Sunday, May 10, 2015

Welcome to Colombia, May 6th-10th

Cartagena-Turbaco-Arjona-Nepomuceno-El Carmen de Bolívar-Ovejas-Magangué-Bodega-Mompox

May 6th
Rest day in Cartagena! 
After completing our errands (finally we have clean smelling clothes!) we take some time to walk around. Somehow, the charm and life of this city shine through the oppressive heat. Just outside our hotel a small convenience store has been filled with chairs so that fans can crowd in and watch the soccer game on the tiny TV. They're all cheering as we walk past. Out on the main street we find endless carts of street vendors, fresh fruits, veggies, giant avocados, and of course giant thermoses of hot coffee (just about the last thing I want right now). All along the main park are stands selling used books. And people, people everywhere, out and about. 
Our favorite part of the city is the picture perfect old town. Surrounded by thick walls, it is austere and beautiful. The streets are lined with fancy boutique shops and balconies overflowing with flowers, and a decorative plaza or old church waits to delight around every corner. 

The Theater

We end our walk by climbing up on one of the old walls for a view of the ocean. This is the last time we'll be seeing the Atlantic for a while. 

May 7th
Out of the city. 
After saying our goodbyes to John and Huyen, we brave the heat and get back on the saddles.  Getting out of the city is comparable to biking in Beijing. It's that crazy. Motorbikes, buses, cars, rickshaws, people selling things, people with huge carts going the wrong way on the road, or trying to cross the road by slowly inching out into traffic. Horns honking, music blaring, people yelling. It's insanity, but somehow we make it through and pledge to do our best to avoid more big cities in Colombia. 
Finally we're on a nice road with a shoulder, and the traffic dies down. In the afternoon it rains and that helps cool us down a bit. We're biking through farmland, so we decide to ask a family selling mangos on the side of the road if we can camp in their yard. They turn out to be incredibly nice, showing us a place to camp, a place to shower, and loading us up with free mangos. I think they are by far the poorest family we have stayed with. You know that you've reached poverty when there's not even an outhouse, just a small plastic pail. 

May 8th
Trucks and farms
The young boy of the family loves to play baseball, (he played catch with Danny for hours last night) but his family doesn't have money to buy him a real baseball or a glove. We want to do something to thank these incredibly generous people who are so poor but won't even let us pay for mangos. So Danny gives the little boy some money as we leave; hopefully he'll get his baseball glove. 
All day we bike through farm land. At times the road is smooth with a shoulder, other times it appears to have melted and the shoulder goes away. The traffic is equally as fickle. We'll bike for 5 minutes without seeing a single car, then suddenly 3 trailers are passing in both directions. 

Can you fit a bale of hay, 4 buckets, and a mattress on the back of your motorcycle? 

Unfortunately for us, Colombian food stores have nothing that we usually eat. No cans of beans, no instant potatoes, no instant rice, no non-sugary bread, no pre-made tortillas. You either make it yourself with corn meal or buy some soda and a bag of chips seasoned with MSG. 
We decide that the best option for now is to eat out. There are tons of small restaurants along the road and you can get a huge plate of food for $2-3, which is a pretty good deal. For breakfast and lunch we enjoy combinations of yucca root, cheese, rice, beans, tomatoes, and onions. I can't help but think about how I used to teach my 6th graders at High Trails how the Native Americans would eat yucca root. Now here I am eating it. 
We're hot and tired when we reach the town of Carmen and decide to stop to reevaluate our route.
The little hospedaje we find turns out to be clean, quiet and cold, and the nice lady who runs the place cooks up some rice for us. 

May 9th
Off the beaten track
We wake up early, and thanks to the AC overnight I actually feel ready for the day. Thankfully, traffic is a bit less in the morning and our first few miles are pretty relaxing. 
We've decided to try out a new meal schedule; just a small fruit snack in the morning so that we can get going quick, then a larger breakfast later when it starts getting hot and we want a break. Today it's around 9:30 when we stop for big plates of rice, eggs, bananas, avocados, and yucca. Filling and delicious. 
Not too long after breakfast we turn off the main road and on to a smaller one. The road surface deteriorates, but there is significantly less traffic. The majority of people we see are super friendly, waving and giving us thumbs up. Their positivity makes the heat bearable. 
As for scenery, imagine your favorite stretch of rolling countryside, Virginia, Alberta, or wherever, then add some small towns with brightly colored houses and loud music, a bunch of donkeys tethered along the side of the road, and lots of motorcycles. That should give you a pretty accurate image of where we are. 

Late in the afternoon we roll into the town of Magangue amidst an army of motorcycles. Everyone here has a motorcycle; they're like locust swarms on the streets. With some exploring, we manage to find a hotel for $8 in a mostly non sketchy area of town. For dinner: giant fried corn cakes with cheese known locally as "arepas." Way too greasy, but they fill up our hungry stomachs. 

May 10th
Happy Mother's Day! Sending lots of love to our moms!

Neither of us sleeps well. Even with frequent cold showers and the fan, it was still too hot. I think this may have been our hottest night yet. 
In the morning we bike a short ways to Yati, a small town along the river where we're hoping to catch the ferry to Bodega. (There's no road across the river here, so boat is our only option.) Upon arriving we hear that the ferry isn't running today, so we opt to take a long wooden motor boat instead. The guy tells us that the boat will be leaving at 9, so of course we end up leaving at 10:30. 
Once in Bodega we begin down a 38km bumpy gravel road to the historic city of Mompox. 

It's a long ride. The sun is beating down, there is little shade, and every town we pass is blaring ear splitting music. We're used to restaurants and bars playing music, but along this road houses have full stereo systems as well. Neither of us can bear to sit down at any of the restaurants due to the music and large groups of single men drinking beer. It is clear that Sunday is a big day for drinking. We end up just skipping lunch. 
Once in Mompox we find a hotel with AC. Oasis! 
A bit later when we go out to find food we discover that the town of Mompox is pretty cute. There's a green park along the river and lots of old refurbished churches and plazas. 
The plaza de comida has giant pizzas for $7. I smell dinner! 

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