Cartagena, Colombia to Medellin, Colombia
June 20 to July 14, 2014
A colourful cast of characters
We did not bump into many other riders throughout Central America, except for the friendly couple from Motopasaran and some rude chap on a BMW who didn’t bother to stop and say “hi”. On the Stahlratte however, we were happily acquainted with many other adventure riders all aiming South. The Wolf got to talk bikes with people who actually know what MT-09’s, TRX850’s, and SZR660’s are! Most of the folks were heading to Ushuaia with a schedule that would get them there in the coming summer season, so we’ll all be within a month or so of each other as we ride South. We eventually pieced together that the ‘rude’ BMW rider who’d passed us on Ometepe was in fact Mr Peter Domhill (on a BMW 800GS), who’d been rushing to make his hotel before dark, and he’s actually rather nice when he’s not late. You can read about the rest of the zoo animals here. After crossing the gap, the lot of us found ourselves camped out together at the Hostal Real in Cartagena with a bunch of bikes cluttering the courtyard.
Calefaction on the Caribbean coast
Cartegena was very, very hot and it was in this heat we weaved through manic traffic to find new tires, insurance and other spare parts. For me, this was far more terrifying than riding in any of the cities thus far, including Mexico D.F. It’s possible though, that I was merely struggling to adjust to being back on land. I seemed to suffer with dizziness much longer on solid ground than I did when first getting on deck. Once the maintenance chores were done (which were complicated by a few holidays that apparently even the locals didn’t know about) we felt the call of cool mountains was far stronger than that of baking beach towns. We packed up and headed directly for Minca. We found a fantastic fresh refuge in the mountains called Sans Souci, where our accommodations consisted of an outdoor bed with a mosquito net strung up. We also found our buddies from the boat, Ryan and Marcos el Narko, who had left Cartagena a day before us. The following days were spent hanging around in hammocks and lazily exploring the peaceful surroundings.
The allure of more adventure
Once recovered from our near-melt on the coast, we packed up our gear and made our way to the “adventure zone” of the Santander Department; known for white water rafting, paragliding, rock climbing and other sports. Our first stop was Bucaramanga, where we made the acquaintance of the famous Richie Mantilla at Colombia Paragliding. He shared motorcycling tips for South America, and hooked us up with a spot of paragliding off the Mesa de Ruitoque. For any aspiring paragliding pilots, this is the cheapest place to get your license: 15 days and US$1,500 including accommodation and lessons, with good updrafts all day every day.
Climbing the walls
Next up we followed Marcos El Narko to Refugio de la Roca, a climbing hostel and camp spot with astonishing views, and set out to do some serious rock climbing. Luckily we bumped into Michelle – a San Francisco native – who actually had equipment, and knew what she was doing. Unfortunately for her, she didn’t realise we were total rookies until it was too late, and the Wolf was boldly executing his first ever lead climb with no clue the quickdraws had to be clipped on in a particular way. The Wolf is incredibly good at many things, even things he’s never done before, so Michelle’s anxiety was for naught and the day of climbing was a huge success. Since our climbing had gone so well, we conferred with Marcos and the 3 of us agreed to set our sights on hiking into the El Cocuy National Park. We first made our way to the charming little town of Barichara and spent a couple of days relaxing at the Hostel Tinto before heading to the Parque National. You can read all about our El Cocuy adventure in “The Good, the Farc and the Cocuy”
Stones and Water
After our hiking detour, during which the Wolf learned to his surprise that he doesn’t really enjoy hiking at altitude (or perhaps at any time really), we started making our way West. We crossed more mountain ranges on dirt roads and meandered through many small pueblas en route to Guatape. We stopped for a quick night in Villa de Leyva before cranking out a massive day of 10 hours in the saddle and arriving at the Lakeview Hostel after dark. The name “Guatapé”, comes from the Quechua language, related to “stones and water” and the town lives up to it’s name with a web of waterways surrounding it, and the famous El Peñon towering over it. Nick and Greg, the hostel owners, directed us to a few lesser-traveled routes around the area, with great swimming holes, waterfalls and a collection of towns that were deeply, and relatively recently, affected by “La Violencia“. After throughly exploring the surrounding areas of Guatape, we braced ourselves for the big city of Medellin. We’d heard many great things about it, and I was convinced that we’d be disappointed with such high expectations. Instead we were overwhelmed by how marvellous Medellin actually is… but that’s a story for next time.