15th October 2015

15 – 19 October: Columbia Part 1… Cartagena and the northern mountains to escape the heat

On Wednesday again some sightseeing in Cartagena; and I try to find a shop to buy a chip for my cellphone – must be from the provider “Movistar” as that one is the only with also international calls without having a phoneplan. There are several in the city but after walked through half of the city all the “Movistar”spots (according to Google Maps) are either untraceable or in a business that no longer exists. But I come around throughout the city and know once again why I do not really like cities: a nice tourist town with beautifully restored buildings and shops with the correspondingly expensive, anywhere in the world emerging luxury brands. And on the other hand the real, everyday Cartagena: noisy, dirty, run-down buildings, hawkers, poverty everywhere you look. But as it is simply called here: "es la vida" ....
Next morning then as soon as possible out of the morning traffic chaos and first heading into the direction of Medellin. The traffic is not too bad and although there are many trucks on the road we are making good progress. It's still sweltering hot and after a fine lunch at one of the many street restaurants (costs including soup and drink: CHF 2.50) I make a swivel towards the mountains. Pat wants to try a few more roads along the lakes and thus here separate our paths. It is still possible that we "run into each other" in the next few days on the way but since I have a much more southern destination in sight until mid-December it’s time here to say goodbye. It will be a change again to travel alone, decide for myself when and where to stop, to stay overnight,… . But I'm looking forward to it and what I've seen and heard so far increases my joy to find out more about Colombia and the Colombians.
My goal for that day “Bosconia” I reach already by 2pm and the city is a bustle so I decide to continue; apart from the fact that I’m just in a good driving “modus”… seem to have sort of Motorcycle withdrawal symptoms ;-)
Thanks to an accident between two trucks the street is blocked for more than an hour and since the "45" is the main road from north to Bogota there is immediately a kilometer long traffic jam. Athough I’m somehow able to pass it quite far on the roadside. Two passing police officers – they are always 2 on a motorcycle, one with the machine gun - ask me already worried where I intend to drive alone shortly before nightfall. Yes, that’s exactly what I think as well. My first day alone again on the road and I'm not in good time at the hotel. With a slightly queasy feeling I arrive just after sunset in Aguachica. And sunset means here complete darkness all of a sudden already at 6pm. But they're all so nice here; the owner drives me after check-in with his small motorcycle – me on the back and  without helmet like everybody else too – a few blocks to the next mobile provider to finally upload my sim card. And after that he even gets me something to eat because he does not want that I walk around alone at night. Meanwhile his wife asks all about Switzerland and salary and and and….and I try as much as possible to answer in Spanish. The next morning I wait until a violent storm is over - the roads flodded within seconds - and then drive to San Gil, my next place to stay, pleasant 1200müM. But before reaching San Gil I have to drive through Bucaramanga. Wow, without the Navi that would be a Herculean task. So it's just stressful because they actually drive much worse than anything experienced so far. From all sides they squeeze in, everyone is overtaken and everybody seems to honk all the time without any real reason. A young motorcyclist still takes the time and asks me - at every traffic light stop – about my bike and my journey ;-) quite funny, such a conversation from helmet to helmet, repeatedly interrupted through driving on. Finally I get out of the city and shortly afterwards the road divides and I drive along the “45A”. Now there are comparatively only a few trucks (with max. speed ​​up and down about 20kmh) and the usual suburban busses but I easily overtake them with my Suzy Blue at every opportunity. Driving behind would end with a hot clutch, burnt brakes and an exhaust air poisoning.
After such an overtaking – by the way, the streets here have almost entirely double safety lines! – I’m promptly waved out by two cute young motorcycle cops. Of course I already fear that they will give me a huge fine for that illegal overtaking. I smile bravely and greet them with a friendly "buonas dias senores". But in fact: besides checking the papers they are mainly interested in my bike and how / where to go. And then the crafty question: why are you traveling alone (the term "as a woman" was very good to hear without saying)? Yes why? Hmmmm .... "porque no"? was my answer. To which they just laughed and wished me a good journey. Phhhh ... so I got away well with my first live-police experience in Colombia. The large police presence stands out anyway; but unlike in the Central American countries they convey nothing frightening - perhaps because they are traveling in a cheerful, bright yellow; incidentally almost all on Suzukis: small 200DR in the city, larger 650 VStroms on the highways.

The last 80km are simply just gorgeous. The 45A winds along and then up the Chicamocha Canon, bend after bend, the scenery stunning, the road in perfect conditions. This canon is the 2nd largest canon of the world (227km, 2000m deep) and of course I make quite a lot of photo stops. Yet totally exhausted from what I’ve seen I reach my hostel "Villa Isabela" just outside of San Gil and I’m greeted by 5 friendly dogs of any race and color. The hostel is basically like a private home where 2 rooms are prepared for guests and additional showers / toilets installed. It is surrounded by lush plants and a pasture with cows on it. I feel like at home here and after the young owner has specially cooked for me a great and fresh pasts/vegetable-meal (the nearest store is 2km away and of course I've as always nothing to eat with me) - we make an appr. half-hour walk to the lookout point where we have a great look down on San Gil. We means: 3 humans, 5 dogs and 3 cats !!! What a picture: the "chief" ahead with the usual machete to keep the small path free of plants and all of us well-behaved walking behind ... ..
I sleep like in heaven - no traffic noise, no disco music from the neighbourhood, only the chirping of cicadas can be heard; and the temperatures finally really pleasant. The next morning a round trip through the back streets towards the national park "Chicamocha". I want to look at this impressive landscape again in peace - and of course try the view from the "extreme swing": a huge swing that extends directly to the canon; I must admit it, I find that sort of adventures just totally funny. Not dangerous but something for a little higher adrenaline ;-) Also very impressive is the "Monumento di Santandereanidad" which was created in memory of the revolution in the 18th century and thus to the detachment from Spain. The total of 12 Swiss francs (entrance, car park, drinks, giant swing) therefor a great investing! In the evening comfortably feet up in front of a bearing little fire and watch the stars and the night sky ... ..
On Sunday I change the location and drive to the cozy Barichara, 25km says my Navi. Shortly after the start it leads me to the left, I see that there is also a road that leads to the right towards Barichara. But since both come to the same end point, I follow obediently the Navi. Asphalt is replaced by gravel but easy driving so I keep on. After about 10km I get to the first village and drive through merrily waving to the puzzled residents. Strangers are here probably rather rare! Immediately after the exit of the village the fine gravel road turns within a short time in a mud and water path. Bravely I struggle through even though neither me nor my tires (mainly with all the luggage) are made for that. When it starts to go straight down I give up. I would never make it, the motorcycle tires – both front and rear - slip already around in the area. So I turn around with difficulty and fight my way back to the village. So much for the benefit of yesterday's motorcycle washing! In the village I ask then unceremoniously the police how to go on. I get a detailed description – from what I understand about half - and as my Navi shows in ​​the specified direction that must be ok. Again on great gravel I go down downwards the river, cross it over a large steel bridge - with several missing parts - and on the other side up again. But hey, that's totally in the wrong direction; my Navi just decided that my new to change my former destination "Barichara" has now been converted into "Guane" and leads me straight that way. Funni enough, meanwhile I'm in contact with Pat who stays in Barichara. So we meet for Lunch in he next village Zapoteca and then drive together back to Barichara. Once again just in time before the evening storm. As it turns out it was just ONE false tap my Navi's directed me and was responsible for my “odyssey”. But what the heck, it was a great day: 170km almost exclusively gravel (of which about 500m mud road), great landscapes and everywhere friendly people - in Zapoteca a father even photographed his 4 kids with me and my bike, having learned what I make a trip ;-)
Well, I'm certainly tired now and in addition, my nose runs continuously. It’s now time for a good sleep and I hope that in the morning I will be fine again ....
Buonas noches mi amigos ....