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South America » Colombia » Cartagena
April 8th 2006
Published: April 8th 2006
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Simon Says...Simon Says...Simon Says...

The Man who started it all! Cartagena, Colombia
Another quikie…the barbie outside is firing up and the fish are ready! And talking of quikies, I’m in fabulous, (in)famous Cartagena where the locals sell T-shirts of their local hero, Pablo Escobar, altho’ I’m not sure just what his background was here, probably a financial one!
Yes it’s the last country of sudamerica, Colombia, land of a thousand dreams, and plenty of offers everywhere of something to snort or smoke, they’re a bit disappointed when I tell them my only drugs these days are cerveza and cigarros!
The new bike papers worked a treat, much easier for the frontera people to comprehend and the crossing was smooth. Great roads and a friendly reaction from all and sundry, the people I meet are smiling and welcoming and the frequent police, military and other checkpoints are extremely courteous, handshakes all round, polite look at the papers, cursory check of the panniers, no guns or drugs, chat about the bike and travel in general, offers to buy the ipod…etc etc …and off I go. It was getting a bit tedious north of Medellin with check points every few kilometres but paperwork was all they wanted to see at most of them.
Almost entirely mountainous
Garbo-bikeGarbo-bikeGarbo-bike

Cartagena, Colombia
curvery thru’ beautiful green valleys with raging rivers sometimes hundreds of metres below, sometimes right alongside the road. Big sugar cane fields used for fuel alcohol as well as sugar, many other crops and fruit orchards everywhere.
First night in Pasto, not far into Colombia as I had noticed during the day, when I stopped at a famous market somewhere in Ecuador, the front tyre was showing some canvas…not good, and Pasto was a big enough city for me to find, down in the market, a Pirelli tyre, almost the right size, and got it fitted, that was a story in itself!
On thru’ the mountains, fabulous riding on lots of new asphalto, the Pirelli doing a fantastic job…just as well as the rear is getting smooth and stepping out, spinning up and sliding under brakes, carefully now!…also much of the road was a bit slippery, back into altitude with misty, foggy, rainy wetness with some absolute tropical dumps, and never quite enough time to get the wet weather gear on…oh well!…
Second night in Buga, outside of Cali, didn’t fancy the bigger city and Buga turned out to be a real treat, sort of in the Antigua mould, ancient
Fat StatueFat StatueFat Statue

Cartagena, Colombia
and restored, the plaza dominated once more by a gigantic cathedral, inside a spectacular array of hi-tech speakers and massive plasma screens…what th’…and outside, the plaza and the calle lined with stalls and shops, everything mentioning ‘milagros’ (miracles) in the names…turns out someone found an image of Jesus on a piece of wood in the river, couple of subsequent miracles, and Buga is on the map. Sort of like the Mary Magdalena in the hamburger patty on E-bay last year. The miracle is that anyone can believe this stuff.
Constant stream of cars pull up and the occupants make their way to pay homage…from the battlers in beat-up Renaults to the well-heeled tottering on hi heels, swaggering under the weight of gold chains and jewellery, looking to become well healed no doubt.
Later I see the local priest driving past my hotel in his brand new Land Rover. Talking into the cell phone, evening sun glinting off the enormous, jewel encrusted ring, the street lined with beggars, the displaced, disabled, unwashed, unwanted and unloved. Same old same old.
Next day, more fabulous riding, up into the mountains, stop a night in a small village, eat local tucker and drink brandy
Simon's PlazaSimon's PlazaSimon's Plaza

Cartagena, Colombia
and milk against the cold.
Cold morning but crisp and clear. Looks like a good day to ride north. Winding down from the mountains, wisps of smoke from farmhouse chimneys, out in the paddocks the milking has started, just a stool and pail and a dozen or so cows waiting patiently, this little scene repeated over kilometres of mountainside, pretty cute, and most have the milkcan donkey, little burros with 4 of those big milk cans, like we used to see years ago, strapped across their backs to carry the milk up to the road. The big milk tankers roll around the curves, the farmers rush their cans up to the road and pour it in, the local cafe's milk is fresh and thick…tres rural.
Along the roadside, clinging to the narrow ledge, dozens of shanties, just sticks and plastic, I don’t know how or what these people do but the poverty is extreme..but always lines of washing hanging on fences or over bushes, and all the kids seem to be heading off to school in immaculate little uniforms.
As I get further down the mountain the river slows and spreads out…still pretty wild but some signs of boat activity. I come into a town over a narrow steel bridge and look each way (quickly) at the usual riverside activities, people washing, laundry, sewage outlets, fishing? As I sweep into the main drag I have to brake hard and dodge a herd of violently shoving cattle, barely managed by 3 10 year old cowboys on sturdy little ponies and long whips…craaack!
Lots of serious bicylistas everywhere, pushing up the mountains, screaming down!… quite a Colombian national sport apparently. And no sign yet of the black tinted windowed bullet-proof Mercedes pulling up at the local corner cocaine candy store. Have I been watching too much TV?
And all the military, everywhere along the road, and this road is closed after 6pm in most places!!, soldiers with the familiar, well used machine guns, side arms, all the works, like strung out along the road, I’ll come around a corner and see them just hanging out, solitary, spaced out along the roadside, they say the President will be re-elected because he has provided some security, but after dark its FARQ in control of lots of the country.
And there’s lots of gardeners, thousands of workers whipper-snippering, slashing, clearing drains, all along the roads
Plaza  de la AduanaPlaza  de la AduanaPlaza de la Aduana

Cartagena, Colombia
they’re at it.
I fang around a corner and see the whites of the eyes of a bloke standing, waist-deep in a hole in the middle of the road…2 little red cones are his only protection from the traffic, is it the water supply? I don’t know, but he’s taking his life in his hands on this job. Naturally I dodge him, and the hole, as another convoy of Neanderthal juggernauts come barrelling up the roads towards us. This is another constant hazard, long lines of great big trucks, trying to pass each other up steep inclines into blind corners…often I round a bend and see 2 or 3 trucks or buses side by side coming at me…all battling for line honours.
Anyway, eventually into Cartagena, fabulous, historic, restored so many times, after so many destructive visits from pirates, including one of my distant relatives, Francis Drake…just thought I’d pop that in….400 degrees of separation and all that….i’ll try and get some pix up but the postcards probably do this place more justice.
It’s hot here, damned hot, and sweaty, fantastic, maybe this is the end of the cold, except that I’m heading back into the hills on Sunday, going
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Cartagena, Colombia
to Bogota.
So, I’ve found a dubious but very friendly little hotel down by the beach, air con and tv and parking for the bike…and the barby is ready downstairs at the little restaurant next door…I’m dribbling, you’re tired, enough is enough…..


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