Cartagena/Colombia – Bogotá/Colombia

Colombia, “our favourite country on our entire America journey.”,”the best country in South America.”, the opinions of friends and other travelers sound promising. On the other hand you hear a lot about drug trade, Guerrillas, kidnappings, if it concerns Colombia. At the same time the country has a very good reputation for the hospitality of his people. Like always we are curious, what lays ahead of us. How does it present itself, the country, which one of my best friends, Maik, has chosen as his new home?

After a few days in Cartagena with its beautiful old town and our first cycling stages in Colombia, we arrive at the small Caribbean island Isla Fuerte. There we want to meet with Maik and Elisa. After our trip from Berlin to Dar es Salam, Tanzania and our “Good bye and Good luck” on April 26th 2007, we see each other again for the first time, here in Colombia, one year later.

Isla Fuerte is a small green Caribbean island, about 10km off the Colombian shore, with only a few houses, little infrastructure and temperatures above 30ºC. Apart from swimming and snorkeling, above all it is time to relax. The right ambiance offers our home, an open wooden structure, with a palm whisk roof and hammocks, directly by the sea… Another very good reputation of Colombia – the selection of exotic fruits and the delicious juices and milkshakes you can make out of them. There are so many juicy fruits and names, waiting to be tasted – Guanabana, Zapote, Nispero, Lulo, Mamey and so on…

But now it´s time to start cycling again, after our 5 day sailing trip from Panama to Colombia, a break in Cartagena and these 5 holidays on the island. Along the road all over heavy military presence. We pass innumerable inspection points daily. Mostly young men, with us always relaxed and friendly, stand there fully equipped and armed, sometimes even behind sand bag barricades, larger cannons and light tanks. What a waste, particularly of life time of all that young people. It´s hard to believe, that this effort is necessary. We do not feel unsafe – and we have no reason, because these roads, controlled of the state army, are safe. An initial, skeptical feeling Denise had, has passed quickly. But there are other large regions of the country, where the state army is not present and the situation out of governmental control. A few days later – things can change quickly here. Right before the town of Taraza a policeman stops us. Today we can not go on, the town is blocked. For safety reasons we are advised not to go out at night. Then he escorts us to the next village with a hotel.

When we cross Taraza the next morning, we see a strong presence of military and martially looking security forces – completely black, with special integral helmets and armoring for the whole body. They are blocking a side street in expectation of the raving crowd. In front of them a battleground with stones and trash all over. We don´t stop, and push our bikes faster, to gain distance. The next days we learn more about the details of this longer lasting conflict from the media. We see pictures of street battles with stones, fire, machetes and tear gas.

The raving crowd are farmers, who cultivate illegal Coca. The government supports programs to eradicate Coca plants. But the farmers are often left without options for an alternative income. They simply fight for their basic needs. However, this evening close to Taraza we do not stay in that hotel. A 13 year old boy accompanies us for a while. If we just need a save place to pitch up our tent, we could do so on the family property, he suggests. So we stay with Walter, that’s the name of the boy, and are surprised, what a smart and clever boy he is. We are even more surprised, when he manages to ride our recumbent “on sight” at the first attempt, being the one and only person so far.

We are riding up the mountains to Medellin and with increasing altitude out of the heat. But from now on also with daily heavy rains, because it’s rainy season. Sometimes a whole front of clouds empties itself at one blow. In Medellin we pass by a Bike and Bicycle fair. Our exotic bicycles provide us free entrance, they send people to help us around, we get a very good, free lunch and VIP tickets, in order to come back. The next day we also exhibit our bikes, present them to everybody and win the public audience evaluation in the special-bicycle category. Furthermore we give innumerable interviews with camera teams and writing journalists, whose texts will be eventually published even in Brazil. The work is primarily done by Denise, because she does speak Spanish, I don’t.

Small talk with many other people. Interesting for us, that many of them are concerned about our security and wonder if we are not worried about it. We had already heard before, that many Colombians regret, that the negative topics draw the picture of their country and so they try even more to provide a more positive impression. The next day some more people know us from the TV. Again it’s funny, how quickly we become popular, thanks to our “Streetmachines”, even in large cities and also without TV and newspapers. In Panama City for example, while having a walk, they asked us: “Where are the bicycles?”

Behind Medellin we ride up our steepest road so far. With ramps, which are estimated clearly over 15%, it goes nearly 1000 altitude meters up on the first 10km. We did not select an easy route profile through Colombia, that’s for sure. After some mountains with over 2700m around Medellin it goes down again into the Magdalena Valley with 200m and then up again to the Savannah of Bogotá with 2600m – with several ascents and descents in between. The way up from Honda to Bogotá, 4400 altitude meters in total and about 150 km, we distribute on 4 easy days.

Elisa and Maik, they live in Bogotá, come on Thursday the 1st of May down to Guaduas to meet us. During our entire time in Colombia they support us with information and accommodation. From Guaduas to Villeta we ride one stage together and also for the next two days we only carry the minimum luggage. Entering Bogotá on Sunday is quite relaxed, because it’s the day of “Ciclovia”. Every Sunday and on holidays several lanes of some of the main roads are reserved for cyclists, skaters and pedestrians.

Elisa and her dad escort us the last kilometres into the city centre and had arranged a meeting with the local TV station “City TV”. They don’t mind the rain and do some effort with the shots. More than 10 times we ride the same 100m, passing the camera. The same night we see the report in TV and it was really good. Now we want to spend some time in Bogotá and around.


translated by Maik

pictures for this article: Cartagena/Kolumbien-Bogota/Kolumbien : Fotos

7. Mai 2008 - Tom & Maik | english texts | Kommentare :: comments :: comentarios | Inhalt drucken

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