Monthly Archives: March 2020

Colombia – Part 5

Sunday 15th March 

A frustrating day.

We have decided to try to get back to the UK as it looks like the UK is closing borders and Columbia has also started doing the same.

Ginette – Colombia has stopped all internal flights from Europe and anyone entering the country has to self isolate. At least 14 people have been deported already for not complying with the rules

We are pretty laid back as we can hold up here in a northern beach area if we can’t leave the country but would prefer to be home in case anything does go pear shaped at least we will be home to help.

Ginette – I had really hoped we’d end our adventure with a week on the beach, but if it means risking having to stay here for another month or longer I’m willing to forfeit the beach idea.

We had a frustrating day trying to arrange flights with the current demand causing a price hike that we were not comfortable paying. After a couple of hours we finally booked to fly back from Cali to Heathrow leaving on the 20th. We was helped by a lady from the Avianca airline that called us to ask if we still wanted a flight, we had tried to book earlier in the day but failed as our credit card was denied. She called another few times at our request to give us time to do a bit more research on what she was offering. In the end her deal was by far the best as she was holding the prices we had seen earlier in the day saving us £600 each.

The main problem had been our new credit card was not working but we couldn’t understand why.  When we finally got to speak to someone at the bank it turned out that although we had a new card, all other correspondence from the bank had been returned to them as our mail was no longer being re-directed to our son’s house.  As a safety precaution they’d put a hold on the card and notified us of this by mail. Fortunately as we had the card (well at least our son did) the bank simply had to take the ‘hold’ off the card. If the card had been returned we would have had to have a new one issued.

In the afternoon we went out for a walk to see the art work in the shape of cats by the Rio Cali. There is a short stretch of nice paved area with a line of cat statues near a gothic church, but this was the only pretty part. There were more cat statues along the river but the river was running brown and smelly from the city’s waste and the surrounding houses were just dull city architecture with rubbish and homeless sleeping all around.

We saw a homeless young lady bathing naked in the brown smelly water, she was probably not a lot cleaner than when she started.

The city was really quiet as it was Sunday, there were a few cars, very few pedestrians and hardly any shops open.

I filled the rest of the day with a gym workout, Spanish duo lingo sessions, ukulele practice and Salsa dance steps.

Ginette – I had hoped to buy a new top for a skype interview but nothing was open. It was really quite eery.  We later found out on line that all the museums, libraries, gyms etc had been forced to close along with schools and universities. 

16th March 

Quiet day.

Ginette had a Skype interview this morning so I spent the morning on the roof terrace practicing my ukulele.

Ginette – the interview seemed to go well, however we did lose the line half way through. 

We had a Salsa lesson at 11am and another at 3pm, splitting the sessions was much better as we had time to rest our brains and bodies between sets. We are now learning together in these classes and are trying to learn a routine instead of concentrating on all the different Salsa techniques, this seems to be working better for us.
When we have our lessons with the instructors we have someone to help us when we go wrong, when we practice on our own we seem to spend more time bickering than dancing. Possibly the close confinement we are experiencing is having an effect.

Ginette –  I had been looking forward to learning how to dance properly but to be honest it is turning out to be very stressful. The problem is we both have different learning styles and are learning the steps at different rates.

We are not in isolation here but whenever we step out on the streets there is usually at least one incident, yesterday we had a dark, skinned, down and out, hustle us for money and keep walking beside us, another local man had to help us move him on, nothing too serious but this city does feel a bit edgy.

We have collected some cycle boxes for the flight home, we had to use hand sanitiser as soon as we approached the man at the counter, so the Columbians are also starting to react to the Coronavirus outbreak.

Reading the worlds papers we feel like we are leaving an area of the world that has not yet been greatly effected into the UK which if you believe the papers is reaching a state of lockdown. Hopefully we will still be able to take the flight we have booked, we would prefer to be home while this pandemic is around.

Ginette – I may be a little paranoid but several people have shouted at us from passing vehicles and I feel we are being looked at differently. As Gary as said above it is an edgy city and it is a little unsettling walking around. We chose to come to Cali so that we could go dancing at night but that is not going to happen.  We have been warned that if we go to the clubs we need to take a taxi and we have to be careful that the taxi drivers don’t rip us off or take us somewhere other than our destination.  On top of this the clubs don’t really kick off until 10pm and to be honest we can’t be arsed to sit around and wait til 10pm before going out.

 

17th March 

Another quiet day.

I had a good gym session this morning and thoroughly cleaned everything I used afterwards.
We ventured out for fresh fish from a fishmongers and fruit and vegetables from the market.
We had two sessions of Salsa, one at 12 the other at 3pm. We are now trying a routine and getting a little better at it but we are still counting by numbers and are no where near winning the glitter ball. Our instructors attention wanders off and we often see the pair of them admiring themselves in the wall mirrors instead of helping us, although it must be frustrating to teach as it is taking me ages to pick this dance up.

We can’t help looking at the news and this epidemic is causing chaos everywhere. I am not really concerned for my health, I am pretty sure we could recover if we were infected. But we are seeing all the flights that are being cancelled and stories of people stranded in foreign lands.

In reality it is not being held up in Columbia that is a worry, we have been away from home over a year now and are seasoned travellers. We are more worried about
– Not being able to get home to loved ones when we want to go.
– Wondering if this country will react as poorly as some of the reports in the UK, leaving us struggling to find supplies, we can’t stock pile so need to shop regularly.
–  If we do fall ill will the medical teams here be able to help us?
– Will our flights be cancelled.

We will not know before we go to the airport so will have all the bikes packed away, if the flights are cancelled we need to decide what to do, possibly just unpack the bikes and set off on the road again. This could be more problematic than our previous trip as we may find supplies hard to come by and be turned away from hostels. Many areas already have curfews.

We also have a small concern that upon landing in the UK we may be required to self isolate, if this is the case our friend Mary has offered us her home in Richmond. We understand the need to isolate if you are ill, but how does self isolation work? When you are finished and you step outside, do you have to isolate again if you come in contact with a stranger?

Worrying will not help so we will just have to take it as it comes.

Ginette – Colombia is a very corrupt country, we are following the news here and in the rest of latin America and it is worrying how quickly they make decisions. Peru has already stopped all flights in and out, leaving many tourists stranded. Colombia has called a state of emergency so I fear it is only a matter of time before they stop flights. The local media are suggesting the reason the decision has been delayed is because the President’s sister is a senior executive at the main airline Avenica. 

18th March 

Packing bikes and more Salsa.

Packed the bikes into the boxes we collected yesterday along with some of the bedding in plastic bags as buffers.
The flights we have booked have great luggage allowances, the bikes are free and a max of 32 kg each plus we also have two 23kg bags each as standard allowance which should more than cover our stuff aa well as the extra supplies we are going to take back to the UK as requested form some family such as pasta and rice.

We are closer to getting the dance routine in the right order without too many mistakes but we are very mechanical and have a long way to go to make it look like a proper dance. This afternoon a couple of instructors did a demo dance, it was spectacular and there is no way we could ever achieve there grace and skill.

Our large black bags which we have been using for the whole trip have been repaired in a local suitcase repair shop for £5. We find searching for large hold baggage bags not so easy so these bags that we bought at Bovingdon market have spent the years journey with us, they wrap up to a tent size bundle and Ginette carries them on her rear panniers.

The news is all very depressing, the Coronavirus has left lots of other travellers stranded in locations like Bolivia and we have heard that the locals are giving Foreigners a hard time as they blame them for bringing the disease into their country. We don’t go out much here as the city is a bit edgy but we may have had a couple of instances of passing bikes/cars making snide comments, but we didn’t understand what it was they shouted as they went past.

The locals here are only just starting to wear face masks, the shops are still good with plenty on the shelves. The man that repaired the bags nearly gave me a hand shake but changed it to a fist pump with a big smile, so he was aware but not bothered and happy to deal with me.

Ginette – people are definitely starting to give us a wide berth when we walk pass them. Some locals are good humoured and cough as we walk by and smile but other look less sure of our presence. I am so glad we are leaving tomorrow.

20th March 

Going home.

We are in travel mode as we have two flights today, one from Cali to Bogota then to Heathrow. We are nervous that the flights will be cancelled, this is not an unrealistic worry because we have been checking flight statuses this week and a high percentage of flights have been cancelled.

Our booked taxi arrived it was a small Corsa hatchback but we had asked them to send a taxi grande. The driver tried to help but he was telling us we needed a bigger taxi and he didn’t have one, the conversation on the phone with his office was no better. In the end I just waived down another taxi that was passing which had roof bars. We had allowed plenty of time so this delay wasn’t a problem.

The Cali airport was really quiet, it looked like it could be a busy airport with 2 terminals but terminal 2 was empty and in terminal 1 it looked like only Avencia were flying. I had expected a bit of chaos but all was calm. The shops and duty free were all closed but a couple of cafes were open, for an airport setting it was eerie having such a quiet environment.

Ginette – each municipality has ordered a curfew from today until Monday, the president initially stated this was absurd but as the day progressed he seemed to endorse it. He didn’t really have a lot of choice. Even though there was going to be an imposed curfew, the shops during the day were fairly quiet, compared to the madness in the UK. The shelves were full and we didn’t have to queue at the check out. At some of the smaller supermarkets people were queuing outside but this was because the supermarkets only allow a certain number of customers in the store at one time. We also saw queues at pharmacies and banks but this is not unusual in South America. The pharmacist is used like a doctor and the stores are very small.


Bogota airport had a similar feel the baggage collection area was practically empty. The goods stores were closed and only a few of the cafes open, there were however far more people here, the majority with face masks on, in fact the only ones with no face masks were of European appearance.

Our flight obviously has a lot of other British on it, with the airports closing soon this is one of the last flight out. A gentleman was kicking up a fuss at the gate as he wasn’t being let on, from what we could gather he and 40 others had their earlier flight cancelled and had been waiting 10 hours in the lounge expecting to board this flight. Everyone was nervous that they too wouldn’t be able to board so it was a relief when we passed the desk and boarded. We don’t know if any of the waiting passengers managed to secure a seat.

There were lots of young travellers on board, some at the end of their journey whilst one couple had only been in Columbia for 7 days having to cut there trip short before it really started.

Ginette – this particular couple had arrived and had been forced to stay in their hostel for the full 7 days. We talked to others that once they’d moved from one area to another they were confined to their hostel. One young man had been put in self isolation for 3 weeks. We have been so lucky. We also heard some people had paid in excess of £1,500 for their flights which if purchased before the chaos had been listed as £250.  Others had booked this flight to London as they couldn’t fly home, one man lived in Australia but his flight had been cancelled and he decided he’d rather spend time in London than Colombia.  I can’t blame him the reason the Colombian’s have taken such drastic action even though they only have a handful of cases is because the health system is so poor, with very few intensive care beds. 
I am writing this 1 hour from Heathrow and must admit to being a little emotional, it is a huge relief to be getting back to the UK. I know we would have coped fine if we had to stay in Columbia but it would have been a very frustrating chapter of our trip. When we returned from our first major cycle tour getting home to normality and family was exiting and we had plans in place for the next trip. I can really remember looking out of the plane windows as we circled over London and the feelings of elation at arriving home after a year way. This time we are still excited to be getting home but have yet to experience first hand the changes that the Coronavirus is bringing to the UK. We have seen and read the news reports but are not sure how exaggerated the stories are so we are entering this time with joy and trepidation.

21st March

Back in good old Blighty.

Arriving at Heathrow it was another eerie experience,  having such a quiet environment it was like being in a disaster movie, we were just missing the zombies.

Passport control was empty, we had three people in the queue in front of us, and the only reason for a queue was because the numpties were trying to use the e-passport system while still wearing face masks.

Baggage collection area was practically empty and our bags were all already out so no waiting around. The goods stores were open and the cafes but there were hardly any people in the airport.

We are consoling ourselves with the fact that we have come from Columbia and at present there are very few cases there. Our main  contamination risk would have been from the actual flight we have just taken.

Ginette – interestingly we had our temperatures taken at the Colombian airports but other than being handed a leaflet we had no checks at all in the UK. We’re not sure if this was because we were arriving from a low risk country or whether that was the routine for all flights. 
We had considered shutting ourselves away on landing but we struggled to get our head round what would happen when we left isolation, would we have to isolate again if we made contact with a stranger, this could be a never ending task.

These are worrying times and you want to do your best to keep everyone safe, we are assessing the risks and hoping to make the best decisions but it is difficult for us to lock ourselves away as we have no permanent home at present.

After a lot of deliberation we arranged for our nephew Chris to pick us up in his van. We had reservations about this as he has a young family but we are going to stay with his mum, my sister for a couple of days and she regularly looks after her grandchildren so unless this also stopped any cross contamination if any would potentially be the same. 

We are staying at my Sister Tracy’s house for a couple of days. It is great to be back with family it’s not so great worrying about the risks we may be to others. 

Ginette – the plan is to cycle from Tracy’s to Shaun’s hopefully seeing my sister on route. We will then head to Weston super Mare to stay with Hayley. We are still hopeful we will get temporary jobs firstly to keep us sane and secondly for some additional money.

22nd – 24th March 

Ginette – We will continue to write a blog because these are interesting times.

We made it to Shaun’s however last night Boris Johnson asked us all to do our bit and self isolate so we have decided to stay put for 3 weeks (or until the ban has been lifted). Shaun has plenty of room so if we have to self isolate further we can do this without risking him or Kez.  We don’t like feeling like we are imposing ourselves on anyone but it seems selfish to cycle to Weston as it is not essential that we travel. 

On our cycle ride over to Shaun someone shouted abuse at us, I can only imagine we would experience more of this if we cycled a further 120 miles. 

To end this post on a good news story – I have been offered a new job in the NHS as a Senior Improvement Manager. 

 

 

Colombia – Part 4

8th March 
Santa Rita cascades.

We went on a circular walk to a waterfall area called Santa Rita.
It took us down the valley along a tarmac road with jeeps carrying tourists to somewhere and several groups of horses being led in the same direction. I checked this out later and the road is a dead end leading to Vale de Cocora, a trip for tomorrow.

The views are pretty good of the lush green valley and opposing hills, a fast running stream at the bottom and several buildings built to take advantage of the views.
We left the road to make our way along farm tracks, we thought we had gone wrong as eventually the track led straight to a ranch with a steel locked gate but as we walked away a horseman came and pointed back to the ranch and we could pick out the words Santa Rita. At the gate a mother with her baby in her arms met us and asked for 5000 pesos each (approx £1) and led us through her pretty ranch, then a farm hand led us through the stables to a track behind the house, this was all very novel and the people friendly but Nets eyes were itchy for a short while.

Net spotted a dead Tarantula on the path and there were a few birds and butterflies around but we didn’t spot any other wildlife other than cows and horses.
We had to cross a stream then make our way up hill to pass through Santa Rica ranch.
The waterfall area was actually quite good, we have seen better waterfalls but there were 4 different ones to view and the track to get to them all was steep and adventurous with several rope bridges to bounce over one at a time. We even had a cave to walk through.

The area was popular with locals and there were several groups sitting around having picnics, no beer in sight and quiet music playing. Even a group of teenagers were sitting around and looking peaceful. We reflected on whether the same would be said if theses were all Europeans groups.
Ginette – no mobile phones in sight, it was like going back in time..
Making our way back down through the Santa Rica ranch it was clear to see that this ranch was reaping the benefits of tourism, we had avoided passing this on the way up as we came in the back way but now we had maps, signs and a cafe plus two guys collecting the entrance fee to the walk we was leaving. We managed to get by without having to pay as we explained we had come from the other route.

We continued back up to town, taking a path off the main road. This was a path mainly used by horses, it was a deep cut through the muddy banks and looked like it would be a stream In rainfall. It was a muddy adventurous route and we was glad when we passed a coffee plantation because the path became better cared for.
Ginette – we arrived back at the hostel at 2.30pm and instead of using my time constructively, I spent two frustrating hours getting lost in the internet machine-  reading on line newspapers, flitting through facebook and looking for jobs. I did try looking for volunteer opportunities in Cali, our next destination but other than helping out in a hostel there wasn’t a lot of offer. On a positive I did talk on line to my best friend and to my sister.
Tonight we treated ourselves to a meal out as we had see an Indian style restaurant and hadn’t had Indian food for a long time.

9th March 
Valle de Cocora.

We took one of the many open jeep taxis that operate from Salento plaza to the start of the walks in Cocora valley.
This walk is well known so lots of info was available on line so we knew where to head. We had a nice 5 mile walk beside waterfalls in the forest with many rickety rope bridges to cross, then up a steep climb up one side of the valley to rest and take in the views.
The walk back along the valley side gave some great views, we stopped at one as there was a trio playing guitars, drum and windpipes with native music. One of the band was sharing his large local fruit called a Guanabsna, it tasted between pineapple and passion fruit and looked like a green large melon with spikes.
Ginette – I could have stayed in this spot all day, it was beautiful and the music made it feel almost magical
This valley is famous for it’s beauty and the Quindío wax palm tree, a tall slender palm tree that grows to 200 feet tall. Once in danger of extinction they were named the national tree of Columbia and efforts have been made to save the tree and this valley has a load of these trees now flourishing.
We took the jeep back, this time squeezed in like sardines with three standing on the tail step and hanging onto the back.
Chilled for the rest too the afternoon.

10th March 
Cycle then bus to Cali, city of Salsa.

We had considered cycling to Cali, it’s only a couple of hundred miles.  However we had several reasons why not to cycle.

1. On Ioverlander the route shows a trouble spot where a cyclist was mugged and a motorcyclist wasn’t robbed but was forced to turn around at gun point for some reason.
2. We are waiting to hear back from jobs we have applied for so need internet
3. If we get interviews we may need to return to the UK so want to cover more ground in Columbia
4. Although we set off with 4 bank cards we are now down to one (one lost, one bank withdrew service, one stolen) we can’t risk losing the only one we have left. We have ordered another but there is some confusion as to where it is.
5. We enjoy the cycling but you can get too much of a good thing.

Research showed if we took the bus from Salento to Cali we would have to change buses at Armenia which is 14 miles away, so we cycled this bit.

Plotting the route showed it mainly down hill route which was great but it didn’t show that 9 miles of this was on mud and broken lumpy stone track. It was slow going on our laden bikes.
We past several small horse riding tour groups and although we were off the main road we past several coffee farms selling tours of their farms.
The views were great and I enjoyed the cycling buy I know Nets not keen on these off road section.
It was a popular route with mountain bikers as we past several groups slogging their way up the hill.
Ginette – it wasn’t too bad a route, but it was very bumpy, my technical riding skills have improved immensely on this trip. If I had encountered this off road section at the beginning of our trip I would have probably walked it. Instead I got to appreciate the admiring looks we got from the locals as we cycle along a road probably not used by many touring cyclists.

We had the usual grief at the bus station of the driver trying to overcharge us for the bikes, I had loaded them and the bag into the bus so he didn’t have to do anything but tried to charge us 40,000 pesos which an angry Net got down to 20,000. This was on top of the 44,000 for the standard tickets.

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11th March 
Cali.

The hostel we stayed at was pretty noisy, it offered dance lessons so the music carried through to our room. There was a Japanese guy that thought the whole hostel should enjoy his music and he was worried that anyone, hard of hearing, may miss out so he played it very loudly.

The kitchen was filthy, some of the guests had clearly only had lesson one from their mums in cooking, ie they learnt how to cook but lesson two which includes how to wash up and clean sides and oven surfaces had clearly not been given or had been completely forgotten. It’s a real pain sharing these spaces with other who don’t give a dam.

We had a wander around the city, it has some nice churches and Plazas but is a working city with no real appeal to tourists, at least that’s our first impression.

We had a free Salsa class in the hostel in the afternoon, now my feet are even more confused as we have been shown a load of different moves.

If you sense I have had a bad day that’s not really true. I have done a work out, several Spanish duo lingo sessions and a session on the ukulele. It’s just the small things have irritated me, like putting my prawns out to defrost in a plastic bag on my bike only to find the nice cleaner lady had seen them and put them back in freezer for me so no prawns for dinner tonight.

12 March
A quiet and clean apartment.
The hostel was really noisy again with dance classes close to our room, but at least it all goes quiet after 11 pm.
The kitchen was in a state again this morning, we only had to boil water but the hob had been left with whatever was spilt over from the pan with no attempt to clean it up, dried and caked on gross.
We moved a mile down the road to an apartment which is only £13 a night, it is great to have our our room and kitchen, the silence is deafening and it’s clean enough to eat off the sides. We have a roof terrace to share which also has an open air gym. This place is great and it’s times like this that I really appreciate the amount of time and research Ginette puts into finding these places.
Ginette – for any one who has booked accommodation abroad you will know how time consuming it is to find somewhere, in your budget and in your location. I read the reviews to try and avoid booking somewhere noisy or dirty but this does not always work. Our hostel had a rating of 8.6 on Booking.com and guests had been really complimentary. The deciding factor for me was price £11 per night and free dance classes. I hadn’t factored in that private lessons would be offered as well and that these would be right outside our room from 08.00am – 10.00pm. 
We had a Salsa dance lesson at a school about a mile away, it was a group session and I enjoyed the format but the 2 hour lesson was too long and with different moves again has managed to only confuse us more. The whole class was made to wash their hands and also use hand steriliser before we could start the class, Coronavirus precautions.
 Ginette – I think because i worked in Public Health and had a role in health protection I am fascinated by the Corona Virus.   I am really pleased Colombia has imposed such measures, they’re putting people in isolation who arrive from countries with high rates of the Corona Virus and have banned all large gatherings of more than 500 people. These seem like sensible actions given what is happening in Europe – at present Colombia has only reported 8 cases.  However I am shocked that the UK seem to be doing so little, it is an island, it would be easy to put people in isolation from high risk countries and ban large gatherings. Instead appear people have been allowed to arrive from Italy without being tested and the Cheltenham Festival is taking place while I write this blog from the comfort and safety of my apartment. Rant over.
Close by we have a locals food market and cafes and bars with some cheap offers that we may take advantage of sometime. I bought a load of different types of fruit, some I recognised others not.
The Guanabana fruit is a large green knobbly fruit which we tried in Salento, It has an interior the texture of snot with seeds in each snot packet. I had to open the fruit up and pop all the seeds out individually so I could mix it in the blender to make a smoothee, however the snot is pretty thick and nearly burnt out the blender. The result is a semi, lumpy, snot, textured liquid that taste a bit like passion fruit.  Looking at Ginette’s reaction to me drinking it, I think it is now up to me to drink it all.
Ginette – On our travels we have tasted lots of exotic fruits, I am willing to try them but I haven’t found many I like. My favourite to date is probably papaya.
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Friday 13th March
Not a lot to report day.

The apartment is great, clean and a quiet night sleep other than a thunderstorm and lightening storm in the night.

I woke rested and restless, there were no plans for the day and I was irritable and after searching the internet I couldn’t find anything I wanted to see.
So I used the gym on the roof which gave me an hours entertainment and my body and mind felt a lot better.
On maps me I could see a swimming pool around the corner, I tried to gain access but having walked all around the block, the only entrance was through guarded steel gates and the guards said no.
Ginette I spent the morning doing an online course, I have been out of the NHS for 5 years and I am hoping by updating my skills I will increase my chances of getting a job back in the UK.  Gary was a royal pain in the bum, he was restless and very moody,  I dread to think what would happen if they imposed a curfew in Colombia…

We attended a Salas free session in a club which was closer to our apartment, which we both liked. We have now settled on this club so will be doing private and group lessons with them. The salsa is hard and easy, some of the basic foot work is simple but when you try to combine this with spins together and still keep the feet in the correct timing then it all becomes a tangled mess.

At least we now have a focus for this week.

We had both Hayley,  Shaun and Kez call us today which was really nice. Coronavirus was one of the conversation points, here in Columbia we are not seeing much of an effect on people but watching the news we can see how the world is being effected.

We will need to monitor this as we could end up being trapped here if all flights are cancelled, this will be Ok whilst we still have tenants in our home but after May we will have no revenue coming in so need to back in the UK by then.
Flying home now is not a great option but we are not keen on being trapped here either.

Ginette – my worse fear is Hayley catching the virus and being alone, I’m not sure we’ d be much help to her but at least we’d be there. I don’t think we are at risk here but the thought of being ill in a country where we struggle with the language is not a pleasant one.

On balance at the moment it makes sense to stay here, our apartment is £13 a day, food is cheap and freely available and we even have an endless supply of toilet roll. 
However I think a trip to the seaside might be on the cards soon….

Colombia – Part 3

1st March 

Back to Medellín.

We took the bus to Medellin as the road leading back to the city was winding, steep and had a fair bit of traffic on it. We stopped about 35 miles out of the city to ride down to our hostel.

It was a good ride, we had a lot of well maintained cycle path to ride on and these took us by a major hospital and airport with out traffic issues.

We had a 6 mile hill climb to do with 6% to 9% climbing but with well rested legs this felt quite easy.

Just after we passed the top we came across a small town called Santa Elena, we was only 12 miles out of the city and the little town was bustling with visitors. We had a mooch around the market and treated ourselves to a slice of cake each.

The next stage was now all downhill with some great views of Medellín.
The last ride through the city was also on cycle paths, all in all a nice ride.

Whilst sitting looking at the view we tried to get our heads around the altitudes we were cycling at. So here’s some stats.
We started in Guatape at 6220ft.
We took the bus to Marnilla at 6870 ft.
We cycled up to Santa Elena at 8566ft, so climbed 1696ft. Here the temperature was 20 degrees.
Finishing at Medellín at 4813ft. Dropping 3753ft on the bikes. But since leaving Guatape we have dropped 1407ft. Here the temperature was 28 degrees.

Ben Nevis is 4413ft, hence although we have cycled downhill we are still higher than the UKs highest mountain as we are at 4813ft.

The Alp  d’huez, a famous Alline cycle climb is 6102ft.

Altitude effects are worse over 9842ft. We didn’t feel any effects but added this just for information

Ginette – I was a little disappointed with the hostel I had chosen. I had spent ages trying to find one with access for the bikes, which would be quiet and would have a decent kitchen.  I sent an email to our hostel and they confirmed that they could meet our requirements however on arrival we had to strip the bikes and carry them up two flights of stairs (I say we, Gary carried them, smiling all the way). Our room was right next to the reception desk, which I thought might be a problem. It is hard to have any privacy when you can hear the receptionist making calls and talking to guests. 

2nd March

Salsa lesson no1.

Ginette – the hostel, was much quieter than I had imagined it would be, the receptionist left the building at 5pm and didn’t return again until this morning. We are staying at the hostel for 6 days so that we can practice our Spanish, learn how to salsa and apply for jobs. 
We had a metro ride over to a dance school because the teacher we tried to contact was being allusive, but as we reached the venue we realised we were using the what’s app on the new phone wrong. Fortunately we managed to firm a booking with this teacher, her deal was better than the other dance schools.

So back on the metro for lesson 1.

We had an hour and a half of dance tuition and it’s not easy. Ginette seemed to be mastering the moves but I feel, I left the lessons with two left feet. Hopefully our teacher will be able to help us master this dancing lark.
Ginette – I was very surprised that I could pick up the steps as I am normally the one with two left feet. 

 

3rd March

Walking tour.

Our dance instructor cancelled on us so we had a full free day.

Ginette – she needed time to recover from her session with us (joke)

We booked a walking tour in the main historical city area and took the metro there.

Our guide from Real city tours had excellent English and was very well informed so we learnt a lot in the 3 hour walk. He explained the history from pre Hispanic to the gold mining the slave trade and the surge in wealth due to the coffee boom.
He also went into detail about the darker recent history of the power on the drug lords.
He was also very intelligent having a degree in medical chemistry but as he couldn’t find work he is profiting on the tourist industry.

While we all huddled around him to listen at his various stops we had several local older man or men come and stand next to him to listen to him, even though they didn’t often speak English. These guys stood for a while interested to see all us gringos and often shared more information with us through the guide and would thank us for visiting Columbia.

At one stage a homeless black guy collecting cardboard for pocket money also poked his head in the circle, everyone thought he was going to ask for money including our guide but he surprised us all by speaking in English and giving us a short lecture on making sure we told all our friends how great Columbia is, though from his perspective I am not sure why he feels this way.

Whilst following the group through a crowded square with legal prostitution on clear display I had a young lad thrust some cards into my side trying to sell me something, I reached for my phone in my pocket at the same time as he was attempting to pick pocket me from under the cards cheeky bugger. He just slopped off empty handed but after that we was all a bit more on guard.

Ginette – the tour was really enjoyable, there were at least 6 other english people on the tour. After the tour we made our way back to the hostel on the metro system. We had learnt during the tour that the metro had been built during the conflict and was the only one in Colombia. Everyone was very proud of it and kept it super clean which meant no drinking or eating on it. It is a very efficient system but very busy at rush hour. Very orderly but people are crammed into the carriages like sardines and you have to be really assertive to get in or off the carriage. 

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The picture of the train – the coffee beans used to be transported by rail but the railway is no longer operational.

The building bottom right is where all the officials used to work from, it is now a shopping centre. It is a stunning building and was built by a Belgium architect. 

The statue in the bottom right shows the history of the country, the building behind it and those in and around the square (which you cannot see) are now government buildings and are quite ugly. 

The building in the large picture, the Rafael Uribe Palace of Culture, was built by the same Belgium architect Agustic Goovaerts as the other building above. It is a striking Gothic Revival style building but apparently half way through building it the architect pulled out of the job because the locals couldn’t agree on the design. The locals were left to finish the building and you can see the difference, one side is black and white with beautiful windows the other is very plain. As the tour operator said a complete balls up by the Medellin officials.

March 4th 

Salsa lesson 2 and packed into the metro.

Our second lesson went a little better at first with us practicing the moves from Monday, but then she added a manoeuvre were we both spun like a jive, this took me ages before my feet would play properly. It’s a tricky dance and we do need to practice more.

We headed to Cerro Nutibara, a small wooded hill in the city with a free museum with photos of the old city, after climbing all the steps we found the museum under renovation and closed. There was a little market area and some good views of the city so it wasn’t a wasted trip.

We headed to the Poblado area to enquire about afternoon group salas sessions, the Toucan school was really helpful and could have arranged these for us, but we would have wanted to move over to this area to be closer to the dance school. Looking around we can see why the area is popular with the backpackers and tourists as is is packed with bars and clubs but this is not really to our taste.

We are hoping we can move onto Cali, the Salsa capital of the world and settle ourselves there for a while. Net is on the research machine checking our options.

I have got through to a second stage in an application for a job in Clevedon, I have an online test to do with a company so fingers crossed. It just happens to be owned by Atlas Copco whom I did my apprenticeship with in Hemel Hempstead all those years ago.

Ginette  – To try and avoid the madness of the metro system we had dinner out, however at 7.00pm it was still crazy. We waited patiently with all the other commuters, the line snaked out of the station but moved very quickly.  We let two trains pass before we finally pushed our way onto one of the carriages.  It is amazing to watch the trains arrive with people pressed up against the windows, there really isn’t much room at all. 

We are following the news in the UK and watching with interest the media coverage of the Corona virus.  There is very little coverage here in Colombia and at present no reported cases. We have seen a few people wearing face masks but this may be down to the high pollution rates.  I may being a little cynical but the health system in Colombia is very poor especially in rural areas and even if someone was infected I don’t think they would seek medical care.  That said Colombia was the first South American country to invest in testing equipment, so maybe they have just been lucky and not had any cases.

To date the only sign we have seen for Corona is this one on our toilet…

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5th March 

Not a lot happening.

We have settled down for a weeks rest and the only things we are really planning to do is the Salsa lessons.

We had another lesson today, we are not to impressed with our teacher, she turned up late again and had forgotten we were coming and had to get a male instructor to come in a little while later.

The lessons are challenging, it looks easy but getting your feet in the right place at the right time is something that is going to need practice.

This afternoon we went to the city in the hope of replacing my walking/cycling trainers which have been slowly falling apart but although we could find cheap and also expensive options and a lot of choices I was not happy and decided to leave this decision today.

I have an on line test for a job I have applied for tomorrow so have been practicing several types of testing systems.

A chilled day, the time just flies even though we don’t feel we have achieved anything.

Ginette – although we have taken time off to rest, each day we are on the go and rarely stop. The job market is very quiet, I suspect in my case this is because of the Corona Virus I am looking for a role either in the NHS, Local Government or Third Sector.  I would imagine most of the public sector are holding back funds to manage the Corona Virus. 

The hostel is better than I anticipated however there are at least 3 dogs on our floor alone. Gary was talking to one of the residents and it would appear several people live in the hostel permanently/long term. One of the dogs has taken a dislike to us, especially Gary and barks whenever it sees us, it is only a poodle so not threatening but a little annoying. 

6th March

Swimming in my pink hat.

My on line test for Atlas Copco Was a disaster , I have been practicing personality and cryptic tests but when I sat this one it was Algebra and pressure system schematic drawings. I haven’t had to do algebra since Uni and have had no need to ever read hydraulic drawings before so it didn’t go well.

We discovered an Olympic size outdoor pool nearby so decided to go for a swim.
The first obstacle was the language barrier but this was soon overcome. Another couple showed us the way to the changing rooms so all pretty easy. I wasn’t allowed in the pool wearing my Bermuda trunks, they insisted that I wore ‘budgie smugglers’ or tight long johns. The guard made some calls on his radio and I followed him to the entrance counter were they loaned me some budgie smugglers. On the way Ginette was also called out of the pool as she had no swimming hat on.  To address this the guards kindly lent us  two swimming hats.

Ginette struggled to swim the first few laps, she was too busy laughing at me as my swimming hat was bright pink.

She even made me pose for a picture.

Ginette – I nearly drowned, I was happily swimming away, when I looked up to see Gary’s pink covered head swimming towards me. It was so funny.

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Our last Salsa lesson was just as hard as the others, just when we are only half struggling with the moves we have been given, we are shown another.

Practice is what we have been told so practice we shall try.

7th March

Bus to Solento.

We cycled the 3 miles to the bus station, we were now experts so found the ATM and manoeuvred down the disabled ramp and then took the luggage off the bikes to get down the last set of stairs, only to find we were at the wrong bus station. Fortunately we were very early and had time on our side.  We managed to get the bikes in the lift which saved stripping the bags back off.

The cycle ride across town was 7 miles, initially along a busy road and then along cycle paths. This city is great for cyclists with some good paths to follow.

As we approached the south bus terminal the neighbourhood took a real down turn. A pretty grim slum area and this was right next to an airport runway, I guess no one else wants houses in this area.
To get the bikes on the bus I had to remove both wheels and the handle bars as the boot was small.

Ginette – I was most impressed with Gary’s can do attitude the bus driver and other staff were saying there wasn’t enough space and Gary kept on persuading them there was. As Gary quickly dismantled the bikes they looked on in admiration and slowly changed their minds. Once both bikes and all the luggage was in the hold they gave each other a hug. It was pretty amazing.

The bus ride was 8 hours with some stunning mountainous terrain. There was a lot of road works going on and when the traffic stopped it was for a long time each time, not a 5 minute traffic light but about a half hour traffic light.
When the lights changed all vehicles pushed past each other using both sides of the road to do so.
Ginette – I was glad we had chosen not to cycle this section, the road was very steep in places and winding. In addition every vehicle on the road seemed to be driving at 100 miles an hour to make up for lost time
As I was looking out the window a homeless, bare chested dark skinned man was being chased down the road by a man with a huge spanner in his hand while the other locals were rubber necking the event.

We arrived safe and sound in this quaint little coffee town of Sorento. First impressions, Sorento is a small, very pretty, well kept village with lots of cafes and shops as it was Saturday evening the town was very busy with tourists and locals.  We have had a short walk around the village and even though we haven’t done a lot today are both pretty tired. We had a couple of beers in a locals pool bar, beers cost us 5000 peso each (about a £1).  I was tempted earlier in the evening to go into a bar with lots of proper ales but these were 12000 peso each and this felt way too extravagant.

Ginette – it is great to be out of the city and back in the mountains, the views are breathtaking. The time on the bus went by really quickly as we had on board entertainment. I managed to watch 2 films and listened to some new salsa music.  We are staying in another hostel the room is small but we have an ensuite bathroom. There is camping on site but the temperature has dropped and I think it might have been too cold and noisy to camp. 
We’re both looking forward to a couple of days of walking in the mountains before moving on to Cali for more Salsa dancing. We have not decided to do the next 150 miles by bike or bus. Colombia has some spectacular scenery but it feels very edgy, we’re not sure if this is because we’ve had a couple of unfortunate events here or because it really is unsafe outside of the tourist areas. We will talk to some locals and do some research before we make any decisions. 
Corona Virus has finally hit Colombia, there were signs in the bus station, some warning against kissing loved ones good bye and for the first time I could see Corona Virus headlines on the front pages of the newspapers. We’re happy we’re not in the UK with constant sensationalised news on the virus and panic buying, we’re hoping Colombians take a more rational approach.