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Arriving To The Caribbean Sea

When I set off from Medellín, I realized that my bike was starting to fall apart. My tubes easily cracked in the heat and I couldn’t find 28” tubes with thin racing valve stems in Colombia. The cassette was loose, the handlebar was loose and some attachment at the front-wheel was also loose. And the chain was skipping and unintentionally changed gear unless I pushed very, very gently (somehow I got better friction when I poured water on it every 5 minutes!). So the last 1,000 km’s or so were not very nice cycling-wise, but let’s forget that for now and I’ll tell you about the last ride towards the Caribbean Sea!

An hour before I was about to call it a day after continuing, a man reminding me of Super Mario with a blue overall, red cap and big mustache, waved at me from beside the road. He presented himself as Arturo, invited me for a soft drink and asked if I was in a hurry. I said no, and he told me that he was on his way to his finca (like a farmhouse with plantations but no animals). He invited me to stay there and I happily said yes. I cycled on 15 km’s and then stored my bike at one of the worker families. Then we rode on his motorbike, bought some traditional liquor and headed into the mountains. It was a long, bumpy ride on narrow mud roads. We stopped at a clear little stream and took a sip of the aquardiente while watching the sunset over the green hills that continued as far as the eye could see. Beautiful scenery!

Arturo aka Super Mario

When we arrived to the house, a woman named Liliana came out and greeted me. She was an artist and had been living there in harmony with nature for about ten years. The house had been built by a group of bohemians of mostly recycled, second-hand materials and reminded me of the primary Waldorf-school that I attended. It was located on the top of a big hill with a 360˚-view of the landscape.

La finca

They cultivated everything here and were almost completely self-sufficient! Pumpkins, blueberries, physalis, strawberries, passion fruit, papaya, aloe vera, marijuana, beans, quinoa, eucalyptus, herbs, orchids, potatoes and other vegetables could be found just around the house, plus ~10 plants that I had never seen before. All seeds were carefully selected so they had their own little plant breeding going on.

Harvesting of beans

In a small stream down in the valley, 100 vertical meters below the house, they had installed a ram pump that pumps water using its own pressure as the only force. This is a genius solution for water supply, dating back to the 17th century and no electricity is needed! I closely inspected the whole arrangement and wished that I one day would make use of one myself.

During the days, we harvested vegetables, cooked tons of great food, listened to old LP-record jazz and read books. With the addition of Swedish cinnamon rolls that I baked, I almost felt like being home. I was completely blown away by Arturos and Lilianas hospitality and their place in the mountains so I stayed for several days. I hope that I will return one day.

Nothing lasts forever; I had to go on and returned to my own world of cycling. I came to a big climb called Mata Sanos (killing healthy) were I held on to a truck with my left hand and then got dragged up half the hill. Quite stupid and dangerous, but the local kids do this all the time so I had to give it a try once.

Leaving the mountains behind, the landscape got perfectly flat and the day temperature peaked at around 34˚C. After a couple of days of riding, the presence of the Caribbean Sea was closing in. When I had around ten km’s left to the coast, I felt a sudden change in the air. It had a different consistency than I was used to, and a different smell. Sea breeze. I suddenly realized that my trip was coming to an end and my whole body got filled with mixed emotions that could best be described as a feeling of euphoria combined with emptiness. My muscles felt feeble, like after an intense exercise, an orgasm or after you’ve had a shock. Weird but fascinating!

The first meeting with the Caribbean Sea was a disappointment though. There had been extreme floods in the area, and the water becomes brownish when it passes through the mangrove swamps that surround the coast. The beaches were dirty as well. But when I continued north, things got better. I stayed in a cozy little town called Tolú for a couple of days and fixed my blog that had been corrupted in some way. It was very hot here, and beer, ice cream and lemonade summarize my days pretty good. I realized that I missed the distinct seasons in Sweden.

When I was about to enter the big tourist town of Cartagena, it was (not surprisingly) carnival. The streets were packed with people from the suburbs that marched into the city center to watch the parade. Equipped with “bombs” of colored powder, flour, mud and water, they saw me as an excellent target as I was zigzagging through the flooded streets to avoid vehicles and obstacles under the water. Eventually I found an expensive “flashpacker“ hostel with swimming pool but felt very relieved.

Cartagena is an old colonial city reminding me of Cuba. The houses are very colorful with balconies, dirty facades and entrances surrounded by plants.

Fruit ladies

Colonial house

Colonial alley

Together with a couple of backpackers from the hostel, we went to a small square to watch a parade and experience the carnival atmosphere. It was a lovely scene! People were dancing, eating, drinking and throwing color bombs at each other. And then there was the foam. Everyone had a can in their hand and sprayed around them. In order to have some fun and have a chance to protect us, we also got some foam cans. But I should have known better… Suddenly someone sprays half a can in my face and I couldn’t see a thing! Amused by the whole situation, I ask a friend to take a photo when I do the thumbs up sign. However, and here’s the irony, I get ROBBED by pick-pocketers just in that same moment (unfortunately you can’t see the person in the photo). What a gringo I am! After a minute or so, I noticed that my wallet was gone and my bag was emptied. They stole my zoom lens, shell jacket, money, credit card and, the worst of all, my beloved well-worn flip-flops.

Carnival & foam

Just got robbed - thumbs up!

It felt good to be on the road again after a few days of city life. I visited a famous sight called Totumo – where a “mud volcano” rose up 10 m from the ground. It looked like a big cone, and on the top there was a crater filled with mud where I had a bath. It was quite surreal, the high density of the mud made it impossible to sink. It was kind of like in extremely salty water (think floating tank or the Dead Sea, but softer and thicker). I felt weightless, and if I tried to swim in it I just stayed in the same position.

Mud bath

Further on, I arrived to the city of Barranquilla, famous for the second biggest carnival in the world after the one in Rio de Janeiro. There, I met up with Lorena from CouchSurfing. She took me to a Caribbean museum, an animal park and then we went fishing in Rio Magdalena. I remembered stories told by my dad how they caught big catfish here when he was a seaman, and how the whole crew got sick after the bartender served them ice with the same brown color as the river. I had great fun with Lore so I stayed another night and met up with some other CouchSurfers.

The following day, I set off with a very emotional state of mind, this was going to be my last day of cycling! And finally, after 346 days and 12,436 km’s, I arrived to Santa Marta on the northern tip of Colombia. I couldn’t believe that the trip had come to an end. That I now had reached the final destination of the Caribbean Sea after cycling all the way from Tierra del Fuego. It felt incredible when I thought about it, but not at all a remarkable achievement. I remember that I had a feeling of emptiness when I went to sleep that night. Maybe because there were no new places waiting around the corner to be discovered next. Anyway, I recall that I wrote in my diary before going to bed that life is good.

12,436 km's

The tourism council of Colombia had a campaign running on the TV with the slogan ”The only risk is wanting to stay”, which is true in both senses! Colombia is a great country and its people are super friendly. I spent the last two weeks on the beautiful beaches of the national park Tayrona. Not really much to add here actually, but it was a nice end of an amazing journey!

I would like to say thank you to all my sponsors that were involved in this trip. I am truly grateful for your support! Thanks also to all the readers that have been following me through this blog! Stay tuned for a last blog entry where I will try to summarize the trip and publish some statistics.

Tayrona