(123) Countdown to Cartagena
It had been so great to have the chance to dive in the Caribbean and I wasn’t disappointed by what I saw. Although I had made it to the tip of Columbia I still had a little way to go before I could leave. This would involve me going south west for around 130 miles to Cartagena part of which I had already ridden. Columbia hadn’t failed to impress me and I was now heading to what I was told as the most beautiful city in Coumbia and couldn’t wait.
Tuesday 22nd Sept
Needing to get up early to dive I set my alarm but with it being so warm I was already up and out the room having breakfast when it did. With a few things packed I headed to the dive shop and sorted out some paper work before we headed out. It had been a while since I dived but I was confident enough and so were the instructors looking at how many I had done in the past. Once I had checked my gear over we headed out to the boat where we set out to an island in the national park. Once we arrived we geared up and were put into buddies, we dropped into the water and started our descent into another world.
Incredible green corel
It was incredible how much I saw just on my first dive with sea slugs, three huge barracudas and lion fish with out all the other hundreds of other colourful fish and coral. After 45 minutes we made our way to the shore to have a sandwich but with the swell rocking the boat at funny angles it made me a little sick.
Enjoying some time out on the beach
Good place to sit next to the cool box
My second dive was just as varied but not feeling to great distracted me a little. I still loved the dive but was pleased when the boat stopped rocking and headed back to the main land. Being just before lunch we washed our kit and I stopped on my way back to have lunch which made me feel better. With the rest of the day free I called home and got back to speak to my parents. It was so lovely to see them and chat as it has been a while since I had. With the rest of the day spare I sat and worked a little and got chatting to a lady called Yolanta from Poland who had caught a sailboat from Panama with her husband Poitr. Needing to catch a boat to Panama I asked when it was due to sail. She told me it was leaving on the 28th so I had a think and worked out that if I had one day where I was, two days to get to Cartagena that would leave me with 2 days in the city to look around. It seemed perfect but I would need to get my head down and get to the city without stopping as much as I wanted. With being a bit behind schedule this was probably what I needed and motivated me to get going. There were things still to do here, a lot of things that would have been nice to see but I knew I couldn’t keep stopping. The boat would give me that break and pushed me to make a choice. It wasn’t a hard choice as it would work for my timings but would mean me spending a day working with little time to relax. With a plan set I sat with the Poitr and Yolanta having dinner before I got to work and tried to catch up on the blog which by now I was getting way to far behind.
How can you not relax in a place like this
Wednesday 23rd Sept
I woke from a deep sleep with stomach cramps and thought oh no not again. I had been so well in Columbia and the day I was meant to be catching up on things I was sick. I felt dreadful and the thought of doing anything at all was horrible. I stayed in my room until 12 then wondered to the shop to buy something’s to settle my stomach. I returned to my room with the humidity around 90% and the temperature around 35 degrees all I could do was lay on the bed and just didn’t have the energy to do anything. Trying to move around,swim in the pool to cool off I returned to my room for a while and with a little food I had brought I started to pick up. I met Yuyo the skipper of the sailboat and booked myself on the boat to Panama.
A nice place to rest and relax when not feeling great
With my place now secured I than booked a massage for 5 o’clock motivating me to do some work. I felt tired and sluggish but I was getting something done if only a little. I headed out at 5pm and arrived at the hostel where I waiting a little for the lady to get ready and soon I was laid out having my body pounded. I didn’t realise how tight my legs were and also my ITB bands which she almost brought a tears to my eyes. I knew it would do me good and knew I was well overdue one. After a good hour I got up and wearily wondered out onto the street and down to the dive shop to collect some pictures. Once they were down loaded I headed back to the hostel for dinner and to do some more work. Although I had planned to do more while I was here I was pleased to be heading off as it would make the transition between the two continents so easy. Although it felt a little sudden I knew there was no point in hanging around and felt good to get going, the only annoying thing was I had to ride about 70 miles of road that I had been on already and knew it wasn’t that interesting. If I could get a lift to Barranquilla where I had turn east would be amazing but I would hold out any hope.
Monday 24th Sept
I got up around 7.30am still not feeling great but knew if I set off early I could at least enjoy the cool morning and save some energy. I loaded my bike and had a coffee while I chatted to a nice English guy. By the time I had eaten, paid, loaded my bike and left the hostel it was nearer 9am but luckily it was still cool. As I climbed out of the village a police motorcycle passed me and indicated it was turning around.
I loved Taganga but it was time to leave
With little in the way of people or any potential problems I rode on with them either just behind or in front until I reached the summit. I thanked them at the top and dropped into the busy town of Santa Marta below. Knowing the road back to Barranquilla wasn’t that interesting I thought I was in for a long boring ride but the first part I was joined by Victor a 64 year old guy who also wasn’t feeling great and was cycling to the chemist to get some meds.
Victor a good cycle companion
Being on a single speed bike Victor struggled on the steeper climbs so using my gears I put one hand on his back and pushed on the bits he was finding hard. The time seemed to pass quickly and we soon reached the town of Ciènaga. I invited Victor for a drink and an ice cream but wanting to get his meds we said goodbye and he headed off. Once I’d had my lolly I set off again across the narrow strip of land to Barranquilla.
Thought these dredging machines were cool
Feeling ok I pushed on west and although the wind was in my face I was going well after my massage yesterday. As I rode I pasted an area that looked full of rubbish but on second glance was loads of white herons. There were hundreds of them and brought a whole new meaning to over fishing.
This was just a small fraction of the herons that were there
As the road got closer to the sea and only being twenty miles from the city I pulled over and got into my swimming shorts. It felt great to jump in the water and cool down as the swell pushed and pulled me as the waves broke on the shore.
It looked so inviting it would be wrong not to
After half an hour and feeling hungry I set off again and after a while reached the city and had some dinner. By this time it was almost 3pm and I wasn’t sure whether to stay or ride on through.
The traffic builds up as I reach Barranquilla
Wanting to get along the coast and see what there was I decided to keep going and head out. With a few roads closed I found myself a couple time in areas I didn’t feel comfortable. There were police around who seemed relaxed but I didn’t so retraced my steps until I was on a larger highway. By the time I had left the city it had gone 5pm and I wondered whether I had made the right choice. Looking at the map and seeing Porte Columbia on it I headed straight for it hoping there would be a place to stay. With the sun getting ever lower I rode on until I was close and stopped for a cold coco milk. It tasted so fresh and stood over my bike while I drank it.
This is the way to drink coconut milk
Being told there were hostels in town I pushed on and after dark. I asked several people but kept leading me to expensive ones. I followed people’s instructions but felt I was getting nowhere until a car stopped and said there was one in a hundred metres away. Arriving at the same gates where there was a guard who told me to go on was weird. I paid for my room and asked what the house was used for. The owner told me it was a hostel. With a sign on the gate miss spelt saying guess I was amazed that anyone could find it. With it being the owners daughters 20th birthday she had a few friends around and I went to buy some food to cook. I had been shown where the shop was and came back to cook. Once eaten I was then given some birthday cake followed by a dip in their pool. I couldn’t quite work the place out and just felt weird but it was cheap-ish, had a pool, a place to sleep and a kitchen but no guests. I had however covered the miles I wanted to and was happy even if I didn’t get it.
Tuesday 25th Sept
After already killing five Mosquitos I thought I was safe until I could feel the pain from another bite on my toes, then my elbow. I turned the lights on and again thought I had got the little blighter but again and again it happened until I gave in at 1.30am and put my tent up in the room. It took about ten minutes to get it ready and the Thermarest up and around 5 minutes to fall sound asleep with no more bites. With such a long hot day the day before and a late night I woke late and tired. By the time I had a coffee cleared my room which looked more like the aftermath of a tornado I was ready at 11am.
I think if any other guests arrived they may have got a shock
It all looked amazing but just unfinished
I said goodbye and got on the road at which time it was already really hot. I reached the Porte town to find a scruffy town with stunning buildings scattered around. It was strange how everything seemed unfinished with rubble that looked like it been there for years and no sign of it ever improving. I headed out of town on a dirt road again felt like I was going the wrong way but was assured it was correct.
Unsure if this was really the right road
A fisherman casting his nets in the lagoon in front of the carribean
Sure enough after climbing above the town with stunning views across the Caribbean I dropped to the highway with no sign that lead the other way.
There weren’t even signs to the town from this direction
The pretty flowers along the way
Now back on Tarmac I had to get my head down as I was already behind and had 64 miles still to go I knew I had my work cut out. In the heat it was tiring to climb but with the odd decent I did get some rest. The road was quiet so just plugged away trying to get as many miles done before lunch as I could. As I was riding near the Armco barrier something jumped next to me only to see it was an iguana jump in the air off the barrier crashing to the ground and legging it off into the bush. Needless to say it frightened the life out of me.
Incase of an emergency you have first got to see which mobile service provider you have and then remember the number. Madness!!
As I got closer the view of the sea was so nice
Past these communities built over the lagoons
Stopping at 2pm I had covered half the distance but knew I couldn’t stop long so once dinner was finished I set off once again in the heat of the day. I passed many places advertising the beach and small seaside towns but I needed to keep going. As the miles ticked away I gradually saw the Cartagena ahead and looked for a place to stay. Once I’d got somewhere to aim for I rode closer into town following the sea front as the sun started to set.
It was an incredible feeling of finally getting here overshadowed by sadness I was alone. It would have been the best feeling in the world to have arrived together and knew that leaving South America would be hard. As I reached the old city walls I found the entrance and looked for the hostel. It wasn’t long before I was checked in and relaxing. I soon met a guy from Manchester and we headed out to get some tea. It was good to stop and know I had made it but had roughly the same distance on the North American continent to go but this time should be on Tarmac and a little faster but then i’ll just have to see.
Wednesday 26th Sept
Waking up not only in a beautiful city, an air conditioned room was not only amazing but being in the last city in the south american continent felt awesome. Once I’d had breakfast I headed out for a city tour to find out a little of its history.
The city was established in 1555 on ground that had been inhabited since 4000bc but the city we see today isn’t the one that was built then. After many invasions withe the city being flattened many times it wasn’t until the early 1700’s when the fortified walls were built and the resistance to invasion was increased. With the trade of precious metals being the driving force behind its growth along with the numbers of attacks Cartagena was also a mage port for the slave trade of west Africans. despite this Cartagena continued to grow and remained an important trading port in south america.
It was at these buildings that the slaves were brought to and then sold
Looking around the city at all the many churches was amazing and added to this the stunning streets. It was hard to find one that wasn’t stunning and just absorbed what was around me. The fact I wasn’t getting on a bike for quite a few days helped me relax and enjoy wondering the streets and reward myself for what I had done.
Inside one of the many beautiful churches
As always anywhere near the equator the days are short and it was time once agin for the sun to set. It felt hard to sit on my own as it was never meant to be like this but I knew she was in my heart.
Thursday 27th Sept
Enjoying a lay in was so nice knowing I still had a few days off but I still had a few places I wanted to see. I got up and had breakfast at which point I met a guy from the UK who was keen to do the same as me. He planned to join the city tour which gave me time to go through my things and swoop a few things around I would need for the boat into one bag. Jamie soon arrived back saying he had missed the tour and would be keen to head out to the fort once he had booked a flight. Once we were both ready we headed out of the old city, caught a cab the short distance to the fort and went to look around.
The fortified castle of san Felipe
The castle of san Felipe was built in the early 1700 and took around 120 years to build. It is still one of the most impressive forts in south america and its turrets are linked by underground tunnels.
With a goo look around along with taking in the sights looking back at the old city we headed back to the old town and as Jamie hadn’t really seen that much of the old city we looked around. Reaching the north wall we saw there was a football match on which was great to watch. It was a proper match but with the recent rain there were hard dry section with deep thick muddy sections complete with deep puddles.
It was a footballers nightmare but it made the game more interesting for us. After a while of watching we headed out towards the waterfront to jump in the sea. It was so warm it was incredible. It was so nice swimming out a little way and feeling the colder current hit me and feel the relief. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a sea that’s been almost to warm before.
The shooter missed the goal completely handing over victory to the other side
Heading back we stopped to watch the penalty shot out before wondering the streets for icecream then our hostel. Still with some sorting to do I did a few jobs before I had to head out to meet the skipper for a briefing and to meet the other passengers. With some time to spare Jamie and I went for dinner and a couple beers before we reached the hostel where we were due to meet.
As the sun started to set the moon came up over the city
I spotted this which made me laugh, I figured the cat had eaten the mouse because it had a virus and now the cat wasn’t working or was just on standby
The plan for the boat was to meet at 5pm at the port then get checked for anything illegal, we would then get settled in before we set sail for Panama under a full moon. We would spend a full day and night in open sea before arriving at the first of the San blas Islands. We would sail for the next 3 days stopping at the islands and meeting the indigenous Indians on the island then sail over night arriving in Panama on the 5th morning. From what I had heard the voyage sounded incredible and thought it would be a good way to visit Columbia via Panama to experience this. With the briefing over we had a few more beers then headed back. I was excited about what lay ahead and knew I could just enjoy this next bit with little effort.
Friday 28th Sept
It was my last day in Columbia and needing to get my passport to the tour office to be processed meant I had to be up and out the door before 9 to make sure I didn’t miss my boat. I headed out of the old city and to another old part of town where I found the shop which wasn’t open yet. With a cafe next door I went in for a hot chocolate and waited. It had been such a lovely city to spend some time and even better one to end my forth continent.
With the office now open I dropped my passport in and headed back grabbing a sandwich on the way, then stated to sort out my things ready for the voyage. Once my bike was cleanish I covered it in a thin layer of spray oil then set about backing up photos and getting some ready for the next blog. With the power now off it was a pain as I couldn’t work on the internet but I did get a bit done off line. Needing to get lunch I headed out to find a few things and eat plus use up the last of my money. It was going to be sad to leave but I was ready.
Heading out of the city for the last time
Dolly taking in the sites
Once I had picked up a few things from the shop I headed to the port where I met a few waiting for the boat and relaxed.
Dolly waiting for the her next continent and her next adventure
After half an hour we then had our bags checked by the police who were very nice and were soon taken out to the boat. Having dolly with me meant I was the last to head out but got chance to chat to the policeman. It was soon my turn and with my bike and bags loaded I headed out to the boat and was put on bourd. The boat was huge for a sail boat and very comfortable. We were soon made to feel at home on deck and given our evening meal.
As the moon rose once again it lit the city and gave a lasting memory of an incredible city
Once we had all eaten the anchor was pulled and with a large orange moon rising we set sail for Panama. As we all looked back at the beautiful city we saw fireworks hit the sky almost as a wave goodbye.
Cartagena saying goodbye
With the boat well under way we headed out towards the big ships and open water. It took a while to get passed the big ships but soon we were off and out in the open seas with the boat rising and falling with the swell heading for a new land.
Firstly I need to say Columbia and it’s people didn’t let me down, in fact they excelled and with the dark history this country has I’m not only amazed by it but honoured I got to see it for what it really was. Columbia doesn’t have as many beautiful towns and cities as many other countries but its landscape and people fill the gaps ten fold to make this country great. I have been to many places where the people feel frustrated by their government and feel helpless to a better future and yet here the people believe in their government along with themselves and the prime minister believes in his people to. I will leave Columbia with a new love for this place and hope that others can do the same but I will also leave with a heavy heart knowing what I was leaving behind.
I’m not even sure if I can summarise the South American continent with what has happened and I can feel the weight on my heart as I type. Before we reached South America people told us that it would be child’s play compared to Africa and yet we found the opposite. In the countries in Africa we went to there were people everywhere and there was always a solution if you looked hard enough but arriving in Argentina and being left in a town with no one willing to take us to the far south with our bikes was just the start. With no one speaking English was a little tough but with the sheer lack of people made doing things a little harder. We then had the wind. Oh the wind!!! I have never in my life experienced wind like it and don’t think I ever will in the future. To give you a couple examples of the strength of the wind, In Punta Arenas there are chains in the streets for people to hold onto and a bit further north there is a 90km road that goes from east to west. If we rode from west to east on our bikes it would take us 3 hours but the other way it took us 2 days!!
From here we saw two of the most beautiful national parks in the world and one day I would love to go back but we went there at a price and that was to spend two days carrying our bikes and kit along a forested goat track around a lake for 14km but at the end we met some of the most amazing friends in the world. From here we rode with a few of them in stages all the way to the north of Chile and Argentina, creating friendships that I hope will last forever. I could name them all but would fear for missing some out but not only did we experience some of the worlds great wonders but we experienced them together.
By the time Sharon and I had reached San Pedro de Atacama we were the closest we had ever been and the happiest we had ever been but neither of us knew it wasn’t going to last. We knew Bolivia was going to be really tough and had done more research on the country then anywhere else in the world. From the moment we entered the country we were memorised by its lunar landscapes, salt lakes and flamingos but we weren’t in the country long before it all ended in a split second. It was never meant to be like this and yet my whole world along with so many others was ripped away leaving a void that made the grand canyon look like a pothole.
From that point on I was lost in a state of shock unable to even come to terms with what was happening. My friends and family were incredible and yet I don’t think even they could come to terms with what had happened. Even at Sharon’s funeral I was just stood in disbelief unable to comprehend, unable to grasp what was happening. We had been so happy travelling for two years not to mention the 16 years we spent together and then here I was stood looking down on a box in the ground with my wife’s name on it.
For me the only way was to go back and to face it head on to try and come to terms with what had happened.I had already got my bike back to Santiago with the help of Joe, lizzie and Rafael and was now heading back to start my journey alone. Being back at Rafael’s house along with his family was as if I hadn’t left and yet there was someone missing. They were so so kind to me, allowing me to do what I needed to prepare for my trip back but also to organise my return to Bolivia. Having marked the position of the accident on my GPS we set off and after a several days driving up through Chile and almost being washed away by the floods we reached the site to find a small monument. We all helped to dig a hole and bury a box full of letters from loved ones before setting up camp. It had been 11 months since the accident and yet it felt like yesterday. The same stars were out, the same road, the light cool breeze and the same quietness you only find in places like this.
I knew it was going to be hard but I had to do it if I wanted my life and to function again. Seeing the monument was like being hit by a sledge hammer and yet it had the biggest effect on dealing with what I had lost. The following days riding were some of my hardest and yet I needed to do it. It was so hard saying goodbye to Rafael and his family who had given me so much love and support had helped beyond words but now I was on my own.
The rest of South America was hard not only physically but also mentally. Having to do things that Sharon was so good at and did with little effort was often hard for me, doing all the jobs we used to share, having to bring myself that cup of coffee without that loving smile but I had to do this or it would destroy me.
Having Andy, Jules and Sara join me at the start was amazing and although we didn’t talk about Sharon much, I knew she was on everyones mind. Then being joined by Steve I was starting to settle and find my feet along with new heights and achievements, After this I was then joined by Amanda who not only helped me smile again but made me laugh. The rest of South America would have been so much harder and i’m not sure if I would have come out the end if it wasn’t for the incredible help I received from my friends, support from my family along with the many that follow my journey and leave comments (thats not a hint by the way :). I had seen some of the most beautiful places in the world where there is no one, just me and world rising up around me and having the time to face this helped me learn to move Sharon from next to me to within me. We as people are all made up of everyone one we meet, the things we see and the things we do, whether good or bad, happy or sad. whether we like it or not. Being able to use the people who have influenced our lives to make our own more whole is important and to aways be prepared to listen and learn.
Leaving South America for me was like letting go, learning from the past and trying to take all the good I could find. I can tell you its not easy and I often find I have brought some negative stuff with me but hopefully in time I will learn to forget the bad stuff and focus on the good..
Thanks for reading xx