Medellin, Colombia - A Young City

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Medellin's sparkling Metro and Botero billboard behind
Medellin's sparkling Metro and Botero billboard behind (View on flickr)

Hours of walking the streets of Medellín, Colombia gives me a true sampling of the culture of this cosmopolitan city.  Medellin is the capital of Antioquia and home to 3 million people. The city is the center for culture, health, government, education and art. All of this is wrapped up together creating a diverse and interesting experience.  Situated in the middle of the Columbian Andes, the city has grown out of the valleys and up the steep slopes. I am in awe to see houses so high up the mountain, I wonder how they built the houses up there and why they don't just tumble down off the mountain side.

Weaving and crisscrossing through this pulsing city are pedestrian walkways, many of them.  This is where the true culture of this grand city can be found. Vendors hawking their wares are everywhere.  Most curious are the converted baby carriers which are now used as vendor carts.  You will find many things being sold from baby carriages such as thermoses full of freshly brewed Columbian coffee, wooded cartoon full of cigarettes, gum and sweets, roasting beef, fruits, vegetables, clothes, batteries, etc.  Anything you might want to purchase can be bought from the ambulant street vendors.

Politics and Security in Colombia

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STOP - Military checkpoint. We come to these every 10 miles or so. Normally they don't even have the trucks stop
STOP - Military checkpoint. We come to these every 10 miles or so. Normally they don't even have the trucks stop (View on flickr)

You´ve all heard of Colombia and the tremendous security/drug/paramilitary/guerrilla problems they´ve had over the years. Some of you told us not to go here because of what you had heard. We decided to go, however, because of what we heard from the cyclists who had actually passed through: it´s a calm country, beautiful, with incredibly friendly people. And that´s what we´re finding too. We haven´t had any problem, but we do read the paper and we do see the results of the strain they´ve had over the years.

Basically, Colombia got buried under the corruption of drugs and the challenge of a revolutionary insurgency for decades. They seem to be digging their way out over the last ten years or so, and the current president, Alvaro Uribe, is immensely popular for the progress he´s made. The guerrilla group, the FARC, is still there and still holds some very important hostages, some that it's had for more than 8 years. But it seems to be declining in power and influence. You might wonder from reading the paper that their primary reason to keep holding those hostages is that it's their last grasp on power. The FARC seems to be still quite dependent on the drug trade for its financing.

During the guerrilla years, private security forces were created by the big landowners, and developed into what's called "paramilitary forces" here. Essentially, they became private armies in their own right.  read more here... lee mas aquí... »

A Wonderful Rest Day in a Beautiful Place

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Beautiful Monteria riverside park
Beautiful Monteria riverside park (View on flickr)

Montería, Córdoba, Colombia, is a town a cyclist might miss or any other tourist might just drive by it because it is off the main road by quite a few kilometers. If you ever come this way, do come and spend a day or two. We are amazed at the street after street of vendors and the most amazing riverside park we have seen in our travel of the Americas.

Situated along the Sinú river is a town that could be any town in Colombia but it is not because of the incredible riverside park. The park, built 5 years ago, is the shining gem of the town. There are brick lined walkways for pedestrians, a bike path with striped lanes, an art museum, a small amphitheater for practicing plays and breakdancing tricks like spinning on the head. There's an internet cafe for coffee and for writing this story, exotic plants, huge trees with monkeys, a wonderful playground with attendants to take care of the children, a adult playground for stretching and doing strength training, ice cream shops, haircutting stands (yes, right in the park). All of this was designed by some extraordinary designers who turned this riverside property into a world-class site for all to enjoy. The best part it is a public park and absolutely free. The town has invested a lot of resources into this public space and is continuing to expand into the rather raunchy street side fish market vendors.  read more here... lee mas aquí... »

Riding the lowlands of Colombia

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Hot morning near maria la baja
Hot morning near maria la baja (View on flickr)

Beachcomber near Tolu, Colombia
Beachcomber near Tolu, Colombia (View on flickr)

If Columbia has always been a mystery to you as it has been to me let me give you a brief impression of our 3 day out ride. (yes, Nancy can be brief once in awhile)

Southwest of Cartagena along the coastal roads, it is the land of grazing hotland cows that are shiny gray and look like water buffaloes. The land is mostly dry and more dry with some huge trees spread out across the flatlands. Mostly is hot, hot and hotter. The temperature read 112 degrees fahrenheit as we rode (that was with the thermometer in the sun). The night cooled down to 86 degrees at 10:00 at night. Two hours after sunrise and two hours before sunset the sky is on fire with orange hazy humidity. The roads are great to ride, because on our backroads route there are more cyclists than cars, and many motorcycles, and a few buses, who all work well together sharing the highways and byways equally. It belongs to everyone. What a unique feeling to ride without the fear of being squashed. So far, we've had lots of respect from all motorized traffic. (We get back to the main highway in a couple of days. Hope our report is the same.) And people call us amigos instead of gringos.  read more here... lee mas aquí... »

Panama to Cartagena, Colombia

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on the way to the ship
on the way to the ship (View on flickr)

Muddy road from Panama City to Carti, Panama on the way to the San Blas Islands
Muddy road from Panama City to Carti, Panama on the way to the San Blas Islands (View on flickr)

Here is the story of our trip from Panama City to Cartagena, Columbia – starting in a 4x4 vehicle from Panama City to Carti, Panama and then taking the 100´ sailboat the Stahlratte to Cartagena.

We got picked up at at the Hotel California in Panama City at 5:15 in the morning and threw our bikes and gear up on the roof rack and squeezed in the back with 7 other passengers, all who were going on the same sailing trip from Panama to Columbia. I, more than Randy, thought it would be great fun to take a long sailing trip. I have always thought I should try it to see if I might want to sail around the world after I finish biking half way around the world.

As we rode in the back of the jeep I was very grateful to be in the truck and not trying to ride, push or throw my bike along this route. The road was flat at first and paved until the turn off at El Llano, but that’s where the real road started. Other cyclists before us have ridden this and described this section as having 100 hills and many 20% grades. It was very impressive and I think I would have died trying to ride it. It had been raining the night before and the rain carved eroded mud-lined tracks that zigzag down the steepest parts. The truck would slide from side to side trying to find a hold in the red mush we sloshed through. Other trucks ahead and behind us also had moments of uncontrolled maneuvering. One 4x4 vehicle we passed parked at the creast of a hill was overheating from the taxing travels through the Kuna jungle. After we arrived at the end of the road, a trip which took about 4 hours, I was very happy with our decision not to have ridden this ride. Our newly cleaned bikes appreciated it too.  read more here... lee mas aquí... »

Info on Sailing from Panama to Cartagena, Colombia, and other options

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The Stahlratte, the boat we sailed to Cartagena
The Stahlratte, the boat we sailed to Cartagena (View on flickr)

There is no road from Panama to Colombia, so many cyclists choose to find sea transportation, probably out of a purist desire to avoid an airplane. It is nice to have the continuity of traveling on the earth, although not necessarily cheaper or better.


It does turn out that while there are not regularly scheduled services to Cartagena, you can probably get there just fine. Trying to get there for free on a yacht from Colon is probably possible, but won't work for most people. However, there are a number of boats that make the trip, charging US$275 to $350, and there are hostels that arrange the connections. So if you really want to sail, you can probably do it.


Caveats: The trip is rough, and most people are seasick. Some boats do not provide food, so you need to provide your own. Some boats are disreputable or poorly run and you might get a scare or something worse. Some boats charge extra for the immigration paperwork in Colombia. Know what your payment covers.


In Panama City, the hostel that seems to do all the arranging is Zuly´s.

In Cartagena, the hostel doing the arranging is Casa Viena.

   read more here... lee mas aquí... »

Central America Maps and GPS Maps and other resources for the Bicycle Tourist

It's not easy to get good, detailed maps of Central America, and you need them if you're going off the main routes.

Edit 16 Jan 2011: The Central America GPS Maps Project is now online. Also, you may be interested in downloadable GPS maps from the Open Street Maps Project.

Note that this site has complete maps from the GPS track of our trip. You can see all of them under "Route Maps" in the menu. The Central America route maps and info are here.

For maps, we used the following:

  • Guatemala: The Rough Guide Map of Guatemala and Belize. (Make sure to get the current edition.) It was generally accurate and indestructible. ITMB also has a Guatemala map which is widely available, but all of their maps are hopelessly inaccurate. Be very careful with any map, but with an ITMB map you have to always be suspicious.
  • Honduras and Nicaragua: We had to use the widely available ITMB maps, as nothing else was available.
  • Costa Rica and Panama: There is an excellent Rough Guides map to Costa Rica and Panama in one map.

On the boat to Cartagena, Colombia

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The Stahlratte
Tomorrow we take a 4-wheel-drive to Carti on the Caribbean coast, load our bikes and gear aboard, and spend 5 days on the Stahlratte sailing through the San Blas Islands and on to Cartagena, Colombia. We're excited about the trip, and anxious about the next phase of the trip... South America! Will the climbs kill us? Will we be kidnapped by terrorists (probably not)? Do we have another year of travel and another 10,000 miles in us? Stay tuned...
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