Part Thirty Three – Northern Colombia

20th April (Cartagena – Maria de Baja) (75km)

21st April (Maria de Baja – San Onofre) (43km)

22nd April (San Orofre – Sincelejo) (60km)

23rd April (Sincelejo – Planeta Rica) (118km)

24th April (Planeta Rica – Caucasia) (67km)

Freshly squeezed orange juice reward at the top of the 2,200 metre climb

The road south of Cartagena is the beginning of the ride through South America. Its quite a thrill to be heading south on the final chunk of land for this trip, even though its not really a piddling chunk given that it will take a good few months to get all the way to the bottom. The ride towards Medellin is a pleasant flat run for the first 470km and then a big climb over 2,780 metres before the plunge into the valley to Medellin. The road is very good with a nice wide shoulder, not much traffic and people along the road side who are very friendly indeed. The little towns along the road provide all of the freshly squeezed orange juice and food (rice, beans and  beaten/tenderised to death steaks) that a touring cyclist could ask for. At Causacia I join the quickly flowing Rio Causa which I follow up-stream for a day before crossing at Valdivia for the huge mountain climb between here and Medellin. Caucasia is a pleasant town for the night with a bit of a rough edge from the mineral prospecting from the river silt so there is a definite army presence in town and a profusion of ore traders and pawn shops. The roadside scenery is lush and beautiful with rolling fields of cattle in what look like neat affluent country estates. As the road rises into the mountain range the scenery is lovely without being stunning but the towns become more and more beautiful as they cling onto the hillsides (especially Yarumal). The Colombians are laid back and engaging along the side of the road with little of the nauseating “hey Gringo!'” etc of most of Central America. People are very forgiving of my terrible Spanish and they persevere even when its pretty clear that I have little or no idea what is being said – i.e. most of the time.

Underestimating the strength of river flow erosion in Caucasia
Steep streets of Yarumal at 2,200 metres cling to the hillside
Passing time in Yarumal
New Florida?
Grandiose Hotel name - Hotel Universal

25th April (Caucasia – Valdivia) (106km)

26th April (Valdivia –  Varumal) (56km)

27th April (Varumal)

28th April (Varumal – Medellin) (125km)

A ride of 56km between Valdivia and Varumal doesn’t look like much of a riding day but this doesn’t tell the whole story as it also involved 2.2km elevation in pure climbing. This was quite an introduction to the big hills of South America. At 6 or 7km an hour the ride took all day, basically putting the bike in ‘granny gear’ and settling in to grind the mountain out.

Beyond Yarumal the road rises again to 2,780 metres before plunging through a long series of switch-back turns down through some absolutely gob-smackingly beautiful scenery to then follow the long valley into Medellin. Cooked all of the remaining brake pads on the way down so was just hanging on for the bottom of the hill at the end of the descent. About 15km out of Medellin the Gates belt drive (‘chain’) snapped but luckily I had a spare so managed to make it into the Zona Rosa district albeit in the dark and pouring rain through the last hour of the ride. The video is from the top of the hill. Although the role of the bouzouki in Colombian music is not something of which I was previously aware (its not too clear in the audio above the bloody ubiquitous accordion), I will research the introduction of this instrument into Colombia to confirm]. [*”Shut that bloody bouzouki up!” – Python]

Medellin is base camp for a week or so while I take in the nightlife around Zona Rosa and perfect the salsa and the Spanish skills. Just two blocks away from the square around which Zona Rosa pulsates (till 4am) I came across a lovely ‘Specialized‘ bike shop (the first serious top-end bike shop I’ve happened across on this trip for a long long time) sporting even more lovely good quality tires and a mechanic to give the bike a check up. The bike is therefore now enjoying some serious love and attention here in Medellin. After all that the bike and I have endured together thus far on the road south, it would seem remiss of me not to follow suit.

Hilltop town north of Medellin
Great Garden Feature
Lush countryside of Colombia
Kids hamming it up at the top of the hill (2,200 metres)