An(other) excellent day in Colombia

A brightly coloured fountain in front of brightly painted buildings in Guatape

On the street in Guatape old town… see what I mean about the colours!!

5 October – Day 75

Guatape, Colombia to Medellin, Colombia
Distance: 80kms

Today was one of my favourite days on the bike trip so far… and not (only) because the total distance travelled was 80kms!!!

We started with a short ride to ‘the rock’ (actually called ‘the Peñol’) in Guatape, which we’d heard about from the Kiwis. It’s basically a massive granite rock in the middle of a valley/lakes region with an amazing view… once you climb the 700 stairs/ 220m to the top! It was excellent… and really beautiful.

Then we went into the Guatape town centre, which was equally great. Every building was painted in fantastically bright colours, making the whole town just seem so happy. It was on the water, had a cute little town square, it was sunny but not too hot and just really lovely.

We hadn’t decided whether or not to stop overnight in Medellin, which is Colombia’s second largest city after Bogota and has a population of about 2.7 million (in the greater Medellin area). According to Wikipedia, in early 2013 Medellín was chosen as the most innovative city in the world due to its recent advances in politics, education, and social development… so a stop there was definitely an option, and we decided to find somewhere for lunch and then decide whether or not to keep going.

Adrian navigated us to a very cool part of town near one of the universities and with heaps of cafes and restaurants etc… and we decided to stay. Not before, however, I had confirmed first hand what I’d heard from others: Colombians are some of the friendliest people you will meet, anywhere. Already, I was building to this conclusion – what with Arturo yesterday guiding us along the road towards Medellin and buying our lunch, plus Adrian was approached by a pilot in the Columbian airforce for a chat while sitting in the square in Guatape. And then we got to Medellin… There are lots of one way streets in this part of town, and so we had stopped by the side of the road about two blocks from the hostel we were aiming for (Casa Kiwi – it had to be good, right?!) while we figured out how to actually get there. A very well dressed man approached us and asked, in excellent English, what we were looking for and if he could help. He started to explain the way to the hostel, and then his (I think) wife, also looking very stylish, came out of one of the shops… and they both got into their car to guide us right there! And then, once we were at the hostel, he jumped out of the car to give us his name (Juan) and phone numbers and told us to call him if the hostel didn’t have secure parking, as he lived only two blocks away and we could park the bike in his garage. How nice is that?!! People are just so friendly and polite all the time, and for no reason other than they’re just friendly; it’s the norm here. I like it!

As it turned out, the hostel did have parking… and there was another BMW in the garage which belonged to a guy from the US who was a couple weeks shy of finishing a five year journey doing what we’re doing.  Five years?! Wow – good on him; that would be too long for me. There was also a touring bicycle in the garage which belonged to a Scotsman who is riding from Mexico down to Buenos Aires. So – lots of interesting people in a very funky little part of town that reminds me a bit of Paddington in Sydney.

The only downer on an otherwise excellent day was that Adrian is coming down with some sort of cold/tonsillitis thing… it started in the afternoon and I’m hoping that he’ll be fine by tomorrow morning.

The BMW motorbike in front of the cathedral in Guatape

On the main square in Guatape

Flat landscape with a big rock in it

This is ‘the rock’ from a distance – yes, we climbed to the top!

A zigzagging staircase built into a very large rock

These are the stairs built into the side of the rock… they look very dodgy but seemed solid!!

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).

A long road cut short

sunset over the sea in matzatlan

View from our motel balcony… sunset over the water. A west coast treat for an east coaster like me!

21 August – Day 30

Durango, Mexico to Mazatlan, Mexico
Distance: 270kms

Today was always going to be an interesting day on the bike. Any day when you’re potentially riding a road that is known as ‘the devil’s backbone’ (Espinazo del Diablo) and is described in western media as “a dangerous road in a treacherous Mexican mountain range known for marijuana and opium poppies”  is going to be an interesting day.

I say ‘potentially riding’ because – in a significant engineering feat involving 115 bridges and 61 tunnels at a cost of $2.2 billion – the Mexican government is/was due to complete a new highway that bypasses the devil and the drugs in August of this year. And it’s August right now!!

However… we couldn’t find any information about whether the highway was complete and therefore open – or not.

So on one hand, we were facing a 300km, 10 hour ride, including a 2500m descent with switchbacks galore. That’s an average speed of 30km/h. For 10 hours. I’ve ridden my pushbike faster than that! Admittedly, not for 10 hours up and down mountains/valleys/ravines etc… but still!

On the other hand, it was a 225km, 3 hour cruise on brand new tar admiring the latest that road engineering has to offer.

No prizes for guessing what my preference was! Adrian was sort of keen on the devil, but he’d also read that the road was so narrow and the corners so tight that trucks (and lots of trucks use the route) need the entire road to make the turn. Did I mention that a significant number of the switchbacks are blind corners? In the middle of drugland? With trucks going full speed ahead, on the wrong side of the road? And cattle, horses and donkeys just roaming about? So yeah, Adrian was sort of keen on it but could also see why the highway might be a good option – and he was interested in the new road from a construction perspective, too.

In the end, we got a bit of both: the on ramp we’d intended to use was not yet complete – so we took the old road for the first little bit. Then we got on the highway. Then we hit an incomplete section and had two hours of switchbacks. Then we got back on the highway… and an hour or so later, we were in our waterfront seaside hotel in Mazatlan! It’s lovely being back on the coast – although the beach here is dirty enough that I’m more likely to admire the view rather than actually go for a swim. We’ll be on the coast for the next little while, so there’ll be plenty of other opportunities for swimming.

A more general observation about travel in Mexico: there are hawkers by the side of the road offering a range of things for sale at almost every point where cars have to slow down… eg in and out of cities, next to speed bumps etc. Today, in addition to hawkers selling mangoes at 8 for $1 (one of the moments when I wished we were in a car so I could get some!), we saw bags of prawns on offer. The hawkers were standing in the sun, it was about 30 deg C, I couldn’t see any ice, and they were waving around bags of prawns for people to buy! I’m not a fan of prawns at the best of times, but prawns that that have been sitting on a table by the side of the road in the middle of summer for a few hours?! No thanks!!!

Downtown Matzatlan, near where we're staying.

Downtown Mazatlan, near where we’re staying.