COLOMBIA, 19th May – 6th June 2019
It was morning before I looked out of the hatch from our cabin on the boat to take in the view of Cartagena. A float of white sailing boats, a skyline of white, modern buildings and further away a big, old fort from the colonial time. If I hadn’t already seen Anni’s picture of Cartagena, this was not what I would have expected. It was grand.
After re-assembling our bikes we pedaled out into the new town on a bike path along the sea. It reminded me somewhat of when we one year previously had disembarked Celebrity Millenium in Vancouver, partly because of the modern highrise buildings and the bike path, and partly because it was all new to me. The city, the country, the continent. This was the beginning after a chapter of cycling that had ended rather miserably. This was the time for something new!
Chris and I installed ourselves in a hotel in the part of the old town called Getsemani. It was hard not to fall immediately in love with the neighbourhood with its bright coloured houses and flowers, wall paintings, little tiendas (shops) and restaurants, People seemed to be living their life partly in their houses and partly in the streets, as they sat in chairs in the shade or on steps simply just following the activities of the street, playing a game of dominos and chatting with neighbours. Tourism was making its way into the area for sure, but there still seemed to be the local flavor, and I liked that.
Unfortunately Chris didn’t really have the energy to show the same enthusiasm. He still felt rather sick and I began to worry about him. It had been almost a month now, and after five days of pure relaxation on the sailing boat I had hoped he would have improved more. But what could we do other than relax some more? The suggestion of seeing a doctor was still completely rejected by the man…
Also, we had to wait in Cartagena, for my sister was arriving there four days later. Yes, that’s right. My sister, whom I hadn’t seen for almost 1.5 years. That is a long time for sisters to be apart. Therefore she had found some time in her tight scheduled life of ambitious work, studies, exams and rich social life to come out to be with me. Initially we had planned this when Chris was still planning to go to the Caribbean, and I to settle somewhere nice in Colombia until he came back. Barbara, as my sister is called, could only find time to come during her exams and would therefore need some time to work on her papers, while I wanted to give myself some time to start a writing project in Danish I have long been thinking about. So we had arranged to stay for five days by the sea in a small town, Taganga, 300 kilometres up along the coast, and then five days in the mountains in a small town called San Gil and travel in between by bus. When Chris decided not to go to the Caribbean we agreed he would come by bike to Taganga and stay there with us, then he would take some time by himself resting some more, while we sisters went by bus up into the mountains.
In short, I expected a great time coming up, and felt really pleased with some more time off the bike to gain the mental energy it would require to travel through South America.
It was obvious that we were not quite ready to really begin travelling from the short trip we had to make through town to a Warmshowers host. Argemiro was kind to let us stay a couple of nights and keep my bicycle safe while I was with my sister. To get to his place it was about an hour’s cycle/walk through busy streets with unreliable footpaths, and the mood of both Chris and I was failing as we maneuvered in the chaos. I can’t speak for him, but I just didn’t know what I was doing in such a place, again, I couldn’t find any charm or excitement in the rough neighbourhood and I didn’t feel comfortable there. Safely installed in Argemiro’s room we briefly touched the subject of simply ending the trip here and finding a way to sail back to Europe, Chris already knew of a cargo shipping company that did this route with passengers – and that was enough. The talk of quitting here immediately convinced me, that we should still keep going and somehow win back our love for this that we deep inside still loved so much. Cycle touring.
first: sister time!
I couldn’t help jumping, dancing and screaming (I’d probably watched too much of The Amazing Race the previous days) when my tired sister finally walked out of the airport and into my embrace. It is hard to explain how good it felt to have her right there with me again. One of the persons closest to me in the entire world, who knew me so well and had shared pretty much all of my life with me, and whom I had been separated from for so long. It was emotional, yes.
In the taxi to the bus station my sister asked if it was weird to be travelling in a car again. I hadn’t even thought about it, what was weird (and amazing) was that she was there. But yes, travelling by taxi and later bus gave perspectives to our bicycle lives. It was super easy and smooth, there was always a taxi ready and it went fast. Too fast most of time, maybe I just wasn’t used to it anymore, but I sat in the backseat feeling helpless and scared I might die. The buses were the same, plus one of them smelled a terribly lot of pee… But we got around so quickly.
Already the next morning we woke up in our rented apartment in Taganga with views over a lovely blue bay full of fishing boats, dry mountains and a little village. It was the perfect scene for our sister time. With such a view we could sit for hours chatting on the veranda, Barbara loved to swim so we went to do that every day and sat and chatted on the beach, We had a kitchen and a fridge which I so appreciated as if I hadn’t had that for years, which I hadn’t, and we cooked meals and chatted some more while we ate. Then we drank coffee and chatted some more. And then sometimes we worked on our writing projects. It was great!
A couple of days later Chris arrived having cycled from Cartagena, and we included him in the sister time and chatting, played games on the beach and on the veranda and often he would cook for us to give us time to write. Then we did something all together that I had long dreamed of. We went scuba diving!
Outside of Taganga were some islands as a part of Tayrona National Park which made for some decent tropical dive sites. I have dived many times before in Asia, Barbara too, but it was many years ago, so we both needed a little session of refreshing our skills with an instructor. Chris had never dived before, but luckily it was possible to just get an hour of training on land, before being allowed in with an instructor. It all went really fast getting ready and going out in the boat with a lot of other groups and instructors. It felt a bit rushed and suddenly we were all in the water, Barbara and I with our instructor, Chris with another. Separately we did our skill training and the first dive. Although it had been 4.5 years since my last dive it quickly came back to me and I instantly enjoyed being under water. It is just like another world down there, the things you see, the way your senses are stimulated and the extra dimension of moving freely in the water like birds in the sky. And then it is all about breathing, slowly and constantly, to save the air in the tank and stay calm. It’s like meditation, but exciting at the same time. I just love diving, and it was great to be doing it again side by side with my sister. I had wanted so much to share it with Chris too, thinking he would love looking at all the animals under water, and we got a good moment together at the beginning of the second dive where we all saw the prettiest turtle that got quite confused when 15 divers swum right over the sea grass it was feeding on. For the rest of the dive Chris was signaled to stay with his initial instructor, although we had asked to be diving together the three of us and I thought it was a shame, but he seemed to have had a great time and that was the most important thing.
I certainly did have a great time, not only scuba diving for the first time in my life (breathing underwater is seriously cool!), but also getting to spend some quality time together with the Jacobsen sisters. It was a shame that I couldn’t continue with them on their bus ride to the mountains, not least because gaining some altitude was just what I needed to escape the heat that was surely to blame for keeping me feeling unwell, but old habits die hard, and a stubborn man who won’t use motor vehicles I remain. So instead I let them go off to enjoy some sister time together, and I stuck around on the coast and tried my best to recover there. And if I couldn’t get to the cool mountain air just yet, I decided that the next best thing would be to bring the cool air to me. I checked into a hotel, locked myself in my room, turned the air conditioning on full, and didn’t leave for nine days.
My hotel of choice was CSV House on the edge of a resort town called Rodadero, run by a lovely couple named Diego and Catherine. It was a relatively new hotel, only open for a year, and they had done a wonderful job of making it nice. It certainly had everything that I needed, with a big comfortable bed, the aforementioned air conditioning, and a kitchen that I could use to cook and eat some real good healthy meals. While cycling in Panama I had really lost my appetite, with the things we normally ate during the day like peanut butter and jam sandwiches becoming completely unappealing to me. With the real food I was now able to cook and enjoy I gradually regained my strength and began to feel like myself again.
The only problem with spending nine days in an air conditioned room was that when the nine days were up I had to go back outside and ride my bike in the very hot and humid air again. Dea and I were going to meet up in Barranquilla, a hundred kilometres from Rodadero, and unfortunately within minutes of leaving the hotel I was feeling bad again. But the rest and recovery time must have done me some good, because I managed to keep pedaling, and luckily for me the day became very overcast and a thunderstorm rolled overhead, drenching me in delightfully cooling rain.
Having already cycled this way once I knew what to expect – a long highway busy with crazily overtaking trucks and buses, that carried me through an area of wetland mysteriously populated with cactuses. I camped out amongst this landscape, getting into my tent quickly and watching it become surrounded with mosquitoes as I forced down a jam sandwich against the wishes of my once-again-vacant appetite. The next morning I awoke early and rode into Barranquilla, through a very nice, notoriously dangerous neighbourhood, and to the hotel where I would lock myself in another air conditioned room, and wait for Dea to return to me once more.
From Taganga Barbara and I took a long ride in a night bus (the one that smelled terribly of pee…) up in the mountains to San Gil. Looking out of the window I couldn’t help judging the road constantly, checking the shoulder, the amount of traffic, hazardous overtakes and gasping over the switchbacks and amazing views of the real mountains we suddenly were in.
San Gil turned out to be the loveliest little town. It is mostly known as the adventure centre of Colombia with lots of options for various extreme sports in the area. But Barbara and I are not really into extremes, we just loved to sit in the town plaza and feel like a part of Colombia. There were hardly any foreign tourists like us there, just Colombians of all kinds hanging out for an hour the whole day. Big old trees provided the needed shaded, little stalls the snacks and drinks and people the good company. We were amazed how every Colombian we got in contact with was so kind and friendly, always smiling, helping, being polite and respectful. It reminded me of Mexico and after our time in Central America where we had so little contact with the locals, and often felt their frustrations forming the atmosphere, this felt like breathing fresh air again. I began to get a feeling that Colombia was going to be great!
In San Gil we continued our sister time lifestyle without any changes, it seemed we could just talk and talk forever, but we also managed to write satisfyingly and even found time to do a trip to a nearby village which is known as the prettiest town in Colombia. With its old, homogenous colonial style white-red facades and turquoise painted wooden doors it was truly lovely, and as an extra nice feature of Barichara there was an old walking path from the village to an even smaller, charming village that took us through the lush green mountain scenery where clouds floated around the mountain tops and all you could hear was the sound of nature. We even saw a humming bird, something which Barbara had never seen before. It was another successful adventure.
It had all been just perfect, we two sisters agreed as we sat on the old city wall back in Cartagena on the last evening and watched the sunset over the sea. Then of course Barbara fell ill on the morning before her long journey home, which somehow deflated the goodbye-feelings that had been building up, and maybe that was for the better. As a violent thunderstorm was raging I flagged down a taxi for her outside the hotel, helped her in and hugged her briefly, but a driver was already waiting behind the taxi impatiently, so she had to get in and go. A wave from behind the window, then she was gone, and a sudden pain burned in the throat and eyes. Sister time was over.