For a supposed cycling trip, sometimes we seem to be very good at avoiding our bikes.  With Ed’s visit and then some serious bike faffing and mechanical manoeuvring in Cartagena (my hub finally returned and was fitted), suddenly it was mid September and another month had passed by without our feet touching the pedals.  We’d definitely found a limit to our personal comfort boundaries in Cartagena.  A pleasant enough city, it’s stiflingly hot and I was more than ready to hit the road.

Colombia’s mountains lay ahead, waiting for us with famously tough cycling along switchback roads at high altitude but before we reached them we had a warm up (literally) of a couple of weeks cycling away from Cartagena and into the hot and steamy swamps…

 

Raul and Marta, Pan American Cyclists in Cartagena, Colombia

During our last few days in Cartagena we met Raul and Marta, fellow cyclists from Spain and Poland, who are doing the same north-south route as us. It was great to share food, experiences and ideas - we hope to meet them again somewhere along the road in South America...

Marta in front of a fruit stall in Cartagena, Colombia

A trip to the market in Cartagena with Raul and Marta before we all left was an education. They're far better acquainted with the delicious but baffling tropical fruits of Colombia and they introduced us to some new sweet treats such as granadilla and pitahaya.

Rented accomodation, Cartagena, Colombia

...then it was time for us to leave too. Our home for ten days had been in a beautiful old colonial house with five Colombian university students. Initially they thought we were very odd; even more so when the lycra came out.

Lorry and bike on the road, near El Carmen Colombia

The first 150km out of Cartagena, along a very busy flat road, couldn't be counted as a highlight of our trip...

Inside a cheap hotel room, Orvejas, Colombia

...especially when we found oursevles staying in shabby roadside hotels instead of camping as we had hoped. The rooms were cheap enough but often not dissimilar to a concrete cattle stall, and definitely inferior to spending the night in our tent.

Magangue to Mompos ferry, Colombia

Happily, we reached the end of the busy road and the pace slowed considerably. The only sensible way to reach Mompos is by a slow river ferry across the Río Magdalena, the largest river in Colombia.

Orange juice stall near Magangué, Colombia

We enjoyed a freshly squeezed orange juice before getting on...

Jeep full of plantains on Magangué to Mompos ferry, Colombia

...and then hungrily eyed up this jeep filled with plantains. Fried and squashed and then fried again, plantains become patacones, a starchy, filling staple which appeals to the ravenous cyclist.

Locals gather around Sarah and her bike in La Bodega, Colombia

Our arrival on the other side of the river in La Bodega caught the attention of some local taxi drivers who insisted on knowing where we were going....

Two steaming cups of café tinto, La Bodega, Colombia

...and so we stopped for a big breakfast, a chat and the obligatory café tinto. Served from a thermos flask with added sugar, tinto comes in small shots and never costs more than about 15 US cents. It's pleasing to see that Colombians drink their own coffee (some of the best in the world) instead of sending it all for export like may of the Central American countries we've passed through.

Street in Mompos, Colombia

After breakfast, a short ride through the wetlands and we were in Mompos, a sleepy town that's stuck in a colonial time warp. Sun baked streets...

Casa Amarilla hostel, Mompos, Colombia

...and restored colonial houses - this is our hostel.

Two street signs in Mompos, Colombia

Authentic road signage....

Man reading a newspaper in the square, Mompos, Colombia

...leads to one of many town squares where the locals come to relax.

Church in Mompos, Colombia

Around every corner, there was a grand church - this one was adjacent to our hostel.

Cycling through wet red mud - Mompos to El Banco, Colombia

After a blissfully relaxed rest day in Mompos and a big thunderstorm we set off toward El Banco through lots and lots of sticky red mud.

Herd of buffalo sitting in a puddle, Mompos to El Banco, Colombia

The buffalo didn't seem to mind it though...

School bus on the mud road, Mompos to El Banco, Colombia

...and the school bus managed just fine.

Eliseo fixes James' wheel in El Banco, Colombia

We made it through the mud but suffered another snapped spoke for James - the third in three days. The grin on expert mechanic Eliseo's face as he trues the wheel is a stark contrast to the disgruntled frown that James wears when he tries the same repair out on the road.

View of El Banco, Colombia

Leaving El Banco, the moody skies rolled in and the birds flew out...

Egret in a marsh with El Banco behind, El Banco, Colombia

...as we chased across the flatlands to escape the rain.

Trucks lined up on the busy road outside Aguachica, Colombia

All too soon we were back on the main road. Heaving with trucks on just two lanes, this was some of the scariest riding we had done on the entire trip and renewed our commitment to finding quiet back roads and dirt tracks whenever we can.

Group of men watch James change a puncture, near Aguachica, Colombia

Another interested group in another town. This time it's watching James change as puncture that draws a crowd; at times there were up to fifteen men looking on!

Joanna at Finca Irlanda nrear Aguachica, Colombia

After a long afternoon on the busy road we looked around for a place to stay and wanting to avoid another shabby hotel, we opted to ask at a finca. And so instead of a cow stall style room, we actually did stay in a cow stall. Joanna, daughter of one of the farm workers, was keen to learn some English words and help us with our packing.

Sarah and ant eater road sign, near Aguachicha, Colombia

Back on the busy road for the day and we were relieved to find some stretches of new carriageway not yet open to traffic but perfect for cycling...sadly we didn't spot any ant eaters along the way.

The bikes parked at a construction site on highway, near Aguachica, Colombia

Another snapped spoke and then two punctures left us stuck in a lay-by for the best part of two hours. This long stretch of road is full of construction crews and we happened to stop next to one and swear and sigh with frustration at James' mechanical problems. They looked on amused and then took pity, gifting us two leftover lunches. As always with free food, the stress fizzled away and we gratefully tucked into fish, soup and rice.

Sarah enjoys banana bread and a Malta, outside San Alberto, Colombia

The incredibly kind construction crew sent us on our way with even more goodies. On the afternoon dash to San Alberto, feeling tired, sweaty and filthy, their gift of banana cake and apples, along with a cold bottle of Malta, made the nasty road seem a bit more palatable.

Cycling up the climb from San Alberto towards Bucamaranga, Colombia

Thankful for less traffic the following day, we got stuck into the first proper climbing we had done for months; passing more friendly workers along the way...

Julian and Julian making veggie burgers in Floridablanca

...and we arrived in Floridablanca near Bucaramanga to the most hospitable of Colombian welcomes from Julian (right) and his family and friends. He and his friend, also called Julian, spent hours in the kitchen making delicious veggie burgers...

Veggie burger ready to eat in Floridablanca, Colombia

...which though beautifully presented were tragically devoured by us all too quickly.

Sarah and James without the bikes, looking over Cañon de las Iguanas near Giron, Colombia

Julian convinced us to take an extra day off and took us out into the countryside to see the Cañon de las Iguanas, a place we could never have accessed by bike.

Adobe house near Cañon de las Iguanas, near Giron, Colombia

Just a few simple adobe farmhouses punctuated the hour long descent to the swimming hole.

Three young brothers in the Cañon de las Iguanas

These three brothers acted as our guides down into the canyon and then spent the afternoon lazing, swimming and chatting with us....

One of the brothers leaps into the swimming hole, Cañon de las Iguanas, Colombia

....and taking the risky jump into the water in the afternoon sun that the three of us didn't feel energetic enough to try.

Sarah

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6 Responses to “Cartagena to Bucaramanga – via the swamps”

  1. skip Says:

    You are so far from your start almost a year and a half ago. These posts just keep me riveted. We are off to Nepal for a long walk about, inspired by you two, thanks. I’ll be back in November with photos I hope, Nancy in December. All the best, thanks for the great shots and descriptions.

    [Reply]

    james Reply:

    Skip! Great to hear from you. You’re right, boarding that Haines ferry seems a very very long way away. Have an amazing time in Nepal – I’m already excited at the prospect of dribbling over your photos! Love to you and Nancy from both of us.

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  2. Ma and Pa Says:

    As usual a fantastic insight into the huge variety and spice in life on God’s great earth. You are having such magical experiences that we are all completely in awe and waiting for the next episode! It’s worse than a soap opera – waiting for the next broken spoke, puncture, fab photo or handful of scrummy grub! Not to mention the wonderful people experiences you are having! No mention of iguanas in the canyon – presume they left as you arrived!!
    Miss you millions
    Ma

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  3. Sinéad Says:

    Love the photo of the two of you, scenery looks amazing! I can’t help feeling a little sad that you didn’t see any anteaters! :o ( keep looking! xx

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  4. Nathan Says:

    I miss you guys a lot… I think it might be love. That said, I hate visiting your site as it makes me miss the Shermster. I’ll be back in the game soon. You’ll be on Cassandras heals soon!

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  5. Phil Says:

    Hi Sarah and James, good to hear from you, and that you are back on the move and in rural areas, meeting lovely people. Great photos well done, looks great. Take care and lots of love to you both. Phil

    [Reply]

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