Colombia – Part 1: Learning

We rent a flat and become students

November 2018

🚴🏻‍♀️🚴🏻‍♂️ Cartagena – Santa Marta (250km)

Arriving into Colombia was an experience like no other! We built our bikes right beside the baggage carousel whilst we waited for our panniers, loaded them up and wheeled our way directly through customs. We cycled out of the airport and were immediately on small back roads with next to no traffic, worlds away from the 8 lane highways we had left behind in the states. As if that wasn’t enough, we soon turned onto a cycle path right next to the beach. We had made the right decision.

We were in Cartagena, an old, beautiful coastal city with a lot of history, where we began to plan our route. First things first, we decided to learn Spanish in nearby Santa Marta, merely a 3 day ride away, in order to be able to talk to everyone we would meet on the road.

We set off early to escape the heat, but soon discovered there is no such thing and that we would need to revise what early meant. After a three day break and a hearty breakfast, we absolutely flew to Garalazamba, a tiny fishing village surrounded by very little. When Colombians would later ask where we had come from, they would consistently assume we were saying the name of the place incorrectly, since no-one had heard of it.

Typical Colombian Lunch at the coast: Fried fish, patacones (fried plantain), coconut rice

Our next stop was Barranquilla, a town famed for being the birthplace of Shakira. On the way, Jan had a flat and, pausing under a bridge to change it, was helped by one, then two, then all of the bridge construction workers who were eager to hear about our journey.

We continued on, past people of all ages and backgrounds giving us the classic thumbs up. At one point, a guy on a motorbike slowed down beside us and told us that we were cycling through a very poor and therefore dangerous area, to be cautious and never and under no circumstances to stop. He then stayed with us for the next 30 minutes to make sure we were safe, driving at our speed and watching our backs!

After a lovely night with a family in Barranquilla (Shakira didn’t show) we all had breakfast together and got back on the road for a 110km final push to Santa Marta. After finding our way out of the labyrinth of back roads surrounding Barranquilla, we hit the spit, a 50 km long thin stretch of land with ocean on both sides and very little shade. It was hot. It was also windy. Again, construction workers came to our rescue when, 30 km into the stretch and feeling rather weary, they waved us over to the shade of their lorry, giving us cold water to drink and refilling all of our bottles!

We eventually arrived in Rodadero, Santa Marta and received a warm welcome from Nelly, from whom we’d be renting a downstairs apartment for the next 6 weeks.

We had a home!

Covering it in Español post its…
…performing domestic tasks (even when the washing lines came down)…
… rediscovering music with a bike touring-friendly instrument…
… and helping out our neighbours, saving their car from the downpour and flooding.

Having a “permanent” place for a few weeks was a nice change and living in a tropical climate close to the Caribbean sea a big plus. Although we learnt that we were bound to get visits from all sorts of creatures, big and small, including a scorpion on night one.

We started classes with our teacher Aleja and just the four of us students, Jan, Lucy, dog Floki and cat Perla…

Spanish became our 9–5 and we had the weekends off to hang out with friends! Lucie came to visit us from Bogotá and we took a trip to the famous Parque Tayrona, a beautiful spot on the Caribbean coast. We hiked all day, met various animals and swam in the sea.

We travelled to Bogotá to visit Lucie and experience ciclovía – the closing of 120km of major roads on Sundays and holidays for cyclists and walkers!

Artwork by Colombian Painter Fernando Botero

Our next weekend bicycle voyage (one has to stay fit) was to the small village of Minca – a 25km vertical cycle up out of Santa Marta (or so it seemed). We cycled through mud to reach a stunningly beautiful coffee and chocolate finca in the mountains.

Cat sleeping next to a beehive of the worlds smallest bees

Back in the town, our neighbours took us to different beaches to enjoy sunset swims and practice our Spanish.

Our Spanish has come on leaps and bounds in the time we’ve been here and we’re ready to get back on the road to practice and discover more about this exciting country! More coming soon…

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