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. 


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…


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.


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. 


2 thoughts on “Colombia – Part 3

  1. Bob H

    Love the pink hat. 🙂

    As you would imagine things are nowhere near as bad here as the press would have us all believe.

    Good luck with the job hunt – you’re both well qualified and experienced so something will show up soon.

    Very best

    B & S


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