesting by being with a local who knew the history, including information about the architect, year of construction, any issues or scandals associated with the building, current use etc etc. I wouldn’t be able to do the same thing on a tour of Sydney; I just don’t know enough about the history of the place. So I was even more impressed, and grateful, for the tour. At one point, Juan even sweet-talked a policeman into escorting us into a restricted area so he could show us a couple of monuments and explain some more about Colombia’s history. The policeman must have walked around with us for over 10 minutes, and he got into the tour too, pointing out various things and sharing bits of information.

One of the statues in this area is of Guillermo Gaviria Correa, the former state governer and his Peace Commissioner, Gilberto Echeverri Mejía who were killed by the FARC in 2003 after being held hostage for a year.  They were captured when participating in a peace march.

After a quick refreshment at a very local pub, Juan’s wife Sorel picked all of us up and took us for lunch, and then we went back to Juan’s place to watch his local soccer team’s match over a few more refreshments including a delicious traditional Colombian fried plantain and avocado dish from Calli, which is where Sorel is from.

All in all, it was an excellent day.

Stone arches and a wooden roof inside a church

Inside one of the big Churches in Medellin city

Our lovely Colombian hosts for the day

Our lovely Colombian hosts for the day – Matteau, Sorel and Juan





Toad Hall

View of Toad Hall Costa Rica including pool and house - and tropical jungle

This motorcycling caper ain’t half bad! Our accommodation at Toad Hall

21 September – Day 61

Samara, Costa Rica to Fortuna, Costa Rica
Distance: 200kms

It took us a looong time to get going this morning! We started our day with what was a fairly average breakfast and then a fantastic swim. The water was the perfect temperature, with lovely, glassy rolling waves big enough that it was fun to float over them and not so big that you thought you might get smashed. Sensational. It was hot early, so we procrastinated and just faffed about, delaying the inevitable. I’m not sure if you’ve ever worn heavy, baggy jeans in hot and humid weather? I can tell you that the jeans stick to your legs, making it hard to pull them on – the kind of stickiness that’s like a wet plastic bag. It can also be hard to even bend your leg at the knee, as the denim stuck to your skin acts as a sort of brace. So yes, we were putting off putting on our bike jeans for as long as possible.

Eventually, we got going and it was actually pretty nice riding. It wasn’t as hot on the bike as it was off the bike, there were some windy parts for Adrian and not much traffic. We stopped for lunch by a lake by a volcano which was pretty impressive… and we decided to find some accommodation nearby.

Enter Toad Hall. We’d been seeing signs for it for several kilometres, including “world’s best guacamole” (a VERY big call), “shoes”, “wine”, “great accommodation”, “pub”. After we decided against the first place we stopped at, we made the call to find this Toad Hall. And – it was excellent!! For many reasons, including that the moment we pulled up outside, it started to absolutely bucket down with rain. I think it was a sign.

In a role reversal, I did the room checking/price negotiating – and I did a fantastic job, if I do say so myself! We’re in the “Jungle Suite” which is actually more like an apartment than a suite and has an amazing, 180 degree view of the lake and surrounding tropical rainforest, from the floor to ceiling windows that form one wall of the suite. There are some rescue birds in aviaries just below our room, including parrots that whistle, cackle like Dr Claw at the end of an Inspector Gadget episode and also a wicked witch sort of a cackle, and call out ‘hola, hola’ on a regular basis. It’s hilarious. And so nice.

Oh and the guac? It was very good!


20 September – Day 60

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua to Samara, Costa Rica
Distance: 267kms

If ever there was a bureaucratic process in need of improvement, it’s the process to cross the border from Nicaragua into Costa Rica with a vehicle. And I’m saying this as someone who has experienced more than her fair share of bureaucratic processes in the past! Wow. Talk about long and convoluted…  to get the bike in, we (well, Adrian) had to go from immigration, to customs, then back to immigration and then back to customs. No biggie, as often there are different offices involved. It’s just that for some unknown reason, in Costa Rica these two offices are 400m away from each other – which means walking over 1km just to get in to the country! In hot, humid conditions. In full bike gear!

Anyway, we got through in the end and made our way to Samara. The roads were pretty good… fewer speed bumps and chickens than previous countries.. and more horses. We were stopped at one checkpoint not too far from the border and the police officer took down Adrian’s details and then waved us through. Not sure what it was about….maybe to cross reference with immigration that we’d entered the country legally?

Samara is a little beachy town with a relatively high proportion of westerners… which means it’s reasonably expensive for Central America; prices are pretty close to Australian prices. Still, the beach is lovely!


A day of highlights

View from cabana down across the town to the coast

The view from our cabana in San Juan del Sur

19 September – Day 59

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Distance: 0kms

Today was a day of highlights.

The first highlight for me today was getting some washing done. Seriously. I know that sounds like a strange thing to consider a highlight, but when you’ve only got two t-shirts, when you don’t always stop somewhere for long enough to get washing done and dried, and when every day is hot and steamingly humid, the thought of a freshly washed shirt is definitely something to be excited about. For me, and presumably anyone and everyone I happen to walk past on any given day.

The second highlight was the discovery of a combined bookshop-café. My favourite! With excellent, excellent books and organic shade grown in-house roasted Arabica coffee from the proprietors’ very own coffee plantation located just up the road. And delicious smoothies.

The third highlight was getting my legs waxed by a woman who knew what she was doing. Again, a leg wax generally isn’t something to particularly celebrate… but when your last leg wax in Central America took almost a hour, included at least 20 minutes of the waxer individually and painfully tweezing hairs with unnecessarily sharp tweezers AND left you with legs almost as hairy as they were before you walked in to the joint, a good wax somehow seems more valuable.

The fourth highlight was an excellent dinner at a restaurant just down the hill from our cabana. The restaurant had its own generator. This was a highlight in and of itself given that the power went out at 4pm and didn’t come back on until about 10.30pm. It was our fourth blackout in four days.

Tomorrow we’re off into Costa Rica – I’m looking forward to seeing how it compares with Nicaragua (which I’ve really liked).

Old men with guitars

Adrian being serenaded by three cute old guys

Adrian being serenaded by three cute old guys

27 August – Day 36

Zihuatanejo, Mexico
Distance: 0kms

A full day off the bike, in a beachside town – and it was grey and rainy for pretty much all day. Boo!

Still, a day off is not to be wasted, so we were off to the old town for coffee after breakfast where I entertained myself for the better part of an hour by listening to the three Americans sitting behind us discussing the trials and tribulations of owning a slice of paradise in Playa Ventura – and how difficult it is to find a local person able to maintain the property to the standard they’d like while they’re not there. You know, like sweep any bugs outside, check that the power is still working etc etc. That was their big issue for the day. And other than a brief interlude when Adrian was serenaded by three cute old gentlemen with guitars, I just couldn’t stop listening.

After a while, we’d had enough and so wandered down to one of the main beaches here… it was beautiful. We’ve spent a little while along the Mexican coast now, and this is the first beach that we’ve actually wanted to swim at. Up until today, the sea has been an angry, white, frothy soup full of rips and cross currents so strong that waves smash into each other – perpendicular to the beach. I think it’s because of the monsoon; apparently the beaches are lovely at other times of the year. Not at the moment though, that’s for sure. Until today! Even with the grey sky and drizzle, the warm water and smooth, calm ocean called to us.

Grilled mahi mahi - it was so fresh and super delicious.. mmm..

Grilled mahi mahi – it was so fresh and super delicious.. mmm..

Then, as we were walking out to the break through the shallows, we saw a stingray close by. And another one. Suddenly we were hyperconscious of every step, trying to check the sand before putting each foot down. Steve Irwin came to mind. And we got out of the water.

Instead, we got a massage on the beach,  drank coconut water straight from coconuts and were sung to again. It was a lovely way to spend the afternoon.

Speaking of lovely… dinner was one of the nicest meals we’ve had in Mexico so far, in a bistro we thought was casual but turned out to be fine dining of the ‘white linen serviettes and table cloths/waiters pull your chair out for you’ variety. The food was excellent and the staff super friendly. We were the only people in the restaurant and our waiter was really interested in what we were doing, so we talked quite a bit about the trip… which made me feel a little uncomfortable when he’d told us that his motorbike was broken but he couldn’t afford to get it fixed, so he could only getting it going with a downhill start. Meanwhile, we’re galavanting through the Americas. And he’s one of the lucky ones, with a job, a couple of languages and the ability to afford his own transport. The wealth disparity is just so in your face here – it’s a constant reminder about my own good fortune.. to have been born where I was, to have received an excellent education.. and so much more. It’s a very grounding experience.

Three nights without biking – a trip record!

Sunset over the beach, Sayulita Mexico

Sayulita sunset

Sunset over the beach in Sayulita, Mexico

Sayulita sunset

23-24 August – Days 32 and 33

Sayulita, Mexico
Distance: 0kms

Our two full days off the bike started with both of us doing a 75 minute yoga class and then having a fresh fruit/vegetable smoothie. So good! Then it was down to the beach, to read/relax/doze/dig our toes in the sand etc etc.

First things first though; Adrian needed a new hat. Somehow, he’s already managed to lose two on the trip so far; the cap he brought over with him and its replacement. I don’t know how or where he does it – although I do know he hasn’t been leaving them in our hotel rooms; I do a sweep of the room just before we close the door behind us. They definitely haven’t been there; I do a proper ‘girl’ look; not just a ‘boy’ look!!!

Therefore the first order of business was to buy a hat to replace the replacement hat. And the task was achieved, although any chance we had of flying a little under the radar evaporated instantly: nothing screams “TOURIST” like a hat with the town’s name emblazoned across the front! To be fair, the chances of us going incognito were pretty low to begin with… what with our pasty white (and now slightly pink) skin and backpack, and distinct un-surfer look, it was pretty obvious we weren’t from the area. I did try to get Adrian to walk around in bare feet, without a shirt, with his boardies hanging so low that he could have been mistaken for a plumber bending over a drain, but he didn’t see the point: without waist length dreadlocks and a sleeve tattoo, it just wouldn’t have been convincing. And – he was right. This is definitely a surfer town, where refugee westerners seeking asylum from their mainstream western lives live alongside Mexicans working their butts off to obtain that from which the westerners had fled.

It’s an age-old conundrum: we want that which we do not have… and sometimes don’t realise that what we have (the western lifestyle; living in a Mexican paradise) is actually pretty good.

Anyway, we gave up trying to ‘look local’ and drank iced coffees at an espresso bar, had more smoothies, ate delicious Mexican food, walked on the beach, sat in lounges under an umbrella on the beach and  read, did Sudoku (ok, that was just me), read, people watched, read and so on. All the while, we were constantly engaging with the congo line of authorised beach sellers offering us anything and everything: beaded necklaces, earrings, silver jewellery, drugs, wise quotes selected by canaries in a cage, drugs, t-shirts, wooden carvings, salad bowls, drugs, carved and painted skulls, pastries, reflexology, friendship bracelets, sarongs, drugs, blankets, woollen throws, dresses, sunglasses, peanuts and more. We were at the beach for several hours on both days – and I’d guess we’d had about one approach every 3-5 minutes. Non stop. For hours! And we were polite to every one of them, with our ‘no gracias’ and attempts to explain that we had no luggage space as we are travelling ‘con moto.’

I said ‘authorised’ beach sellers as they obviously had to have some sort of licence or registration to sell on the beach, and they were wearing their ‘official’ authorised seller t-shirts. In this beachside town, where I’ve seen kids younger than 12 driving quad bikes on the street, where I’ve seen whole families cruising up cobblestone streets on one motorbike, where in a single day I was offered more drugs than in the rest of my lifetime combined, you need a licence to approach people on the beach. Wow.

All in all, it’s a pretty cruisy place. A combination of old and new; gringo and local. I’d say it’s more ‘touristy’ than ‘Mexican’ – yet still a nice place for a few days of downtime. Yoga twice daily certainly helped with that – and with helping to correct my ‘motorcycle gait’…

Nah, just kidding – I still walk normally (I think…).

Flouncing down: a self-indulgent habit of first worlders

Adrian standing with BMW r1200 GSA in foyer of hotel

Beamsky and Adrian in the foyer of our hotel in Durango.

August 20 – Day 29

Parral, Mexico to Durango, Mexico
Distance: 413kms

We hightailed it out of Parral as soon as we were up and packed. As per yesterday’s post – there wasn’t much keeping us there! Durango though – even driving through the city to our hotel, we were both smiling. Finally – a city in Mexico that we knew we’d really enjoy. The ‘why’ is somewhat awkward or elitist or something to admit: it’s because we’re first world people who like first world things… such as cafes and restaurants. In the north central Mexican cities we’ve been through so far (where we’ve been the only gringos aka non Mexicans we’ve seen), the people have not had the luxury – neither of time nor money – to flounce down on their backsides and pay a premium to have someone else bring them food or drinks they could prepare at home for half (or a quarter – or maybe even less) the price. So there just haven’t been any cafes or restaurants or bars for us to hang out in. Hanging out – it’s a self indulgent habit of middle class first worlders. People like us. Readers of this blog. Who might even be sipping on a latte or chardonnay while reading this. It’s good to keep in mind and acknowledge every now and then; a reality check of sorts.. our ‘reality,’ although real to us, is not universal.

We had a first in Durango.. parking the bike aka Beamsky in the lobby of a hotel! As in literally in the foyer. I’d read on other blogs that many hotels in Central and South America do that – ie offer secure motorcycle parking in the foyer – but we were yet to experience it. Until today! It was kind of strange, riding the bike through the doors and parking it in the atrium in the centre of the foyer. I was also pretty happy that, with my 100-odd word Spanish vocab, plus hand gestures, I was able to confirm that they had motorbike parking, find out how/where to drive into the lobby, check in and get the wifi password. It’s amazing that you can communicate so much with so little.

Road works blocking the road

Another day, another detour… somewhere on the road between Creel and Parral, waiting at road works.


19 August – Day 28 (four weeks on the road!)

Creel, Mexico to Parral, Mexico
Distance: 343kms

Today was really just a transit day. We toyed with the idea of pushing on to our next stop, but after Adrian had to fight through the school pick up / city centre traffic for about 45 minutes, totally frying his concentration, we decided actually that we’d be better off calling it a day early. It’s not worth pushing it – and we can start fresh again tomorrow. That, and the fact we’d been on the bike for 6 hours already.

The motel we’re in… well… suffice to say that it’s the first motel I’ve stayed at where they display condoms for sale behind the check-in desk.

I suspect we’ll be out of here pretty early in the morning.

Let the holidays begin…

Wednesday was my last day at work until 2014. I can hardly believe it! This trip has been coming for so long.. it feels surreal that it’s finally almost here. The house is packed up, the out of office message is on and in four days I’ll be in Anchorage with Adrian! Wow. What a different a day makes – or a year, for that matter…!

So.. I’m on holidays and am already having a lovely time. I’ve taken my Grandmother for morning tea, lunched and dinnered with friends, been for a run around Blackwattle Bay and have had an excellent Balmain coffee… and it’s only been just over 24 hours!!!

Nanna drinking tea

Morning tea with nan at her local cafe

One of my big things is gratitude – and right now I’m feeling pretty grateful for a number of things. For the fact that I have been given leave from a job I really like to do this trip – and for my smart, engaged, positive colleagues and boss, who help make my job so rewarding. For my family, who are so important to me – and for the fact we’ve got a few days to just hang out before I take off. For my friends, who are absolute rockstars. And of course for having a boyfriend with a similar spirit of adventure and desire to be an active participant in life.

So yup – feeling pretty grateful right now!

While I’ve been finishing up at work, Adrian has been in the US riding from Anchorage up to Prudhoe Bay on Alaska’s north coast. The weather has apparently been lovely – and the mosquitoes ginormous. I’ve heard they hunt in packs… which presumably I’ll see for myself when I get to Anchorage on Monday night!