Less is more

Since my last very recent blog, I’d just arrived in Panama City leaving you in suspense of how to get to the continent below (no doubt you have been on tender hooks ever since!?). Well I’m no longer sitting in Panama City and have replaced that town with another, this one in another continent, a few countries down and in the Southern Hemisphere. The star alignments I don’t know anyway seem a little more familiar.

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Last pic of me and my babies (board & trailer), RIP babies. One sold for a measly sum, and one abondaned. Life ain’t no fairy tale folks.

 

Experimenting with my new riding look for South America

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Darién Gap

You could bike to Colombia, but there ain’t no roads.

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Want a different travel experience? Tired of those gringo routes? Don’t like roads? Want to meet local tribes and militia? Want to score some cheap product? Like the jungle? Well the Darian Gap is your place! Only 4 cyclists in history have crossed it. One being a Kiwi, who led two others across the gap and then subsequently died – got hit by a car riding his bike Greece on a paved road. You can hike it though and its been done a bit, more respect for these people then an everest climber.

 

San Blast Islands

After deciding the gap was a bit much for me, I then jumped on a backpacker boat, not having the patience to lurk around the shipyards spruiking how good of a cook I am then surprising them at sea that I can’t actually cook. 5 days at sea beckoned.

 

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My novia taking it all in. For all you non spanish speakers out there novia(o) means girlfriend/boyfriend. Constantly you get asked by locals if you have a wife or children. Enter my one and only joke i can do in spanish. I reply yes she's here right now. In which they reply where and then i point to my bike. Always gets a little laugh at places like the bomberos (firemen)

My novia taking it all in. For all you non spanish speakers out there novia(o) means girlfriend/boyfriend. Constantly I get asked by locals if I have a wife or children. They get down to business early in latin america. Having children at the ages of 14 sometimes. Anyway, enter my one and only joke i can do in spanish. I reply yes she’s here right now. In which they reply ‘where’ and then I point to my bike. Gets em in stitches.

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Cuisine was basic to say the least. No 4 meals a days was great except i had a few issues with sea sickness digestion wasn't guaranteed.

Cuisine was basic to say the least. No! 4 meals a days was great except i had a few issues with sea sickness, digestion wasn’t always guaranteed.

Learning the way of the backpacker

Learning the way of the backpacker

South America! Was very excited to set foot on this continent and hoping for a significant cultural change from its central american sister.

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Straight away there was a different feel to Colombia, this was noticeable from the bloke driving the dingy to the jetty. These people are inquisitive and love a chat, which is good for a cyclist cause us folk loving scoring free food and accommodation and Colombia had plenty of that. Bomba Estéreo is a colombian band i’d recommended having a listen too.

Categena 

Old meets new in Categena

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Old town of Categena is as european as it gets, giving a false impression of wealth of the city.

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poverty popping its head out

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Colombians could learn a few things from the mexicans in terms of big flags

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Same but different

After a few days in Cartagena where I bought too many burgers it was time to commence the south American leg. Having seen enough of the coast I made decision it was Mountain Time for a good while and south was the direction. With some new gear and cleaning up a bit it felt like starting again. Photos below are from Categena to Medellin.

First day on the bike in SA and bumped into some fellow cycling tourists! Barbara quit her job in Germany and decided to ride her bike. Which is one of hundreds of examples of people of all ages, genders and backgrounds getting on the bike. It’s very easy.

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First couple of days were hot and flat – not representative of the rest of the country

Colombia was good fun, amongst the cyclist circles everyone goes on about Colombia, blah blah blah. But it’s pretty true.

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Camping at the petrol station. I seemed to have good luck with these joints, one day stopping to blow up my tires the owner came out. We had a chat (had no idea what he was saying) and then offered my food and beverages (got that bit) all on the house. Hospitality Colombian style!

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Just across this bridge the Andes begin. A mountain range that divides countries and also the toughest climb to date (back then) making all north american climbs seem like baby hills.

A swimming pool solely from mountain water, one of the coolest pools i’ve seen.

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One night I really enjoyed was when I camped in the centre of town, literally the town square. Guarded with a man wearing cowboy boots, blue jeans and wielding a machete, he kindly helped me move my tent in the middle of the night when it started pouring down. Before that I spent about 4 hours hanging with the locals all under the age of 13. Tiring to say the least, but pretty fun. They were amazed by my name, my parents names and my friends names. Initially they wanted travel stories but given the reaction and my lack of spanish, I just kept dropping names to their amazement. I wanted to take a photo but i think they would of exploded with excitement. Later that night an indigenous family (first indigenous people i’d seen in Colombia) then offered me dinner as the parents and their two kids were camping on their mattress right near me. Offer accepted.

 

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Buena Vista! Colombia es muy bonita

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Bit different to the office water cooler

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Just before the decent down into Medellin

 

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Twenty years ago Medellin was one of the most dangerous cities in the word thanks to cocaine and Pablo. Basically the drug destroyed the city and many lives where lost for the $$.

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Like the rest of Central America & Mexico for Colombians christianity is strongly engrained in their culture.

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Cerca Medellin

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Whilst in Medellin a week of spanish school was done it was desperately needed as i was sick of having no idea what all these colombians were saying to me. Stayed with Jack and Daniel who were also partaking in the lessons.

Whilst in Medellin a week of spanish school was done it was desperately needed as i was sick of having no idea what all these colombians were saying to me. Stayed with Jack and Daniel who were also partaking in the lessons.

Cafe District 

After Medellin is was back on the roads to the general direction of Cali.It was touring as normal camping were i can, staying with the bomberos buzzing my way through the coffee district.  But i did have one of my most memorable lunches on this leg where I rolled up for lunch in a small town which I guess don’t get to many gringos passing through. It was pretty hot and I couldn’t stop sweating it was pouring off me, they first went and got me a towel – no request needed. They decided the towel wasn’t good enough and starting speaking some Spanish I didn’t understand, I normally highly rely on context and guess my way through conversations and get there in the end, but this time I had no idea. So the Colombia restuarenter went and showed me what they were talking about – a shower. I kindly accepted the offer showered up and hit the road fresh, just another day in Colombia. Hospitality Colombian style.

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Solento – home of Colombian coffee also was taken by the FARC (Militia) in just 2004 would of been interesting to visit then.

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View from my warm showers host Humberto in Peirara. Lost photos of him, my restaurant experience later in da trip due to a biting (not biking) incident (refer below)

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Who the FARC? 

The FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) are probably the most well known an irregular military organization involved in the continuing Colombian armed conflict since 1964. They get there money through kidnapping, extortion and trafficking of illegal drugs. There definitely still getting around my friend Stefan who is travelling by motorcycle got robbed of everything whilst on route to Venezuela. But don’t get the wrong idea, just like Mexico they ain’t to interested in a tourists that much.

Stefan on his new bike - alls well that ends well.

Stefan on his new bike – alls well that ends well.

Californiation

Rolled into Cali, the salsa capital of Colombia very dirty and lined up a couchsurfing host – Emmanuel. Went to one of the biggest malls to meet him and the police basically thought i was a bum/crazy gringo (i was in a expensive part of town) and wouldn’t really leave me alone. I needed to call Emmanuel and went to ask a local when the police tried to intervene cause i was about to jump him or something. It was an interesting situation as normally as a gringo in wealthy areas your treated like a rich man, this was the opposite however the local was a legend and dealt with the police. Used his phone, called Emmanuel and more hospitality ensued.

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Photo of me and Julian – Emmanuel’s cousin. When asked where i’m going the answer is south.

Typically in latin family everyone lives togeather from the children to grandma and sometimes cousins and that. It’s a family affair, upon entering Emanuel’s house had fresh juice and a meal waiting just for me, dirty clothing asked for to be washed and my own room. The generosity was overwhelming and would have been great to speak some more Spanish as there were offers to visit a few schools to talk about riding a bike (its very complicated), something that would of be great to do.

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Emmanuel giving me a tour of Cali

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I bid Emanuel and his family goodbye after a couple of days because getting used to this treatment the bike may have been put in mothballs, instead I headed for a town called Inza.

Indigenous 

Inza was just a place on a map in the middle of really nowhere no research was done on roads etc and just set off cause i got told it had some cool indigenous ruins etc. Whilst mentioning where i was going a lot of Colombians had no idea where this place was.

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Turing off the main road the climb begun thoughts of turning back were with me for a while



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Reached the summit coldest i’d been on the bike for the entire trip.

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there was a lot of mud

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By far it was the most photos i’d taken on a stretch of road and was the best day of riding i’ve had on the trip so far. I was very glad i’d decided to go to Inza.

 

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Down town Inza – Rolled in covered in mud so got a few looks to say the least.

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Andreas who i stayed with in Inza. Staying with Andreas again was too easy, he worked at the local hospital after talking with his boss the first minute I arrived I could have all staff meals, and he gave me some bike lights. Hospitality Colombian style. His boss also has warm showers now and is hosting.

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Main reason why i went to Inza was to check out the Indigenous sites and it was really cool. Also noticeably around town the people looked a lot less european with ponchos everywhere.

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Inside a tomb, which no one knows who built with the local tribes saying it ain’t their style and was before them.

 

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Plenty of tombs getting around too

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FARC – Whilst in Colombia i did feel safe but hearing stories i wasn’t as comfortable as i’ve been in other places. This was the police station in Inza and was blown up in January this year! by the FARC. Some people claim the fighting is it the same level with the FARC as it was in it’s perceived most dangerous times the only difference it being a lot more remote and outta sight of most people and therefore outta mind.

The finale of my visit in Inza was acting in the yearly town play. Playing the gringo who got caught cheating on another mans wife! 

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Caught red handed!

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The two stars of the show, even from an early age Colombian kids Colombians arn’t that shy!

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You can bite the hand that feeds you

After Inza, Ecuador was now on my mind but a few unplanned incidents occurred. But not before some for more staggering scenery.

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they day i got bitten

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Less is more!!

So i made it out of the dirt tracks and got to a place called Garzon on a highway. It had been biking as normal but my luck finally run out on my bike and three men outta nowhere jumped me at a corner whilst I was checking directions in the middle of the day like I’ve done a hundred times before.

Given some of the unique places I’ve slept on the streets of a town in Mexico, (Tom ended up under a car that night to espcape the street lights), town squares, random fields with no permission, the deed was done in broad dayling at normally a busy intersection.

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Been robbed before but never whislt cycling which for me has always been a safety bubble , i guess not. But not much you can do except keep ridin! You also have less to steal and less weight! This also isn’t to common for all you people thinking its dangerous or whatever.

It wasn’t a normally robbery of sorts with the main weapons of the crooks being their teeth. I did mention I would give it away in my last blog (where i got robbed at gunpoint but in this case had nothing on me) when met by force but instinctively when someone tries to grab a phone out of my hand I held on to it and started pulling it back (whilst at the same time holding onto my bike and having one foot still clicked in to my pedal) the thief decided to use both hands but that wasn’t really working so the teeth came out. By that time i realised if he wants it that bad he can have it but it was too late and two others grabbed my camera (lost some good photos which was annoying) and some other bits and bobs and shot off. This occurred all in about 30 seconds. So I was left on the side of the road with a few less things, but it goes with the trip motto of late, less is more! Spoke to the police and they said they were sorry. I was a little shook up, but strangely riding was a nice way to calm down and regain my thoughts.

Trampolina de Muerte 

But no biggie as insurance shall cover it and rolled in to San Agustin, quaint little town chilled for a few days resting and sorting out insurance etc. After that I decided it was time for a real brush with mortality and to ride “one of the most dangerous road in South America” statistically anyway, which was nicely named Trampolina de Muerte being the trampoline of death.

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The Amazon

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On route to the tramp met some Dutchmen who heading that way as well so made sense to ride together. So bounced down the tramp and then spent the last few days camping through Colombia. The two Dutchmen were students with a tight budget so camping was always the only options which was great.

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The dutchmen

 

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dutchoven

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The tramp showing off

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Feet up

 

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Wauter wasn’t feeling to well and subsequently at one stage had his front wheel hanging over the edge over a huge drop. A time out was called on some guard rails.

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Got read the bible that night


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After the tramp sights were set on Ecuador

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Last night in Colombia

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Some countries you get to a stage were you counting the days till you reach the next, your ready for a change. Colombia was not one of these it was literally oh i’m in Ecuador now.

I was going to do Ecuador as well but Colombia took way to long! Its a great country that’s truly alive and one of my favourites so far.

Brendan.

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