51. 11-20-13: Colombia – First Steps

Cartagena
Cartagena

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that I am where I am. Not so many years ago the world was a dream – the world beyond the U.S and Europe and Israel. But now it is revealing itself, one country at a time.  I remember dreaming of Colombia without actually considering how or when I would ever come here. But I found myself there, and as the money I had saved up and earned from selling most of what I owned was quickly coming to end, I would get to enjoy the country for more than its beauty and cordiality.

Uncharacteristically we got off on the wrong foot, as, a couple of days after landing in Cartagena I was robbed.

I wanted a better exchange rate than the bank would give and ended up losing $250 to a sleight of hand. The money changer kept taking the wad back after I counted and recounted it himself. I knew not to let him touch it, but he just kept doing it, so I gave it to Eran, the Israeli biker I met while unloading Georgia off the boat, to count it again. Eran counted it, but the guy took the money in hand again, for the 4th time! Like a fool, I let it happen, gave him my $300 and walked away. 10 paces later I stopped, counted the money again, realized that I was missing 500,000 pesos, turned around, but he was gone. He and they guy I met who called him, and his “girlfriend” and “niece” were gone. We ran around in every direction, but they had disappeared.

$250 is generally a huge amount for me, but as I was running on the fumes in my bank account it hurt more than just my ego.

But that was the beginning and end of any unpleasantness. The rest of my time in Colombia was replete with the most friendly and helpful and considerate people outside of Mexico.

After only a few days in Cartagena I had to get on the way as I could not function in the infernal heat. It is hard to describe the heat that permeates the Caribbean coast. Because it is thick from humidity, when the sun is shining directly on you, it feels like the inside of a giant oven. This is not an exaggeration, I literally felt like I was being cooked. Just the act of putting on my pants and jacket drenched me, and the wind did little to alleviate that during the ride. The constant traffic lights and construction stops did not help – I would instantly be covered in sweat the second I stopped riding.

I was fortunate to have a place to stay in Lorica, about 200km outside of Cartagena. It was nice to break up the 700km ride to Medellin. How I came to Alexis’ house is one of those beautiful stories which make me hunger to forever be on the road:

It was around 3am and I was walking back to my hostel after a nice stroll with two pretty Colombian girls. All of a sudden out of the corner of my eye I saw a guy turn around. He looked at me for just a moment before throwing open his arms, and with a huge smile calling my name. I could not believe it, I had to shake my head and rub my eyes to make sure it was all real. I met Lambert about 4 months earlier on the early morning ferry to Utila, Honduras. We talked and drank, and hung out on the island – just a great time with a great guy. A week later I had to get back on the road and he stayed back for a month doing various diving certifications. And then, in the middle of the street in Cartagena, Colombia we met again. But this was just a beginning. Lambert and some friends were with Alexis, whom they met at a small square in the Getsemani neighborhood where I was staying. This happened just an hour before we ran into each other. Alexis proceeded to offer to help me with my job search in Medellin as he has family there, and invited me to stay at his house on my way there.

The ride to Medellin was at first extremely hot, then turned cold and wet as I began to climb into the mountains. But I welcomed the cold as I had not felt it in almost a year. I stopped at a random little station somewhere in the mountains to put on my rain gear, and noticed a man preparing to milk his cows in the field to the side of the gas station. I walked over to him and asked if I could buy some fresh milk and take some pictures. I spent the next hour and a half talking to Livardo, who at the end would not take a penny from me. It was a beautiful moment of cultural exchange between two very, very different people. But we both were open minded and eager to learn, so the time passed quickly and pleasantly as we shared stories from our countries.

How I get my milk
How I get my milk

By the time I got back on my steed the sun was setting. I hate so much riding at night, but in Colombia where the FARC like to shut down a road every once in a while, it was particularly an unwelcomed necessity. However, experience would show that the FARC rarely do this outside of their zone of drug operation, and for the most part do not bother tourists.

In Medellin I found my host’s apartment packed with guests; one of whom was a girl named Ashley who I had met in Nicaragua some months ago. But the more we talked the more it seemed as though we had known each other before. It turned out we have been on a similar path ever since Belize, so it’s very possible we had crossed paths many times without ever realizing it. There were people from many countries in the apartment and we shared a lovely and lively meal. It was the perfect start, and really set the tone, for my time in Colombia.

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50. Counting Blessings
52. 12-1-13: Down to Fumes

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