Cartigena, Colombia — to half way thru Colombia! (10,200 miles now)

July 1, 2008

Fruit for sale! FRUIT FOR SALE! FORT IN CARTAGENA                                                            COLORFUL BUILDINGS IN CARTAGENA


After swimming and snorkeling in the warm waters near the San Blas Islands, we embarked on a 36 hour non-stop sailboat ride across the open waters of the Caribbean toward Colombia. We had a great boat and captain and we highly recommend them over the other charter boats. We hear horror stories from other travelers of having to sail the boat themselves after their drunk captain passed out!! But Ralph says the boat trip saved him lots of $ because he’ll never have to buy a sailboat – it’s just not as romantic as it sounds – no room to get out and run around!Cartagena, Colombia, a modern port city with a look similar to cities in the US, high rise buildings and all, but also with a quaint and beautiful old town section. Dating back to the days of pirates and Spanish gold, Cartagena was the principle port in South America the Spanish used to store plundered Inca gold before shipping it back to Spain, so the old town was very well fortified. It had 2 forts at the mouth of the port and an under water wall with only a narrow opening. Pirate ships weren’t aware of this hidden wall and would usually be destroyed by running into it and subsequently being bombarded by canons that were permanently aimed at the wall. The town was surrounded by a 50 foot thick stone wall and a huge fortified castle at the edge of it. The Spanish were serious about their gold! All these relics remain except for the underwater wall, making it a great sightseeing city.

We spent 4 days in Cartagena before catching a bus (yes, a bus – can you believe it!?) to Medellin i the highlands of Central Colombia. We decided on the bus after reports from friends of biking in 112 degree temperatures through humid lowlands for a week – YAHOO!! By the looks of the countryside it was a good choice!
When we arrived in Medellin at 2:30 AM, the bus driver asked us where we were staying. When we told him we didn’t know, he motioned for us to ride our bikes ahead of him He escorted us with the bus slowly driving behind us to a nearby hotel and helped us get a room and proceeded to carry our bags and bikes inside. That was just a preview of th high country Colombian hospitality we were in store for! Medellin used to be the “cocaine capital” of the world, but today is safe, clean, modern city full of warm, friendly, helpful people. It is a beautiful modern city in a high mountain valley. Most of the buildings are built of red brick, which contrasts beautifully with the verdant green mountains rising steeply on all sides!


Late the next morning we headed southeast out of town up the Valle Las Palmas, a steep climbing mountain road that clings to the mountainside with numerous vistas of beautiful Medellin below. After rolling through high country mountain valleys full of the most picturesque fincas (farms) and haciendas (country estates) we’ve ever seen, we dropped into the red tile roofed town of La Ceja just minutes before a late afternoon monsoon-like rainstorm!

The next day we hit the hills (let me change that to mountains, why would we take the easy way! ) taking a dirt road up a steep mountainside, then plunging into a deep canyon that rivaled Copper Canyon in Mexico in size, then back up the other side to Montebello, a picturesque village perched just below a mountain summit!! When we first spotted it from across the deep canyon, we thought, “What an incredible and unique spot to build a town — right on the top of the mountain, so unlike the U.S. mountain towns that are typically tucked in a valley”. As we were soon to find out, this is the typical Colombian highland setting; deep, deep, deep (did we mention deep!) valleys with towns perched o the mountain tops surrounding them. The slopes are completely covered with sugarcane, coffee, banana, papaya and mango fields along with pastures. dirt roads snake down the steep sub-ridges and are peppered with brightly painted, red tile roofed farm houses. It would be hard to even dream up a picture this stunningly beautiful!

TOWN AT TOP OF MOUNTAIN           FRUIT STAND                            

Montebello was full of wonderful, warm, helpful people who pointed us in the right direction the next morning, since our pathetic maps weren’t helping much. So we started what would be a typical day’s ride in Colombia. We’d start the day early (to beat the inevitable afternoon rainstorm) fueled by great pastries and put-Starbucks-to-shame wicked good local grown coffee. We’d leave town and immediately rocket down a narrow winding paved road, switchbacking to the river 2000′ to 4000′ below, then slowly climb back out to a pretty village perched on a ridge line on the opposite side of the valley. We would do at least two of these climbs per day, knocking off 4000′ to 8000′ vertical per day! Now that’s a vacation!


Our route was off the beaten bike tour path, was slow and lots of work,but it took us through the most unusual and some of the most spectacularly picturesque country of our trip to date. We traveled through Santa Barbara, La Pintail (in a valley – how unusual!), and on to Arma where we were abducted and robbed – abducted by thirty friendly, curious villagers that robbed us of our time – two hours in the afternoon and another two hours in the evening – at the town plaza, asking us all sorts of questions ranging from “How do you find Colombian people – friendly?” to “How often do you have to change your drive train?” to “What kind of music do you like – Rolling Stones or Guns ‘n Roses?” We talked in our broken Spanish until our throats were hoarse. One town elder had to continually tell the crowd to step back so as not to suffocate us. The little schoolgirls surrounded Pat and all wanted to know what their names sounded like in English.

From Arma we biked on thru several mountain towns and valleys toward Salamina.. 10 kilometers before town we came across a friendly man resting beside the road with a backpack full of quart-size pop bottles re-filled with fresh leche (milk) from his farm where he had just gotten done milking his cows by hand out on the hillside. He asked us about our trip and where we were going and asked if we wanted to stay at his finca nearby. We said we really wanted to get to Salimina for the night, so he said “then you will stay a my house there!” He caught a ride into town and when we rolled into town a few minut6es later,, he was waiting at the edge of town He walked us to his house, where we met his wife, son, daughter and brand new baby granddaughter. We got a town tour – full of beautiful colonial buildings and fresh trout at a great restaurant. What warm, wonderful and generous people!

COLOMBIAN CHICKEN BUS!                                       RALPH BIKING ACROSS BRIDGE

The next day we rode in one rainstorm after another into the mountaintop city of Harmonizes, where we spent a couple days sightseeing and catching up on internet. Ralph managed to find time for another one of those Latin American weight loss programs = a nasty flu bug! We toured the city Cathedral, the largest all-concrete cathedral in Latin America, which looks like something out or Batman’s Gotham city. The tour took us up some 500 plus step (narrow spiral staircase included) to the st4eeple for a bird’s-eye view of the city below. YOWZA!!!!

We also rode a jeep up to and hiked the flanks of a 1700′ active volcano in the Nevada de Ruez National Park. ( it’s the highest altitude either of us have ever been and they kept stopping to help us acclimatize slowly but we still ended up getting a headache and feeling very sick!)

Our host, Gonzales and his lovely wife invited us into their home. We got a tour of a nearby picturesque village, Allentown, and a valley above it where the unique wax palms grow. They are ch only high-altitude cloud forest palms, grow up to 230′ tall, towering far above the surrounding trees, looking very mystical and almost Dr. Seuss-like.

HI — FROM 1700 FEET                                      ONE OF 3 OF THE 1700′ VOLCANOES

We stored our bikes with Gonzales while we fly back to the U.S. for Ralph’s dad’ memorial, who passed away recently. We’ll be back biking in a couple weeks, so the next update may be a month out. We’re looking forward to a good sole’ American hamburger and fries after the past 7 months of eating mostly RICE AND BEANS!!

We would also like you to know that we have found Colombia to be full of very, very friendly and helpful people, (unlike what the US media leads you to believe). We actually vote it as the friendliest place we have been since our trip began 1 year ago in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska more than 10,200 miles ago and in close competition to Costa Rica in beauty!                                                                     WAX  PALMS (THIS ONE IS ABOUT 230′  HIGH)

Bikin On’,

Hope you are too!Ralph & Pat



  1. When will you guys be back up in the surrounding area? Jodi was back a couple of weekends ago when Windsor had it’s 125th SOOOO we went out for the street dance, had a GREAT time! Wish you were there. You two are certainly zipping along. Keep on bikin! Love ya, Barb

  2. Ralph & Pat,
    What a story. I wish the newspaper could be held liable for some of the ways they twist the truth or print only a very narrow slice of reality. thanks again for allowing us to come along on your journey.


  3. So glad to hear how great Columbia is! We had hoped it would be fine, but all we hear about is the drug problem. So sorry Ralph about your dad. We just went through a rough week as Thane’s sister , Debbie ,lost her husband , Steve to cancer. But he did live life to the fullest which is all anyone can do. Forward ( as Steve would have said-he had no reverse) Betsy and Thane

  4. Don’t know if I’m up for Peru and may b working in Sept. Somewhere farther down the line may be better after Christmas. Your adventure in the mountains sounds much more interesting and fun than the Panam.
    Waiting for your neat blog, they’re more interesting than a good book!


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