Week 7 - Monteria and Medellin
Updated: Feb 23, 2020
We left Cartagena and headed south towards Medellin after a bit of a late get-up...in fact I've really got out of my usual 6am wake-ups, and even an 8am wake up is a challenge now! We had decided to give ourselves a couple of days to get to Medellin so we didn't feel rushed, and also I wanted to go in search of Sloths! I had read that the plazas in Monteria were good for sloth sightings, and that was a few hours south, so we headed there first. The road was quite good, however I was having one of those days where I didn't feel quite right on the bike, maybe because I had been off two wheels for a whole week, maybe because I hadn't slept well. Who knows?! Sometimes I think every rider has a day like that. I tried to shake out the tension in my shoulders and slowly I settled into the ride.
Once again there was more beautiful scenery, plus the weather was lovely. Fortunately traffic wasn't too bad and we made it to Monteria by about 5pm. We found the hotel eventually, however the entrance to the parking garage was the wrong way up a one-way street from where we were. Oh well, we really couldn't be arsed to navigate the one-way system again and it was a wide road so we just thought 'sod it' and headed up the street the wrong way and into the garage half way down. We had a few locals trying to point out our error to us, however we both feigned a 'I don't understand' expression and then disappeared out of sight. I think we may have had a few 'stupid gringo's' comments, but we're now rather relaxed with our mistakes entertaining the locals. 'Gringo' is a term used for 'foreigners' in South America (not derogatory), however in Mexico it means 'American'.
The hotel was cheap and cheerful, the best part was the free coffee in reception. The worst part was that our room was on the third floor at the end of the corridor...and there was no lift. We were already roasting, so a bit of extra leg-work carrying all the heavy luggage probably wouldn't kill us, plus there was air-con. We settled in, showered but it was dark by the time we wanted to go out for food. As we went to leave the hotel, the manager came to us and said that it was 'periglo' (dangerous) at night, and that we shouldn't turn left towards the city centre. We were ok to turn right but be careful. We weren't too worried but would heed his advice, especially as the area surrounding the hotel was really quiet. Needless to say, we returned after having some food unscathed.
The next day we went on our sloth hunt early so we would have time to pack and leave by check-out time. We walked about twelve blocks to 'Parque Bolivar' (I think theres a Parque Bolivar in every town in Colombia), however the sloths had gone on strike, or maybe they were all being typical sloths and having a nap out of sight. Damn it. I was a bit disappointed because for some sad reason, I really want to see some sloths. For now I would have to just settle with my sloth pillion, Cyril.
The ride from Monteria South was so beautiful. We love the roads in Colombia, and these didn't disappoint. Once again, numerous sweeping bends framed with rolling hills and a huge river that we met with several times. The temperature was more bearable; it was great to not feel boiling for the whole ride. We found a place on iOveralander and looked to stay there, 20,000 COP (£5.34) for one night and a good restaurant. Bargain. We managed to find it very easily. Despite the hot room and solid bed, it was a good evening, and the next day we left on the final leg to Medellin. The ride was even more beautiful and we had plenty of chances to practice our mountain road overtaking.
When we stopped for fuel, the garage attendant gave us some water along with some fresh fruit from within the grounds of the petrol station, which was lovely and typical of the people here. Colombian people are just so kind and helpful, another reason why we love this country. The landscape once again was absolutely stunning, with views of enormous green valleys...needless to say we stopped for several photos on route. We decided to stop to look online for a hotel in Medellin and also to have a nice cold drink, but unfortunately when we went to leave Kelvin's bike was completely dead. No neutral light, nada! F**k!!! We did a quick brainstorm of possible causes and decided the battery must be dead, but why as the charging system and battery were new? As luck would have it, where we had stopped was just opposite a motorbike shop, Moto Llamas...every town has several 'Moto Tallers' because so many people ride motorbikes and scooters. We wandered over and explained our predicament. After a bit of pointing and hand signals, the guys happily charged Kelvin's battery. This enabled us to get to Medellin and diagnose the root cause in slow time. After an hour or so, we reassembled Kelvin's bike and set off again. Kelvin just had to make sure he didn't stall! On route we passed a whole load of Harley riders at a garage who looked like they were off on a weekend trip and they gave us a friendly wave as we went past.
Medellin traffic was fun. Due to our little battery issue earlier we ended up arriving in rush-hour. Oh joy! It was manic, and even though I really hate filtering in heavy traffic with a fully loaded bike, I just went for it because otherwise it would have taken us several hours to make it to the hotel, which was in the southern part of the city. I only caught my pannier on one bus whilst trying to squeeze through! Fortunately we got to the hotel in one piece (hotel Alcaravan), and the parking was really good, and cool, so working on the bikes would be much more pleasant. It's funny what you get excited about when you are travelling. The added bonus was a rooftop bar complete with jacuzzi. Hard life for the measmly sum of £14 a night!
The next day we walked to a place called 'The South Track', they design and manufacture themselves and retail online, especially for adventure bikes. Like many places, it was a tiny sign on the front of a building in a residential area that looked like a normal house, so needless to say we must have walked straight past it at least twice before realising it was staring us in the face. Luckaly the Colombian's are so helpful and random loacals showed us were to go. Dan and Peter from South Track were really hospitable and showed us around the place and they had their bosses' lovely, clean DR650 there with a few nice mods. Sadly no lowered footpegs, which is next on my wishlist to help take the pressure off my knees. I will have to keep looking. After that we wandered over to the memorial of Pablo Escobar...I'm not sure why, however just one of those things 'to do' in Medellin, but we weren't going to bother with an Escobar Tour...we already know the story and there are a lot of Colombian's that would rather forget he ever existed due to the misery, violence and destruction that he bought to their country.
That day, we walked about 15km, but it didn't feel like it and it was good to do some exercise. To counteract the good bit of exercise we had just done we stopped at an ice-cream stand. Being the big pigs that we are, we ordered a sundae looking thing because it was very cheap, however what we didn't bank on was the addition of cheese in the sundae mixture! We just thought to ourselves that there must be something to it as we looked around and saw everyone else had cheese in their ice-cream...maybe this would be a new great taste that we had been missing out on all our lives. Sadly...no...it was yuck and not something I will be trying again, so the only thing to do was to buy some Medellin Rum to get rid of the aftertaste! Well, that was our excuse anyway.
Medellin had a good feel, despite the crazy rush-hour traffic, and so far is probably our favourite out of the cities we've visited, also due to it's more inviting climate of perpetual spring. We saw lots of bigger bikes around for the first time including several BMW's (F800's), Yamaha Super Tenere's and MT-09's, Suzuki DR650's and 500's, and an R6. There were plenty of tyre shops, with tyres that would fit our bikes, despite being told by a large company in the USA that finding tyres for the 17" wheel would be almost impossible (as well as the stock 525 chain). Happy days, we found it all. The best thing was, when we went in search of a Suzuki mechanic and found it closed we decided to go for a wander in the local area and stumbled upon bikers heaven...several blocks of shops dedicated to all things motorcycle; parts, accessories, welders, mechanics, electronic specialists, engine rebuilders...you name it, it was there. It was great wandering around and we tried to look for a connector for the bikes to be able to jump start one bike from the other. One of the sales guys in a shop that didn't have it went out of his way and walked us around to another shop about a hundred meters away to see if they had what we needed. There we met an english speaking 'Bearded Bastard'...a member of a motorcycle club kind of like a hell's angels gang I believe. He was super-helpful, despite the shop appearing not to have what we needed. We later saw the exact connector cable we needed in a box of odd bits and pieces they had laying inside one of the glass counters and negotiated a price of this item they didn't even realise they had. Mission accomplished. We also managed to get Kelvin's battery charged up whilst we were enjoying the place and Kelvin had his first 'on the road' haircut. I have to say the guy did good and the place was cheap, clean and professional. Despite the language barrier he made sure that he was cutting Kelvin's hair exactly as he wanted it.
As it was a bank holiday Monday and the Suzuki shop was shut until Tuesday (our bikes seem to always choose weekends and bank holidays to have issues), we took our moderately functional bikes on the back roads to Guatape. We took all the luggage off and managed to do quite a few miles off-road. It was the first time we came across the rope barrier thing that we'd heard people mention they'd encountered elsewhere, however it was no issue. We came around the corner to a family holding a thin rope across the road, which they dropped for us as soon as they saw us. Maybe the trick is to just keep going and not hesitate. Whatever, we went through without a problem. Coming into Guatape on the back roads was a good plan despite riding through a road-construction site. I missed the road closed sign however Kelvin didn't but decided not to tell me. We ended up having to negotiate through sand, mud, wheel barrows, diggers and concrete slabs. I was very thankful that we didn't have all our bags with us, and we didn't get any scowls, just a few bewildered looks and smiles. Stupid english idiots!
The great thing about our route was the view we got of 'La Piedra Del Peñol'; a huge lookout rock in Guatape with about 650 steps to the top!! As we had a great view of the rock, the surrounding area and lakes from where we were, we decided to skip paying to walk up the steps in bike gear and just enjoyed the view from where we were. Kelvin managed to stall his bike though, so the not so great thing was pushing the bike to the top of the hill so we could jump start it as his bike was still not functioning correctly. Luckily we succeeded on first attempt but we were both a bit hot. We chose our location for lunch based on the elevation of the road and ease of jump start! Happily this meant we couldn't stop in the super-touristy centre. Shame! Guatape is well worth a visit as it is beautiful and the back roads are the better option as they are quiet and fun, with the only other road (tarmac) from Medellin being a little congested.
Our body clocks are not used to early starts; however we were up early on Tuesday morning to get Kelvin's bike to the Suzuki dealer after the bank holiday, despite running out of fuel on route and having to bump-start the bike twice! It was an interesting ride as a pillion for me with no foot pegs. When we got to Suzuki we were met with fantastic customer service, far superior to that we have ever received at home, and the security guard Jorge was really helpful, and spoke a little english which helped. They jump started the bike from a police bike they had in for a service (also a DR650) and ascertained that the issue was actually the stator, not just the battery. We were not impressed as it was brand new and only been put on the bike just before we left the UK. It failed after less than 2000 miles!! Gutted. Unfortunately, because Kelvin's lithium ion lightweight battery had been charged normally (they are a little sensitive) it was also stuffed. So, it was a new stator for about £270 or get it fixed for about £70. Yes, getting stuff fixed here is possible, unlike most other European places. We chose the cheaper option. Suzuki could not fix it as they could only give us a new genuine Suzuki part, however one of their mechanics hopped on his bike and led us to a guy a few blocks away that could fix Kelvin's stator in 24 hours. Awesome. The Colombian people don't cease to amaze me. For an easy life we decided to book both bikes in to Suzuki after the stator was repaired for valve clearance, oil and filter change, as well as a new battery for Kelvin's DR. Everything was done and dusted in three days and we had a great time chatting to the guys at the Suzuki place, drinking their coffee and being invited into the working area. You could also watch through the glass while you waited if you wanted to, not something we've ever been able to do before. They also had a nice shiny new DR in the showroom next door...drool! I still like the character of our 20 year old bikes though, despite their issues.
After that, we did a few bits on the bikes ourselves like fixing, readjusting and priming the Tutoro chain oilers yet again, sorting Kelvin's fork alignment along with a few other minor things. We then went to the bar for a much needed beer and met two guys from the USA; father and son, Don and Jeff from Florida. Over a few beers we discussed Colombian dentistry, current USA and UK politics, travel, more travel and about life in general. It was a good evening and they were really sound people, and shared our thoughts on Mr Trump...I won't go into that one any further!
It wouldn't be a city visit without a 'free' walking tour, so as we had to stay in Medellin longer we booked on one. It was four hours and well worth it. The guide was excellent and was really passionate about Medellin and Colombia as a country. I won't spoil the story, come to Medellin and do it yourself... nearing the end of the tour we went to an area which some Colombians feel is slightly dodgy, there were a few Botero sculptures (not Botero plaza, that was earlier). One of these was a large bird sculpture that had big holes in it, next to another identical, newer one that didn't have any holes in it. Apparently the holey one had had a bomb planted under it during a festival, killing many people in close proximity and the original sculpture had been left there as a reminder of what happened and to remember those who died. Overall the area felt fine to us, it was refreshing to see the balance that Medellin has achieved on excepting all walks of life. The regeneration of some areas and the effort Medellin is putting into education is commendable.
If you like to visit cities, we would recommend Medellin, especially if you need bike bits! We would also highly recommend Hotel Alcaravan if you need a cheap, clean hotel with secure parking. Despite what some of the reviews would have you believe, we felt perfectly safe in the area and the staff were great.
So, on to the Coffee Region...Salento here we come!