Colombia – Part 1

Sunday 16th Feb 
A comedy of errors but arrived in Columbia .
We didn’t set an alarm as we are always up early but typically slept in to 8.15, our taxi was arranged for 9am (although our flight wasn’t until 1.00pm, it was the only time our ‘new friend’ could do) so we had a spot of quick packing to rush through. We had arranged a lift with the shop keeper/taxi driver next door to the hostel and he was waiting for us and all the luggage which thankfully fitted neatly in the car.
Our driver took a wrong turn and had to drive a lot further than normal due to the fact that the other side of the road was closed to traffic on Sundays,  bloody cyclists.
When we reached the turning for our airport he again took a wrong turn at the confusing junction, this however was even worse as the return road was closed and we had to do a 20 mile back track around the city to end up within 5 miles of where we started. (we couldn’t make this up) We got there eventually with plenty of time as we had left so early.
The Pacific Airport is tiny, just the one company Wingo operate from what can be described as a shed.  Check in, was frustrating to say the least, think Ryan air but with a helpful steward trying to help us get by all the rules.  Our cycle boxes were overweight as were our two black bags, we had to off load the black bags into our hand luggage until all the weight was distributed to the stewards desires, this was all done at the check in desk and took about half an hour. Daft really as all this stuff still went on the same plane. This redistribution of weight meant we had to go through security with a bin liner full of shoes and our carry on luggage packed to bursting with inner tubes and rolled up empty pannier bags. Just as well we had our chilled out travelling heads on.
If this was not enough to contend with the staff then insisted we had proof of our ongoing journey out of Columbia or they couldn’t let us fly. After a lot of haggling the steward booked us some fake tickets to present to the Columbians if requested. It was a painful experience but at least we did have someone actually trying to help us get through all the restrictions. However we had to pay an additional $20 because we hadn’t printed off our boarding passes.

Our flight was only an hour long and after a long queue at immigration all our cases had been offloaded from the carousel and placed at different points on the floor. This wasn’t a problem as no-one else had bike boxes or ratty torn canvas bags like ours. There were no trolleys available, that were not connected to a porter, and the porters wanted $5 so we stubbornly dragged and carried our bikes and bags out through to the front of the airport.
Once the bikes were assembled we only had half a mile to our hostel, the airport in Cartagena is small it has homes and shops at its door step.

We went out for dinner as by the time we reached the hostel it was after 5pm and we had hardly eaten all day. We chose a cafe near the hostel, it looked closed but after some consideration they offered us fish soup and fried fish and rice for 36,000 peso (How much! turns out to be £9 and the national dish for Colombia). We were originally welcomed by a young man, Julian Serna. Julian mentioned he played the guitar so I shared with him that I was learning the ukuele. He was delighted and bought his guitar out for me to twang on. He then gave us a master class in Classic Spanish guitar, he was really good and played for us throughout our meal.

After dinner he explained that he was studying music and even writes his own songs as well. This was a great experience and made us feel welcome in Columbia. Lets hope the rest of Colombia is as welcoming, we are looking forward to exploring the rest of this country.

 

Ginette – We both have mixed feelings about Colombia, we’re feeling tired from the constant travelling.  We’re applying for jobs and I am sure something will come up soon, most have closing dates for the end of this month,  this means we are a little in limbo. To cycle Colombia we would need about 2 months but this may not be possible.  So our dilemma is do we become backpackers and use the bus system to see all that Colombia has to offer or do we cycle and see what we can see and maybe come back sometime in the future? decisions, decisions…

17th February 

The ride through the city was along a busy road with only two lanes it was interesting and a bit scary. At times I wondered if we were cycling the wrong way down a one way street until another motorbike or car squeezed by forcing the oncoming traffic back over to their side of the road.

We cycled past the large old Spanish castle and it looked very impressive and worth a visit.
Our apartment for the next couple of days was actually really nice but the initial room given to us was not great but Ginette knows how to haggle and hassle for better.

Ginette – The night before I had spent ages deliberating whether to stay in a hostel and pay £9 a night or book a nice room somewhere. Eventually I decided on the latter paying £22 a night for a room. On arrival we were shown our room and it was OK but not great, my biggest issue was the door/window had no glass in it, it just had bars and the door/window faced a busy road with a night cafe opposite. I anticipated a very noisy evening added to that the mosquitoes had free access to our bodies and the cockroaches could easily wander into the room because there was a huge gap under the door (I think the room was previously a garage).  I was not happy, I was tired (neither of us slept well the previous night) and my host did not speak english. Eventually after my limited Spanish, I was able to ask for the manager and was given an upgrade to the executive double, which was far better.

Unfortunately I discovered I had left my £2.60 sandals in the last place, it was only 2 miles away so I cycled back to get them. The traffic was just as bad but when you know where you are going it seems a lot easier,  although any UK cycle commuters that thinks their city is bad should try cycling here. I stopped on the way at several ferateria (hardware store) trying to source some cooking gas but no joy. I did spot a 10 man dragon boat by the water, it looks like they have a pink ladies crew here (cancer survivors).
We walked into the old city, inside the still standing large wall defences (this city is aka the walled city). This part of city is clean and very pretty, with some grand old buildings, narrow streets some with decorative street art. There is a history of slave trade in this city and a lot of the signage in both English and Spanish.

 

There were quite a few colourful dressed African ladies selling fruit, if you want to take a photo then fruit purchase is required. These Palenquera ladies now form part of the tourist attractions for this city, they represent a rebellion 400 years ago in which the slaves managed to free themselves and set up their own communities.
We were a bit tired from travel and poor sleep so retired early for the day,  knowing we would return the following day.

Ginette – the city is a vibrant colonial city, full of colour, narrow streets and noise but the locals seem dreary and tired in comparison, with very few smiles for the tourists. There were a lot of touts and rather than being up beat they also seemed tired and as a result a little aggressive with their sales techniques.

 

 

18th Feb – Cartagena sight seeing day

We went on a free walking tour inside the walled city. Our guide had excellent English and the 2 hour tour was informative and fun. The ‘free tour’ relies on contributions recommended at £7 each and was worth it as most of the walking tours we have been on are.

After the tour the heat was getting to us, so we headed back to the room for an air conditioned rest.

We then headed to the Spanish fortresses, quite a formidable structure and we enjoyed the walk around it’s balustrades and wandered around several tunnels under the fort.

The tunnels were dug so explosive charges could be set off under any invading army which in this case was the nasty English.

Ginette – the fortress was OK to wander around the highlight for me was the video we watched at the end. The film showed how the fortress was built and how it had helped the city to fend off attacks from the French and English. Apparently the english lost 11,000 men in one attack, the locals only had a 1000 men defending the city but managed to stop the British.  I am sure this is not the report provided when the ship returned to England because before the final battle, the commander in charge of the English fleet commissioned some new coins to be printed showing him as the victor.  Apparently it was this arrogance that lost the battle for the British sailors.  It was an interesting experience watching it with a room full of locals.

Back in the old city we sat on the city wall and watched the sun go down, along with loads of other tourists who had the same idea.

Ginette – I really enjoyed Cartagena, it is a beautiful city, every street has a little surprise waiting to brighten a tourists day.

19th Feb

Robbed with a gun against our head, not a good day.

We cycled out of Cartagena along the main coast road, it’s not a pretty road ride made difficult by the constant head wind.
There was a toll booth that had a native group protesting and stopping all the traffic, they eventually let us all pass (because a lorry driver started driving at them) then blocked the road again to stop another set of traffic, this was across all the lanes.

Not long after we spotted a 4 ft long road kill crocodile.

Ginette – I’d like the record to state, I spotted this unusual road kill, Gary had cycled past totally oblivious.

98% of the human race are nice people but today we met with a couple from the other 2%.

A couple of young men jumped me from the side of the road and dragged me down the embankment with a gun to my head, they dragged Nets bike down as well but mine was left on the road.  We were both threatened with guns, me on my hands and knees and Ginette dragged down on her side.

It was all very quick,  Ginette managed to get back up the bank and wave a car down which must have helped as the young men then ran off with there ill gotten gains.

Now we could try to describe the whole event in greater detail but in the end we are both OK with no injuries other than Ginette’s bruised face and arm and a little splinter in my hand from being dragged down the bank. We have had our phone and some money stolen and they even took Ginette’s pump (which was broken by the way).

We have been on two long trips and managed 2 years with no issues. It’s a real shame this has happened when we have only been in Colombia 4 days.

The car driver that stopped called the police, we waited but when the car left we didn’t want to hang around so we cycled off, two policemen arrived on bikes a little later and tried to take the details from us, as we gave them our details a further two police bikes arrived. It was good of them to attend but after a while it was obvious to all of us that these lads had got away and there wasn’t a lot anyone could do.

The rest of the day was a hard slog of cycling into the head wind and trying to find a WiFi connection to cancel the MasterCard that was also taken. There was hardly any towns on route and the largest one we found had WiFi but even with the locals trying to help us we couldn’t get connected.

We spent the rest of the day cycling without our rose tinted glasses on, instead of looking for wildlife and coastal views we found ourselves on high alert for more armed robbers. I couldn’t begin to count how many men I have passed in South America, that walk the side of the road with machetes, but now I am seeing each one as a potential threat. I hope this feeling passes.

It was past 3pm and we needed food, but the cafes all sold meat fest meals so we ended up with a couple of egg filled, fried things which took the edge off the hunger.

The town we stopped for lunch had some small hotels, a pink sea and a mud volcano but as it was still early and we had no WiFi we had to push onto a seaside resort called Santa Veronica, this had loads of hotels and we hoped would have WiFi which we needed to cancel the card.

It was getting late, the headwind had us cycling at 4mph but Ginette’s magic thumb managed to conjure up a flat bed van, not only did the Polish gentleman gave as a lift, speak perfect english he actually runs a hostel so he took us straight to his place.

WiFi done, food done, cuddles for two relieved cyclists who live to cycle another day.

Ginette – it was a really shitty day, during the attack we both remained relatively calm given the fact that we had guns pointing at us, but afterwards I found myself almost on the verge of tears. The ba**ards had stolen the phone so I had no podcasts/music to distract me so even though I tried not to dwell on the robbery my mind kept replaying the events. Hopefully a good nights sleep will erase the events from my mind. At the end of the day, we are OK, we have money (I always try to spread the money and keep very little in the top box), we have another bank card and we can buy a new phone.  I am so pleased my magic thumb worked because I was starting to struggle with the head wind and the thought of cycling in the dark was far too scary to contemplate. Strangely I wasn’t even trying that hard, we’d stopped for a drink, I was still sitting on my bike and I waved my thumb in desperation and voila…

We had been looking forward to an easy day, having a mud bath and going to the pink sea. Instead we ended up cycling further than planned and having serious thoughts about what to do next on our adventure. On the upside the hostel was lovely, it had a pool, great views of the beach and the room was clean and comfortable.  If the van hadn’t turned up we could have found ourselves cycling in the dark and desperately trying to find somewhere to sleep for the night. 

No photos because the bad men took the phone.

 

20th Feb 

Headwind cycle ride again.

Our accommodation was lovely and we contemplated staying longer but we only had a small amount of cash and we were worried that our remaining cash card may not work in Columbia’s ATMs.

We had to cycle 30 miles to reach Barranquilla, the ride was along the same boring main road and we had another day of strong head wind to contend with. It was a hard cycle with no fun bits.

Ginette – not helped by the fact that we were constantly on high alert, I found my self cycling roadside of the shoulder to avoid being pulled into the bushes and hoping the lorries and buses would give me a wide birth.  In hindsight this was not so bright because the main robberies apparently take place by motorcyclists stopping bikes.  My body ached from being thrown to the ground and generally riding in fear, I was so glad when we could get off the bikes. I even stopped on a hill just inside the city and declared I didn’t want to play. Gary patiently smiled and talked me back onto the bike, fortunately we only had a further 3 miles to go and we agreed to stop for food and drink at the top of the hill. Once refuelled I was OK but still happy to get to our accommodation.
We finally found our booked hotel, not easy when we had no phone maps but the Garmin led us to the right area, asking the locals we had a few conflicting sets of directions. To make things harder the hotel had no signs outside so it just looked like a standard block of flats.
Once checked in we set off to walk and find banks, the first 5 wouldn’t accept the card but the BBVA bank was a success so at least we had some cash.
Ginette – Usually we would have put the money somewhere safe and not given it another thought but to be extra safe we spread the money out, putting it in pockets, bags etc. I am sure once we’ve left the city, we will start to feel a little more relaxed but for now it is probably not a bad thing to be more aware of our surroundings.
As it was getting dark and Barranquilla is known as a crime ridden area, we opted to eat in a shopping malls food hall and then walk back in the dark.
The Columbian people do not seem very welcoming, not many smiles or hellos but then we are in a city area and the people in cities tend to be like this.

Ginette – it is not that the locals are hostile to us, they treat each other the same way, not that dissimilar to the way we treat each other in the UK. It is just that we have gotten used to people in Central/South America being a little more welcoming.
Still no photos – sorry
21st Feb 
Barranquilla carnival day 1.
Barranquilla is the 4th largest city in Colombia and is located on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. It claims to hold the second largest carnival in the world but before we could party we needed to buy some essential items. The locals are given 4 days holiday and most of the shops close during this period.
We were phone less and hence portable map less, walking around with an I pad is not an option and buying paper maps not practical as we are travelling through lots of areas.
Phone shopping here on one hand is really easy as there are hundreds of phone shops but try figuring out which one you need and how much to pay. Research on the internet helps but with so many choices it was confusing. We decided on a store that looked established and they were displaying a Samsung Galaxy A30 for £150.
We went back to the love hotel to look this up and it seemed OK so bought it.
This process took ages, parting with the cash was instant but setting the phone up In English and connecting the new sim package involved two non English speakers and a customer with very little English. But we are now sorted.
Another bonus on the shopping front was finding butane gas for the stove, now we can make our own food if we want to.Ginette – as Gary has mentioned we are staying in a ‘love hotel’ and outside of our hotel is a busy road where the traffic is often at a stand still. I am sure it is not my imagination but we are getting some very funny looks when we enter/leave the premises.  It must look odd two 50+ westerners using such an establishment. I think we may be the only guests staying for 3 days, everyone else seems to be paying for the hour. 
The 4 day holiday / carnival started tonight with concerts around town (UB40 are playing but we couldn’t get tickets, we last saw them in Wembley arena with Jamie) and dancing in the streets. Near us street 50 was cordoned off for Baila la Calle, a huge salsa dancing street party. I donned a colourful carnival shirt and we queued with a few tourists and many locals for the security check (which was reassuring) and to pay £5 entrance fee
A long section of street was fenced off with sets of disco units along the way and a stage for live music at the end. We entered early at around 6pm but it was already getting lively.  We met a local with really good english at the first beer tent and he gave us some really good tips regarding the carnival and also warned us to take great care as the city was a dangerous place.  
Ginette won the game of spotting couples dressed in the same colourful tops, male and female pairs. It seems to be a common theme and she won hands down.
You could stand / dance in the one spot and have sellers come to sell you beer and food then the rubbish collection team came and took your rubbish (and fist pumped you with a smile each time).
Lots of age groups, lots of dancing styles but prominently a lot of hip wiggling salsa moves, a few couples engaged in the tight hugging salsa style which looks impressive. I thought there would be more salsa dancing, imagining the whole crowd dancing away.
We left jut after 9pm as by then the place was packed like a nightclub and it was hard to dance with the lines of people pushing to get past in either direction. We had had fun but it was now becoming a bit oppressive.Ginette – it was a great atmosphere, lots of different music stages competing for air space. We loved dancing but decided to leave as it was heaving and felt a little claustrophobic.  We were not the only ones to leave, 3 hours of dancing was not bad going, but definitely puts us in the lightweight category.
We ended up back at the nearby mall to share a late night pizza from one of the only places left open in the food hall, there are loads of street food vendors but all selling meat based food, great for me but not for Net. While eating a family with a baby and a toddler were making their way around the tables searching for leftovers in the empty trays and bags, it’s hard to see this especially when we threw our left over Chinese away yesterday. Net shared some of our pizza with them and not for the first time we thought all food vendors should put all their uneaten untainted food out to one side as free food for those in need.
22nd Feb 

Carnival Barranquilla.

We had seen tickets for the carnival at £75 but figured that if it’s a carnival then we should be able to just turn up after all it is only a street parade. However the previous night we had been warned that if we wanted to see the carnival we should pay for the bucket seats at £6 each. We arrived early and there were loads of empty plastic seats all lined up under gazebos in the shade by entrepreneurial locals charging a fee for a seat. As we approached the main stands the prices raised so we went back to a sheltered spot at the front. We could have crossed the road and sat for free in the sun, or just stood at the back but later when all the crowds had gathered it was clear you wouldn’t be able to see much.

We spent 5 hours at the carnival, 2 hours before anything passed by and the rest watching the many floats and dancers. There were a lot of big gaps between the performers and some of the performers were pretty hot and weary by the time they passed us. We have seen a lot of carnivals and there is no doubt that this is a long one with lots of great costumes and dancers but maybe too many as it’s a long time to watch a procession.

The best bit in my opinion was the crowds reactions to some of the floats and the interaction between crowds and participants. We were packed into one of the many gazebos with locals dressed to party and lots of cheering, there were a couple of repetitive well known songs that when a float came by playing evoked the crowd to get up and dance along, this is what made this carnival the most fun. Unfortunately we didn’t recognise the tunes so struggled to join in, but gave our best shot at dancing along and cheering with the crowds.

We tried to leave early, by early that was late in the afternoon having been there since morning. When we left the little enclosure that’s when we discovered just how many people were spectating the carnival, the crowds were packed right back from the barriers and there only view was the top of the larger floats. That didn’t stop them from having a good time.

With this many people around and warnings of pickpockets we was a little on edge. A middle aged lady came over for a chat and photos with her grandchildren, she was really friendly. We soon had a small gathering around us encouraging us to dance for / with them. After a while the lady moved away and motioned to Ginette to watch the others around her. We made our excuses and left.

We left at the same time as a lot of others, the streets packed with locals which soon dispersed into the many directions in this city.
Buses and taxis seemed to be ignoring the locals trying to wave them down, or pulling over and driving off if they had to take them too far, the local we met yesterday explained how it was difficult to get a taxi after the event as there was a set fee so all the drivers wanted was short trips so they could make more money.

A good day partying with the locals and a few European tourists.

Ginette – we had a great day partying with the locals and as we wandered back to our ‘love hotel’ we discussed whether we would have stayed later if we hadn’t been robbed in the week. We came to the conclusion that we would have gone home regardless, by the time we headed off home we had already seen a couple of scuffles due to too much drink and not knowing the city made us feel a little uneasy. The locals didn’t help improve our impression of the city as several locals warned us to take care and that there were bad people around and places in the city that tourists shouldn’t go even in the day.  A good carnival tainted slightly by the reputation of Barrenquilla. It is hard to believe that the carnival will take place again tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. We feel exhausted and we only watched. Not sure we will attend again, or what our plans are for the week, but hopefully we’ll have lots of happy memories and news to share with you in our next blog.

Barranquilla’s Carnival slogan is “quien lo vive, es quien lo goza – “those who live it are those who enjoy it.” – Well we are definitely living it and despite the events of this week we are still enjoying our adventure.  Take care xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 thoughts on “Colombia – Part 1

  1. Nicola

    Good grief you two!!! I’m so pleased you are ok. How scary but good of you to remain undeterred.
    Always love to hear your travel news. Thanks for keeping us up to date. You’re missing nothing here except strong wind and rain although Spring is definitely on its way. Love to you both. Nic xxxx

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    1. ggcorr Post author

      Hi Nicola – good to hear from you, we’ve been following the weather news in the UK and we’ve decided we’re not coming back until the sun shines in Bristol xx

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  2. David Dutson

    wow good to hear you are both ok after that id be off home after that but no not you two you are sod it lets carry on (lol) at least they din’t get much and no injury’s plz try and stay safe and carnt wait to hear your next blog and yes you are not missing much back home in the weather is BAD wet wet wet.
    Dave Dutson

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  3. Bob H

    Amazing.

    Agree with the others, the main thing is you’re both ok.

    Glad your so positive and keeping on enjoying your trip.

    Best from us

    B & S

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  4. Gary Edwards

    Really glad you two are both OK and still happily trailblazing. Love to you both from me and Nik and like I keep saying to Holly in NZ- When you coming home? 🙂

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