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Final weeks in Colombia: San Carlos to Cartagena

As usual after an extended stay in a very cool place we didn’t overly feel ready to leave. Also as usual we did actually stay a couple of extra days, meaning we left on Tuesday not Sunday. The staff and many of the students were big Game of Thrones fans so Monday night became an impromptu movie night with popcorn, fizzy drinks and the first episode of the new season shown on the big screen. It was a fun way to spend our last night with the Spanish Adventure crew but with our flight out of Cartagena getting ever closer Tuesday really was the last day we could stay until.

San Carlos had truly felt like home and being back on the bikes seemed like a strange concept… for all of about 10 minutes. We hadn’t done a whole bunch of planning on which way we would actually ride to Cartagena, but very quickly we got back into the routine and started making progress to the North coast. We had 2 weeks until our flight and 700-900km to cover (depending on route taken) so we had to cover the ground fairly quickly. With this in mind the logical decision was made to go the most direct route. While not as mountainous as going back towards Medellin it was a total unknown in terms of road surface and what we might find on the way. 

What we found on the way were plenty of beaten up dirt roads and towns that didn’t appear to have seen a tourist before. Progress was slower than hoped due to the dirt roads being flooded in parts.

The rainy season in Colombia was really making itself known and nearly every night there was a huge downpour and the most apocalyptic storms either of us have ever experienced. Lightning that turned night into day and thunder that shook the window panes in the hotels we stayed at… What? You think we would camp in that when a hotel costs £5?

One thing we hadn’t anticipated when we were leaving San Carlos was that the week we left was Holy Week (the week before Easter). Thankfully it didn’t seem to affect hotels being open, though some were full, but so many of the normal plethora of restaurants and small shops along the road were closed. It meant a few days where we ate nothing but breaded goods and fast food meals, or the odd piece of fruit you find fallen off one of the many trees, as that was all that was available.

Along with the storms and the bad diet we also had to contend with the ever increasing heat as we dropped out of the mountains. By the 3rd day and the small mining town of Zaragoza we had descended to near sea level and officially said goodbye to the Andes. This was quite a sad moment as the mountains have been our home for the majority of this trip. Zaragoza was also the start of the paved roads we would follow all the way to Cartagena.

After a few more days of very early starts (we were getting up at 4:30am to beat the heat – thanks for the tip, Andy @teampie) and high mileages our tyres rolled onto perfect white Caribbean sand. As always, cities aren’t our favourite places so we decided to have a few days of relaxation at Rincon del Mar before pedalling on to our South American finish line in Cartagena. It turned out to be a great decision. Rincon is a sleepy fishing village with a small selection of hostels lined up on a beautiful stretch of Caribbean coastline.

Our hostel had possibly the best dorm room ever. Upcycled pallets formed the selection of beds and the whole room was open to outside allowing the breeze in to keep you cool and the views out to the sea were amazing. 7 days of sweaty riding had definitely tired us out, especially because we hadn’t ridden the bikes in a month, so a few days of doing little more than relaxing in hammocks, drinking cold beers, swimming in the sea and eating food we had prepared ourselves (yes, vegetables!) was absolute bliss.

Our final two days riding on the South American continent were fairly uneventful because we were riding a fairly main road, but the sun was fierce and the humidity was off the charts. At least with leaving early in the morning we were able to cycle 80 km and still finish by midday, which is what we did on our penultimate day. That made it only 50 km to Cartagena the next day and with the landscape being totally flat, we rolled into the city before 10am. As we got to the city limits we started to see a lot more cyclists, one of whom (Ronald, pictured below) even cycled with us for a while and was chatting to Ben about all things bike as he was a bicycle mechanic himself. We also stopped at a bike shop to ask if they had any bike boxes for us to take transport our bikes in for the plane. Luckily they did and arranged for us to collect them on Monday, so that was a win. Another obligatory selfie was taken and after battling through some city traffic we reached our hostel by midday.

Cartgena is one of the most touristy destinations in South America and the old city dates back to the fourteenth century. We did our own walking tour, hitting the main points of interest such as the city walls, the old jail which is now a souvenir market, the narrow Colonial streets and the clock tower, which was nice. It was too hot to be in the sun for more than about ten minutes at a time so sitting in some of the nice plazas in the shade was a welcome break whilst also allowing us to take in the architecture of the city centre’s many nice buildings.

The only downside to standing still for more than about 15 seconds was that the streets sellers hawking their hats, bracelets and whatever else tourists seem to want swarmed around and it got old very quickly. After about two hours of this we escaped the touristy area and explored the more hipster neighbourhood of Getsemani with its graffitied walls and backpacker vibes, before heading back to our hostel a few kilometres away in a more local barrio.

Our hostel was a family run place in a quiet neighbourhood and we paid less for our private room than we would have for a dorm in the central touristy area. We don’t mind being away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre as it’s usually quieter and with cheaper places to eat and shop around, which was definitely true of the Torcies barrio. We enjoyed a couple of days relaxing outside in hammocks or in our lovely air conditioned room when it got too hot and savouring the refreshingly cold 50p beers Colombia has to offer! The other advantage to being a bit out of the centre is that there is generally more space, and having a yard meant that we had a lot of outside space to wash and prep the bikes ready for our flight to North America.

So as we mentioned last time, the next section of our trip will take us to Florida and from there we will cycle the east coast towards Toronto. We haven’t got an exact route planned yet but we think it’s going be a complete culture shock after the past 19 months of cycling in South America. We’re really excited and can’t wait to see another new country and continent. We’ll let you know how it’s going in the next blog (or if you don’t already, follow us on Facebook and Instagram – @unscriptedride on both & you can find links at the end of the page – for more frequent photos and updates).

Hasta luego,

Ben y Steph

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5 comments

  1. What a way to finish off South America! You now make me want to get to South America so much sooner! So glad I’ve decided to do the Americas (after NZ), before going anywhere else. 🙂

    1. South America really is pretty incredible. I would recommend cycling there to anyone. You can find pretty much any type of cycling that you want over there. NZ is definitely pretty high on our list too though!

  2. Glad I managed to give you one good tip after all the help and advice you gave me 😀 I look forward to following your adventures in the USA

    1. Hah, it goes both way man. You’ve helped out with plenty of info about Cartagena etc. Hope Central America is still treating you well!

  3. Hi again Steph & Ben,

    Good to hear that the last leg of the South American era of your journey was a smooth and enjoyable one. I particularly love the name of Rincon del Mar – it does sound like a great place to relax for a few days. Isabella would have loved all of the big muddy puddles you had to ride through – and, knowing her, they would have seemed even more attractive if she was not wearing her wellies at the time! Personally, I like the sounds of the 50p beers more. We recognise those iguanas with the stripy tails – the same species also lives in Costa Rica, I think they’re called green iguanas. Isabella found a spider in our conservatory the other day and proceeded to tell me that it was from South America…I’m hoping she was wrong!

    We enjoyed our Easter trip, visiting Laura’s family up on the West Coast of Scotland. The weather was surprisingly good too, with some days being t-shirt weather (Solana even wore her shorts one day – although she has a pretty low threshold for doing that!). Isabella seemed to enjoy the change of scenery too, which was a big relief for us. We are more hopeful now that we will still be able to enjoy family holidays to more far-flung destinations in the fullness of time….fingers crossed.

    We hope your transit to the North American continent goes smoothly and the the bikes also fare well on the journey. I’m sure Florida will be a real culture shock – but also sure that you will manage to find some off the beaten track areas to explore.

    Enjoy,
    Julie, Laura, Solana & Isabella x

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