Friday, May 13, 2011

Segment 36: Turbo, Colombia to Medellín, Colombia (April 17 - May 1, 2011)

While still in Turbo Jason discovered numerous problems on his bicycle due to rough treatment from the waves (and the boatmen) during the crossing from Panamá.  These included a bent chain tensioner, pedals ruined by salt water, and pictured below, a bent back rack... 

These guys fixed Jason's rack and also did some work on Sonia´s rack, for a very small fee
Eager to begin exploring Colombia, we headed out of Turbo towards Medellín.  One of the first things we noticed were military checkpoints every few kilometers, with numerous soldiers, and some intimidating modern tanks.  Apparently the area we were passing had been a FARC stronghold a few years back.  FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) was created back in the 1960's, as a Socialist-Maoist popular response to paramilitary campaigns initiated by US pressure on the Colombian government (hoping to avoid another Cuba).  These paramilitary operations were violent and oppressive, and campesinos rose in revolt.  The 1990's were the most violent years, after FARC had entered the drug trafficking trade and began acquiring arms in alarming numbers.  Today they are less influential but continue operating in the mountains and remote regions in many parts of Colombia.

here we are beginning to enter the Andes, which begin in Venezuela and end in Argentina, the longest continental mountain range in the world.  We will be with them for the rest of our trip.

this map shows most of western Colombia, and the purple colors represent the mountains we will be travelling along as we head south.  Unfortunately, we found out that locals know very little of secondary roads, that maps show roads that don´t even exist, and don't show roads that do exist.  Internet maps on the other hand feature large whiteouts in Colombia.  Either the government has chosen not to release data, or foreign cartography businesses don't want to operate in Colombia because of FARC... either way, information is truly difficult to obtain in Colombia.

the town mascot of Mutatá who apparently believes he is a reincarnation of a dog (this is a domesticated wild boar).  He even rolls on his side like a dog and likes to be stroked.  He also likes rubbing his snout against you while you eat.

rural Colombian public transport...

... the artwork invokes quasi-Asian motifs

"This area is geologically unstable".  Roadsign seen next to the highway we are following, leading one to question the sanity of Colombian road engineers.

these folks get to their house on this cable crossing suspended above a deep river gorge.  We rode it, too... it was like an amusement park ride with no safety installations. 

our campsite along the river gorge

Broad-Billed Motmot

...great wild river terrain...

here we are beginning to climb up into the mountains for real

some great riding here!

mad screaming rivers

Yellow-rumped Tanager

Crimson-backed Tanager

some Colombian soldiers at a roadside shelter we slept at

these guys thought Jason was using his bike to transport cocaine.  (haha, they just wanted to know all about our bike trip)

These two cyclists caught up to us here.  French and American, they are doing a "Transcontinental Triathlon": sea kayak from Juneau to Seattle, trek the length of the Pacific Crest Trail, bike from US/Mexico border to Patagonia.  Great great adventure.

near the end of a 45km climb

getting closer to Medellín- notorious cocaine city from the 80´s.

you know you're in South America when all the highest points near towns or highways have Jesus or the Virgin on top of them.  this one is noteworthy for the two angels seated in the toy car on the top right, who seem to be having a lot of fun.

Sonia in the highlands

descending again towards Santa Fe de Antióquia

monster road collapse

in Santa Fe de Antióquia, with colonial architecture

the remains of a trout lunch

here we reunited with Craig, who has been in Colombia for over a month already... it wasn't long before the guitar jams were back in effect.

all-bamboo (!) pedestrian bridge leaving Santa Fe

climbing up into the mountains again

Craig powers out a steep hill

Jeff a few km later

Medellín in the distance

negotiating Medellín, population near 3 million, largest city we've cycled in since Guadalajara, Mexico, more than a year ago.

arrived at San Antonio de Prado, where there is a casa de ciclistas (Cyclists welcome house, where touring cyclists can rest up, no charge).  The family with the casa de ciclistas run this bike shop, CicloCampeón.
the owners and the mechanics at CicloCampeón.  Juan Carlos, Camilo, Marta, Manuela, Manuel and Luis; great and friendly people.  Besides hosting us, they also worked on our bicycles.

the casa de ciclistas itself is located up in the hills a few km from San Antonio, and 18km from Medellín.   It is rumored that Pablo Escobar used this area to hide out when he was the most wanted man in the world, disguising himself as a local campesino.

the cottage where we stayed

we weren't alone in the cottage

our first night there our host Manuel was up all night in the rain, delivering piglets.  The mama, which looks more like a whale than a pig, gave birth to 15!, one arriving every 20 minutes or so all night long. 

Emerald Toucanet seen at the house

Jason strumming in the cottage (photo by Marta Velazquez)

...Medellín features an amazing public transport gondola system, called Metrocable...

a notorious Medellín ghetto seen from the cable car

the squeaky clean and super efficient Medellín Metro, en elevated line.  Medellín was remarkable for the quality of its services and cleanliness.  It was hard to believe that it was the murder capital of the world back when Pablo Escobar was the jefe of the Medellín drug cartel in the 1980's.  Locals have a love-hate relationship with Escobar... his name is nearly mythical, and if he wasn't murdering members of your family or neighborhood, he was building churches, schools and other public works projects that kept him popular in the city's neighborhoods.

Sonia and Jason (photo by Marta Velazquez)

here we are at a fun evening at the house (photo by Marta Velazquez)

to see a blues jam in G with harmonica from the same session at the casa de ciclistas, go to: (video by Marta Velazquez)

Craig versus Sonia in an epic fussball match (photo by Marta Velazquez)

Friday night dinner at a nearby neighbor´s country house.  Complete with various typical Colombian dishes.

to see a short video of the above dinner party at this rural finca near Medellín, see the following: (video by Marta Velazquez)

for a version of "Dire Wolf" performed at the same party above, see:  (video by Marta Velazquez)

no party in Colombia would be complete without a bottle of aguardiente

Andreas and Anita, two cyclists from Austria who were staying at the casa de ciclistas with us

Andreas' bike reads "One less car".


Doug Steury said...

I enjoy reading your sounds like youre having a magical time...I was in Columbia in the 70s and brought home several bottles of augarantine...
I was in Nicaragua right after you were...loved it, where else can you see ox carts?

Anonymous said...

good to see that you are still enjoying the cycling, we are in Caraz, Peru at the moment, did also all the mountains in Colombia and Ecuador, nice to see the pictures,
karin and marten, we met you in Creel, Mexico together with Anna and Cass