Colombia Part 2 - Dads time from Medellin to Cartagena

Please find the photos for this entry here (please note there are over 300 photos in this album, so photos aren't directly referenced in the blog post!): Google Album - Colombia Part 2 - Dads time from Medellin to Cartagena

The time had finally come for Eli and Cameron's dads (Jim and Mark) to meet us in Medellin! We had all arrived the day before, to an Airbnb in a very nice neighborhood. Unfortunately, we'd also be saying goodbye to Noah early the next morning, as he had to return to Utah for a week to sort out some homeownership business. 

After saying goodbye to Mr. McCarter, we did some grocery shopping and hailed a cab to head to the airport, about a 45 minute drive from the city. The drive up and out of Medellin made us even more excited, as we knew that the dads would get a great introduction to the mountains of Colombia by taxi on the way back to the Airbnb. After the reunion with the dads, the taxi ride back was filled with an excited buzz. We were so happy to be sharing this experience with our dads.  

The next day, we'd decided to go to the town of Guatapé, we're we'd find an incredible natural rock formation, La Piedra de Guatapé. The couple hour winding bus ride was an experience in itself and gave the sons and dads time to catch up. After getting to Guatapé, we decided to go ahead and get the hike up the rock out of the way, along with Mark's fear of heights :)  The climb wasn't so bad... and the amazing engineering of the staircase distracted us from any shortness of breath. The photos show the views from the top! After a trip into the town of Guatapé for lunch, we headed back to Medellín and got the bikes ready to roll. 

The next morning, we'd head north out of town on the ciclovia, a blocked off section of highway only for cyclists and rollerbladers! We'd lucked out with our schedule, as this was the only morning of the week (Sunday) that the ciclovia was open and blocked off for public use. After the smooth roll out of town, we stopped for lunch at Graciela and her family's house (mentioned in the last blog post). Graciela made us egg filled pastries, and we talked for several hours about the history of Colombia, healthcare, what we were doing on our trip, etc. It was amazing to be able to share the time with our dads with an actual Colombian family. If you take a look at the video in the album, you can see Graciela and her husband talking about how they would welcome anyone to their home and that they have always been very open people. Their open welcome was a great way to start the ride and to welcome the dads to Colombia. After the very extended lunch, we would begin the climbing to our first night's stop in the town of Don Matias. The climb was a challenge regardless of bike, but the dads (especially Mark) had their work cut out for them on the 6 speed Bromptons. The bikes generally are very efficient, but don't have the gear range of our bikes. Mark was also running a much larger front chainring than Jim, which meant his whole gear range was a step harder. The next day, Mark realized that his bike also hadn't been shifting into the easiest gear... two counts against him. Starting on that climb we took things at our own pace and recognized that climbing with the Bromptons sometimes meant a walk/ride combination. Before too long, we'd reached a plateau where paragliders were jumping off and riding the wind currents in the area. We took a minute to regroup and clarified that the paragliders knew the currents well enough to ride them back up to the exact spot they'd taken off from... very cool. After another kicker up and over the summit, we coasted down into Don Matias, a busy little town with a great square.  After finding a spot to stay, and having dinner and ice cream in the park, we hit the hay, tired from the first day's ride. One thing that the dads immediately had noticed that day was how everyone seemed to be out and about, in the street, sitting outside the house with their families, etc. Mark commented on how nice it was to see people out and walking around, socializing, etc. It's something we'd come to take for granted, but the perspective from back home gave us a good reminder of the difference in how people often keep to themselves in the States... a shame really.

The next day, we'd continue our up and down ride through the mountains, with a plan to arrive in Yarumal that evening. We'd spread out and come back together for lunch in Llanos de Cuiba, before descending and climbing once more to Yarumal. At the end of the day (just like the first day), we were met at the edge of the town by a group of kids on their bmx/single speed bikes, who were gathering to bomb down the hills on the outskirts of town. They would then use the truck tow technique referenced in the last blog entry to get themselves back up the hill. The kids were always curious about what the hell we were doing, and we always made sure to hand out a bunch of the business cards with our information, website, Instagram, etc. On a side note, we definitely went through the cards at a faster rate in Colombia than anywhere else this far. That night we'd have a walk around the hilly working class town and eventually settle on a pizza restaurant with surprisingly good pizza! Afterwards, we made our way to the ice cream shop, agreeing that we maybe needed to start having both a pre and post dinner round of ice cream. Then it was off to bed, knowing that we were shooting for a longer 100 km day the next day.  

We woke early and met to look for breakfast - often consisting of fried pastries and coffee... this diet was welcomed for a while, but the grease levels did reach a certain saturation point a little ways into the section with the dads and we tried to steer towards some food diversity as the week wore on. After the last several kilometers of ascent, we were met with our first in a series of downhills that day. We'd regroup on short uphill sections, eventually gathering at the top of what we could see would be a very long descent into the river valley we'd follow the rest of the day. As we looked down on the clouds rolling into the valley below, I think the dads (especially Jim who'd never ridden this kind of descent) were pretty psyched for the winding road ahead... all of us knowing that this marked the end of the long climbs... and the Andes! We thanked the dads for joining us to polish off the Andes, got a picture, and hopped back on our bikes. After chasing (and passing at one point) semi trucks and a line of cars, we'd made it down to Puerto Valdivia, the first town in the river valley. After a great lunch and rest, we'd push on for the remaining 50 km of winding river valley, all the way to Tarazá, a small town at the beginning of the plains leading to Cartagena. On our way out of Puerto Valdivia, a couple of kids decided to jump on the back of Cameron's bike... he couldn't even see how many had decided to hitch a ride (Eli reported two), but it was definitely a heavy enough load to be noticeable... making the 70 PSI tires pretty squishy. Though the moment only lasted for a couple of minutes, it represented the kind of playfulness that we'd come to expect in Colombia, the people and kids always greeting us warmly and having fun doing it. The more countries through which we travel, the more we seem to be able to say that those with less material wealth seem to be the richest in happiness, playfulness, openheartedness, etc. Meeting kids like these is always a reminder to have fun. That evening, we met Pedro, a great guy working for the Red Cross in Tarazá. Pedro was from Medellín and had been living and working out of Tarazá for several months doing informational sessions for the damn (the second largest hydroelectric project in South America) that was to be built in the area. He was educating small communities on what was happening and what to expect so that there was not any more surprise about the effects of the dam than necessary. That evening, Pedro insisted we join him for food at a good, but affordable local eatery... this is where the human chain of connections really took off. Not long into our meal, we met Edwin, a guy who was working at the restaurant, but who also worked at the local gym. After hearing about our trip, he told us there would be a group of cyclists riding the next morning and that we could join them if we liked! He said that we should meet for breakfast at the same restaurant, and that the cyclists could join us to roll out at 6:30 AM. It was a plan!

 The next morning, we were up and out the door, and to the restaurant by 6:00, only to find that we were pretty much the only folks there. We figured, all good, we were up early and could get a good start on what was sure to be the hottest day yet. Then, without explanation, there was a camera crew from the local TV station at the restaurant. They started doing close-up shots of the bicycles and it soon became obvious that they were there for us and to record something about our trip. We still hadn't seen any sign of other cyclists. After finishing breakfast, Edwin told us to follow him. A minute later, he had hopped on the back of his girlfriend's scooter and we took off across town. On the other end of town, we realized that the cycling group had gathered and was awaiting our arrival. We were completely surprised to find probably 30-40 riders - the youngest a 9 year old. After talking with the kids and doing a short interview and photograph session with the TV station, we hit the road with the group and headed out of town. Not too far out of town, some of the riders peeled off to go a different route, but a group of strong younger riders stayed with us and showed a couple shortcuts off the main road. During that part of the ride we learned how serious they were, riding an average of 2-2.5 hours a day, complete with climbing, base miles, etc. We decided that we needed our first break of the day before too long and let the riders continue their 'rest day,' but it really was an experience to ride with the group and to receive such a warm welcome while in Tarazá. We still keep in touch with Pedro from the Red Cross and with Edwin from the athletic center, and we're hoping that with any luck we'll get the footage from the local TV station. That day, we continued on, covering the mostly flat terrain at a good clip and arriving to Caucasia by early afternoon in time for a roadside lunch. We were all a little parched at that point, having decided to call it a day after arriving in Caucasia, and while eating lunch we watched more motorcycle traffic than we'd ever seen at one time tear through the intersection beside us. After relaxing that afternoon, we ventured out for food and eventually settled on a Chinese restaurant that at first seemed questionable, but turned out to be quite good. After dinner, we were all ready to get to bed again and wake early to beat some of the scorching heat of the lowlands.

The next morning we rolled out of town to soon find a construction zone where we would be stuck for quite a while. We chatted with some of the locals on their motorcycles at the front of the line, and readied ourselves to make tracks through the dirt construction area once we had the go ahead. After cruising through the work area without incident, we continued on, stopping periodically for short caffeine and snack breaks along the way, and eventually making it to the town of Pueblo Nuevo... literally New Town. After a beer, shower, relaxation in air conditioning, and overlooking what appeared to be a wedding band's energetic street celebration, we headed out for a walk around the town to find some food. We ended up sitting in the street and ordered some meat, rice, and salad from a local vendor. As we ate, we realized that the local bakery, which had been in the process of a repainting when we arrived, was completely transformed - fresh paint, sponsorship logos, the works. It's often amazing to see how the organized chaos of Latin America seems more efficient than many of our daily happenings back home. You need to ride the bus? Don't worry about reserving a ticket - unlike the sparsely populated public transit of the US, bus stations in Latin America will surely have you on your way to your desired destination within a half hour. You need a knife sharpener? He's walking by the house - when he calls 'knife sharpening,' let him know you're interested. You need tortillas? Someone will be walking in the street yelling 'tortillas' at the top of their lungs... and they'll still be warm. For all of our modern 'efficiencies' back home, we'd say Latin America often has us beat... So, while eating dinner, and watching our vendor run to the neighboring store to grab us beers, we see the thunder clouds rolling in and we start eating a bit faster. After finishing up our food, we take a minute to eat an ice cream in the park before calling it a night. 

The next morning, we attempt to head to the bakery at 6:00 AM, but quickly realize it's supposed opening at 6:00 didn't actually mean opening at 6:00... the flip side of that previously mentioned organized chaos :) Fortunately there was a vendor in the street who sold us delicious empanadas for a total of about $7 for the 4 of us. When we asked about where we could find coffee, she took us across the square and showed us another vendor who was selling single serving cups of coffee. When we didn't have anything but big bills, she offered to change our money for us, running across the square to another store, changing our money, taking her portion (she took less than we supposedly had owed her), and returned to give us our change at the coffee vendor... all of this took place in about 15 minutes. So, from a closed bakery to fed and caffeinated, we'd done ok. After getting our water for the day, we were back at it, and moving through the scorching Colombian plains once again. That day, we'd decided to push as far as we could, with the itch of finishing the ride to Cartagena starting to creep into our thoughts. With that, we pedaled hard and fast, and pushed past the original town we'd planned to stop in... making it all the way to Sincelejo. After finding a bit nicer hotel than we were used to (Hotel El Florida - the second Florida hotel in our time with the dads), we wandered the park area looking for a place for dinner. We were all a bit hangry (hungry + angry) and weren't having much luck with finding a suitable place. Cameron took out his phone, which he was guilty of all too often, and found a restaurant called 'Mi Bici' (my bicycle) that looked great. Despite it being a bit of a walk, we decided the title of the restaurant was a sign, and we were off to Mi Bici. Upon arrival, the restaurant wasn't very busy (which we have learned isn't necessarily the indicator of a bad place) and we wondered if we should keep exploring... but we decided to get a table out front. We enjoyed a 'Super Bici' or a type of Picada plate - basically a huge plate of French fries, hot dogs, cheese, veggies, etc. Upon arrival, we weren't sure if we'd finish, but it all went down pretty easy :) We also asked the waitress about the name of the restaurant, and alas... it was really named after the Shakira song 'Mi Bici.' But after talking to the waitress for a minute, she asked if she could take our picture with the Super Bici to post to the restaurant's Instagram. By the time we'd made it back to the hotel, we were already tagged in a post by the restaurant, describing our trip, and linking people to our page - a nice surprise. Knowing that we were only 160-170 km from Cartagena, we were all pretty excited to hit the hay and get back to riding tomorrow. After another customary ice cream stop on the way back to the hotel, we were all headed to bed. 

The next morning, after a continental breakfast, we made our way out of town under a light rain and headed towards the coast. As we passed through a series of communities close to the coast, we realized that we'd reached a poorer area... when we stopped for a snack at a local shop, a young kid asked us for our food and change. This type of poverty wasn't something Mark or Jim had seen too much of, and the sights couldn't help but make them reflect on how it seemed that many of the people we came across subsisted on so much less than our 'normal.' We felt as though Colombia wasn't the most dire example of poverty, but we also recognized that we'd been a bit desensitized to the living conditions of those we pass. It's sometimes difficult to know what to feel when confronted with socioeconomic disparity, especially when it seems so foreign to your own experience of what 'poor' means. But something we have come to realize is that the folks we have met aren't looking for sympathy. They know they're 'poor' and that they don't have the material wealth that we're accustomed to, but I think they also have wisdom enough to know that their material wealth does not define them and that their choices of how to treat others, etc. are more important than whether they have a car or fancy house. The inner conflict is reasonable, but in talking to our fathers, we felt that the reflection on what we do have and what we may take for granted has more utility than sympathy that may not be able to be acted on... In a world of many classes, races, nationalities, cultures, languages, etc. we have to remember first that we're all people and that all deserve respect and kindness. Though many countries in Latin America were colonized by the Spanish, the Caribbean coast areas were also colonized by the British and have a much larger population descended from Africa. Some, areas, especially in Central America, of the Caribbean coast speak English or Creole as their first language, even if the national language is Spanish. This become a challenge in the classroom in that students aren't able to learn in their first language - similar to the challenges that native Spanish speakers face in the United States.... Bringing it back to Colombia, and our time with the dads, we continued on community by community, slowly but surely tiring from the heat. After a flat tire and waning energy levels, we'd decided that we wouldn't make the crazy attempt to Cartagena in one day. We were told that we could find a hotel at the intersection of the main highway leading into Cartagena, a small community called Cruz del Vizo. After arriving to the hotel and getting dinner, we called it a night and decided to sleep in until 7:30 or so the next morning. Another thing that we'd observed in this stretch was that personal stereo systems seemed to be the replacement for huge trucks... as in many of the local roadside bars and shops had huge, ear-piercing stereo systems that made your ears bleed while riding by. It felt as if the locals were competing with each other in a 'my speakers are bigger than yours' fashion. That said, we thought it was great... and even did a little dancing on the bikes when possible - to the cheers of locals :)

The next morning we set off, excited to make our way to Cartagena and the hotel that awaited. Just 10 kilometers into the ride, we came across a local cycling group. In our haste to finish off South America, we almost didn't stop, but Cameron decided to pull a U-turn and at least give the group one of our informational cards. With a couple minutes, we were in a group picture, before setting off again, leaving the group to their mid ride coffee break. Just a short while later, the cycling group caught up to and passed us in a pace line, and we couldn't help but be excited to join the crowd. The group was pushing the pace just enough to almost outrun us (and Jim was especially challenged with the easiest high end gearing and only being able to spin up to a certain speed) when one of the group members broke a chain. Fortunately, Eli the bike wizard had the guy back on the road in no time and we were off. The next 20 or so km had us riding side by side with the group, competing a bit on the hills, and talking during slower sections. When we thought we were about to say our goodbyes, one of the members insisted that they ride with us into the city. Before long, we were descending into Cartagena and were instructed to follow our new leader to a small roadside shop/impromptu Sunday bar where we were greeted with small plastic cups and liters of light beer. We felt we couldn't refuse and before we could argue, the second and third rounds of passed around liters of beer were served. Though we might have felt the effects for a minute, our metabolism was spiked enough at that point in the day that by the time we were back on bikes riding the last number of kilometers to the hotel, we experienced more of a 'I'd like a nap now' state. We bid our goodbyes to the group members who peeled off one by one and met another mountain biker on the last stretch into the city - he went by Jack as in Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean) and had a striking resemblance. After meeting Jack and giving him a card while riding, we wove through the last bit of traffic before arriving at our hotel in Cartagena - a beautiful spot overlooking the Fortress in Cartagena called Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. After checking in and having a minute to decompress we were out on the town en route to what had been described as a great pizza restaurant... and it sure was.  

Over the next few days, before Jim, Mark, and Cameron (Cameron flew home with his dad to visit family again before flying to Panama to meet Eli and Noah on the other end of their sail from Cartagena to Panama) we'd explore Cartagena's historic walled city, visit the fortress by our hotel, relax, visit a local by-hand car wash and get our bikes cleaned for next to nothing by the nicest guy ever, and enjoy great meals and the best ice cream we'd had yet. We were also happy to re-welcome Noah and have a bit of time with him and our dads before they had to fly back to the States. 

The time with our dads was very special. We all learned a lot and were really happy to have been able to work some seamlessly together as a group. We had meaningful reflective conversations on a daily basis and were able to refresh our sense of purpose in tackling this trip through our fathers' reflections and excitement for what we were experiencing together. After getting back to the States, my dad, Mark went for a ride with some of his friends back home and told me that he'd had more angry and less than courteous drivers on that one ride than during his entire time in Colombia. I think that's a good example of the many positive surprises that greeted us throughout the week and reminded us why we were so fortunate to share this with our dads. Here's to hoping it's just the first time :) 

On to Central America.

Please find the photos for this entry here (please note there are over 300 photos in this album, so photos aren't directly referenced in the blog post!): Google Album - Colombia Part 2 - Dads time from Medellin to Cartagena