Colombia

So long mi Colombia querida


The highlights/ events of the ride from Medellin to the border with Ecuador, ride done in 3 days:

  1. Said goodby to Al  and Frank at Shamrock and off we go.

IMG_3578       2. Accident on the road. Luckily on bikes we managed to squeeze by, so we didn’t lose much time.

IMG_3584       3. Got stopped by police for speeding. I cannot believe they stopped us….only now! Showed papers, apologized, asked for forgiveness and…forgiven! For the first time when I am stopped by police and I don’t get a ticket! In Canada I got a ticket at my very first offence. All people I know got away with a warning the first time, but not me. It felt so good to get away with it here! Even police is nice here. But it did make us watch our speed …at least at times. The first country where we saw lots of radars.

4. Accident on the road again. Truck rolled over, off the road. Since the road was not blocked, we did not stop so no pictures taken.

5. Oil spill on the road from a big commercial truck. Thank God we saw it in time, so no disaster happened.

6. Epic ride through the hills with coffee trees.

7. Stop at the hot springs in Santa Rosalia. Beautiful place with a nice waterfall. Unfortunately no pictures taken, as we did not bring with us camera in the pools 🙂

8. Ride to the beautiful town of Salento. Good lunch with “arepa de todo”.

IMG_3600 IMG_3602     9. One of the most picturesque rides so far to Valle de Cocora. Very expensive place though (prices comparable to Canadian touristic places) so we did not stay overnight.

IMG_3604 IMG_3608IMG_3611IMG_3615     10. Third accident in two days: truck transporting oranges lost control in a turn and rolled over. Good oranges though 🙂 Once we found out the driver was ok, we could have some.

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Statistics say that traffic accidents are the leading cause of death in Central and South America. And no wonder, they drive like maniacs.

One more time we are lucky we are on bikes. Vasile manages to find a very narrow space between the rolled over truck on the right and a big drop on the left and he squeezes the bikes through.

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Meanwhile I stuffed my face with oranges. Literally (I had orange jus all the way to my ears). And not to be mean, but we enjoyed the ride on the twisties more after that – no traffic for a while. Crossing through two tunnels with no lights whatsoever. Peach dark.

11. Just wondering: how does a truck with five trailers take a 90 degree turn? I don’t want to know. We had to overtake it quickly, as it was kind of going in zig-zag.

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11. Beautiful ride on nice twisty road through the Andes. I let you be the judges.

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The only downside, Colombian roads are not too great. Paved, but more bumpy than a gravel road. But the scenery was so magnificent that we did not care about the road too much.

12. Woke up in the morning to find a huge spider/ tarantula? in the middle of our room. No heart attack yet. If I survived this, I’ll survive anything.

IMG_3738 IMG_3740     13. Ride to the border with Ecuador in cold, very busy traffic and pristine landscapes.

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Border crossing ok, despite the warnings of the Foreign Affairs’ site to avoid land border crossing at all costs. No landmines, no guerillas and no armed groups so far.

Adios mi Colombia querida!

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Categories: Colombia | 1 Comment

Colombian KTM riding club


Post edited by Vasile.

I was bleeding my rear brake just outside of Shamrock Irish Pub when Frederico, the owner of KTM dealership, showed up. We started talking about KTMs, obviously and he recommended me some off-road rides around Medellin. He was busy for the week-end, so he called a friend of his, Carlos Alejandro, to take me for a tour.

The next day at 8:30 I met Carlos Alejandro outside with his KTM 990 Adventure and we went to a gas station to fuel up and here we met Felix with his KTM 950 Super Enduro (both their bikes were very clean and in show room condition).

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We started the ride south though winding roads, passing everyone again and having too much fun breaking the law.

After 30 minutes ride we stopped for breakfast and I asked Felix if he likes his motorcycle. He answered “Yes” but didn’t seem to be very convinced. Then he pulled up his shirt and he showed me his KTM 950 SE tatoo on his chest. I guess if people are not as excited as me that doesn’t mean they don’t love something.

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Shortly after breakfast we hit the gravel road descending into a canyon, through the canyon and then up on the mountains.

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On top of the mountain we got to Montebello. This is a very beautiful village with incredibly friendly people and as it was Sunday everybody was outside on the main street. We parked our bikes and next thing we know a group of friendly people surrounded us. They offered us drinks, we chatted and we took pictures together.IMG_3505 IMG_3512 IMG_3514 IMG_3516 IMG_3517 IMG_3519 IMG_3523 IMG_3524

We were riding through pristine landscapes with a big smile on my face when I noticed that my front tire was acting funny. I stopped my bike and realized that once again I had a flat tire. I was working on my tire and I was pleasantly surprised to see everyone who was passing by, including kids, stopping and offering to help.

I took the tube out, found two holes in it, fixed them and when I put it back in I pinched it again. So I had to take it out again and fix it. The whole process took about 40-50 minutes.

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At the end of the ride the guys took me to a restaurant where we had some local empanadas and arepas, which were delicious.

Ever since we came off the boat I had a good feeling about Colombia, but this day was something that I will never forget. I love this country and its people. Thank you so much Carlos and Felix for a great ride and great company!

Categories: Colombia | 3 Comments

Cartagena to Medellin


After a couple of days of relaxation in the beautiful colonial city of Cartagena, it was time to move on again. So the morning of the 2nd, we all woke up early, went to find the insurance place and got insurance for our bikes. Then we parted ways with our friends Cory, Kurt and Chris, since they were heading to Venezuela, and we were heading South, to Medellin. But I’m sure we will meet again before the end of this trip. Good luck and safe and fun travels my friends! As I can see from your Facebook pages,  you already had an epic ride to Venezuela:)

As I said, Vasile and I headed south just the two of us again. The exit from Cartagena has been chaotic. There are no traffic rules whatsoever. At least no one abides by any. Cars, trucks, motorcycles overtaking on both sides, on shoulders, or wherever there was a bit of room. Even if the road had two lanes, you would always see more than just two vehicles at once. Sharing lanes is not just normal here, it’s almost compulsory, otherwise you’re unsafe: everyone will honk at you to make room for them to share the lane with you. There is no  such thing as dominant position on the lane here:) At some point one bus was moving onto my lane; I thought the driver didn’t see me, and I honked; and yet he kept moving over, so I had to move to the side as much as I could so I don’t get squished. They are so used to the small bikes here, that fit along with other vehicles on one lane. But our bikes are way bigger, plus the luggage, so it gets quite sketchy at times.

Also, the suburbs of Cartagena were not as clean and nice as the city itself.

But in exchange we were impressed with how nice and friendly all the soldiers and policemen along the way were, all waving at us smiling. We have such a great feeling about Columbia so far, and it just gets better and better. Columbia just has a special vibe. People are really nice and friendly, chatty, hospitable and fun. We feel very welcomed. Viva Colombia!

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Once out of town, we took a little road that I don’t know if I should qualify it as paved, or gravel. There were little patches of pavement here and there. And it was so bumpy, it felt like a landmine (you can’t really tell from the pics)

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It looks like in Colombia all road are toll roads. All of them! But fortunately bikers are exempt, so we just had to go through a separate narrow lane on the right hand side.

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Along the way, as the traffic was very heavy and the road very narrow crossing through the mountains, we had to break  a lot of traffic laws and go faster than the speed limit to overtake in areas where we were not supposed to etc. The rule of “whoever fits” applies here everywhere.

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At some point we see a police van in front of us, with the emergency lights on, and a policeman on a motorcycle behind it. So of course we slow down, as the speed limit was 50 km an hour in that area. After a couple of minutes of “correct riding” (probably the longest time in this trip) we see the policeman on the motorcycle waving at us to pass them, and the police van moved to the right as much as it could to make room for us to share the lane with them and pass them. That was unbelievable. I never thought I would pass a police car in an emergency mission, speeding, in a blind corner and over a double continuous lane!

We kept riding until late in the evening, since it was difficult to find a decent hotel/ hostel with parking for our bikes. The ones that were decent didn’t have parking and the ones that had parking were too spooky. So by the time we managed to find something, it was peach dark outside. But we found a good place, and they let us put the bikes in the restaurant, downstairs. It was so well worth waiting to find a good place! We had dinner over there as well, and the food tasted just like back home, when my mom was cooking for me:) We both missed this kind of food so much! We were tired of burgers, fries, and beans with no taste that we had in the last few countries. It looks like Colombians are very good cooks! It’s time to put back those pounds I lost in the beginning of the trip:)

Here’s the little village we stopped in:

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The next day we had one of the most epic rides of the trip.We started in the rain in the morning, and went up the mountain, on a nice twisty road. The only downside was that the road was very narrow, bumpy and uneven, with lots of washouts, and extremely busy. But on bikes we still managed to pass all the traffic and enjoy the ride. I was glad we stopped for the night in time the day before and we didn’t continue on this road in the dark, it would have been suicide.

At the top of the mountain, we entered really dense fog. I could barely see Vasile in front of me. It was a lot easier when cars coming from the opposite direction had their lights on, but that was very rare. Most of the time we would just find ourselves in front of a big truck coming towards us half way on our lane, and we would have to swerve quickly to avoid it.

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We passed by some incredibly nice villages in the mountains. One wonders how they could build all those houses on those steep hills.

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As people here seem to be a lot more laid back, it looks like they need several roosters to wake them up in the morning:)
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Here is another little town in the brains of the mountains seen from 2300 m altitude (that was the highest altitude we reached that day crossing through the mountains).

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The ride from up there to Medellin was epic

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As we got closer to Medellin, the road became a lot better and wider, so we could speed up. We heard a lot of good things about Medellin, but despite that I was still very pleasantly surprised when I got there. It was a lot more than I expected. This city is like a jewel.

Once in the city we went straight to a motorcycle dealership to buy a new front tire for my bike, since the one I head was worn out big time. Here, on a four blocks area, you can find anything you want for a motorcycle. There are motorcycle shops everywhere.

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We found the tire, and for $15 they replaced it for me and balanced it.

Then Vasile replaced the crooked screws in my handlebars, so now my handlebar is finally stable and straight. Then he tightened the chain, since whenever I was gearing down, my bike was making a really funny loud noise.

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Then Vasile decided that we should replace the rear tire too, since it has over 20,000 km on it already. And even though it looks like it could last longer, it would be a good idea to have it replaced now, when we can find everything we need. And good thing he did, since when he replaced the tire he realised that the rear bearings were gone.

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So here’s my bike all fixed now, and with new shoes:) This should take care of all the wobbles at high speed and dipping at low speed.

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Vasile also had his bike’s underfender fixed. For $15 those guys did a great job. Here is the before and after.

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Then we settled in a nice biker friendly hostal, Shamrock, in the Poblado area.Vasile could not help not noticing the orange accent wall, orange sheets and the posters with bikes all over the walls of our room:)

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The day after Al, the owner of the hostal, a biker himself and prowd owner of two KTMs, took us for a ride to Guatape, a nice little town about 80km from here. And as a bonus, he let Vasile try his bike, a KTM 990 SMR. Vasile was happy as a kid with a new toy. He came back more than excited (“OMG, this is awesome! You’ve got to be kidding me” – for those who don’t know him; those who know him, I am sure you can picture him:)

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This was a good opportunity for me to try my new tires too. And what a difference! My bike feels so stable now, I can lean it as much as I want without having any wobble (I have to admit I left all the luggage at the hostal, I have to see how it feels when I put all the luggage back on) and at low speed it doesn’t dip too fast anymore. It felt like a different bike, I had so much fun on it! Well, except a little incident right after we left. I was having fun on some twisties, when my bike started acting as if it was about to stall. I was at 60km an hour, and on 3rd gear, so it wasn’t that I was going too slow on high gear. Then all of a sudden my speedometer dropped to 0 and when I pulled the throttle, the bike had no power whatsoever. I slowed down, shifted to first gear, pulled the throttle, and it worked now. So I thought I must have done something wrong, and I kept going. Thirty seconds later, my bike dies completely, no light, nothing on my dashboard. I was just happy that it didn’t happen while I was overtaking other cars, minutes earlier. I pulled over and told Vasile. And he goes “I think I know what it is, your battery must have disconected somehow”. I was so happy it wasn’t something more serious. I was already picturing my bike being towed to BMW dealership, and a couple thousand dollars leaving my pocket in haste.

Emergency fixing on the side of the road. Fifteen minutes later, my bike works just great. In moments like this I am so happy I brought Vasile with me:)

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The ride to Guatape was very challenging but a lot of fun. Very busy, bumper to bumper, twisty, washouts (I know, I start to sound like a broken record), so we had to overtake all the time, on the oposite lane, sharing lanes, on the shoulder, wherever there was enough room. And if anything comes from the opposite direction, you just try to squeeze through, in between lanes. I think at the end of the day we were ready to drive in UK or Australia, since we rode most of the day on the opposite lane:) We were passing lines of cars for kilometers! The good thing was that the traffic is so used with bikes sharing lanes and riding on the opposite lane, that they seem to be very tolerant of it. No one honked at us for doing this, no one seemed mad at us. And this was the only way to do it, otherwise it would have taken us the whole day to get there.

When we got to Guatape I just fell in love! It’s the most beautiful little town I have seen so far! I could totally live there for a while.

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After a couple of hours spent around walking on the narrow streets or having some amazing coffee, we headed back.

And just so the day was complete, on the way back Vasile had a flat tire. Thank God he was just going slow on the bike lane at a toll station when it happened, otherwise it could have been a disaster. Turned out that the tire he had patched in Baja, Mexico, gave up, and because of the heat the patch opened up. In a few seconds his tire was completely flat. We pulled over righ away, on an ambulance parking spot. When the ambulance arrived they only aked me to move my bike so they can park, and told Vasile not to worry. Everyone here is just so nice! They were all trying to help Vasile: the paramedics from the ambulance, the policemen, everyone!

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And here is Vasile doing the dirty job:)

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When Vasile put the new tire on, the paramedic noticed that he needed grease, so he went to their emergency station and brough some for him.

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Lesson learnt from this: never ride with patched tubes, unless absolutely necessary. Otherwise this could spell desaster.

Once the tire fixed, we could get back on the bikes and head back to the hostel. What a beautiful day, what an amazing ride, how wonderful people! Colombia, I’m falling in love!

Categories: Colombia | 2 Comments

Crossing the Darien Gap


As most of you know, from Panama to Colombia there is no road, so the only two options are to take a flight, or a boat. We opted for the second one. At that time, we read on the boat’s website that there will be three days of relaxing in the Caribbean Sea, and then about 30 hours of straight sailing to Cartagena. So we though we could use some relaxation in the Caribbean islands, and then, how bad could those 30 hours be? After all, this is all supposed to be an adventure, no? Well, it looks like the adventure just started.

On the 26th we woke up in the morning and got ready. Here we are gearing up for some rain. Panama’s weather is the most unpredictable.

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Then we waited for a truck that was supposed to come pick up some supplies for the boat in Panama City, so we were supposed to follow the truck to Barzukun, the place where we were taking the boat from, since apparently the directions were not very straight forward. After almost 5 hours of waiting the truck arrived and we barely had the time to jump on the bikes and left. It was all a bit chaotic, since we were five bikes following a truck in a crazy traffic. So at the first turn onto a busy road where we had to yield to traffic we lost each other already. We managed to find each other again, and then we had to ride very close to each other and almost cutting off traffic and sharing lanes so we can stick together. The first part of the ride was just regular. But then the second part was a mere roller coaster!!! Steep up, steep down, sharp turn to the left, sharp turn to the right and steep up etc. At some point, especially on the high points, I was feeling an emptiness in my stomach, and then the steep down sections were like a falling.

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And to top that up, there were washouts after every corner.

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At some point the road was so narrow due to a landslide that I was wondering how trucks manage to drive by? But going by this picture, it looks like not too well.

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That was even crazier, to see on that tiny narrow road traffic on both ways. In moments like this I am happy I ride a motorcycle, so I can squeeze by. But I don’t really see how two trucks or big cars can go by each other. This was definitely one of the craziest roads we’ve done in this trip!

And we finally got there. This was the end of our journey in Panama and Central America.

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Then we met Michael, the captain of the boat. And he tells us that if we manage to get a small boat to carry the bikes to his boat now, we can load them already. So far so good.

So now we are talking to these local guys that have a small boat, to take our bikes to the ship. The problem is, their boat has a roof, so we won’t be able to pull the bikes up once at the ship. The solution: they tied up a canoe to the boat, so we put the bikes in the canoe. I know, it sounds crazy, but don’t worry, it’s even crazier than it sounds:)

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And then the loading of the bikes from the canoe to the ship. I have to admit it was quite stressful to see our bikes hanging on an old rope, above the water. Especially after seeing what their safety standards were.

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Once we loaded all the bikes and the luggage on the ship, they took us to Carti island, very close by, to a “hostel”. It was probably one of the best experiences we had so far. The island was inhabited by Kuna Yala people, the indigenous of Panama. Nice little huts and narrow dirt alleys were making the little village.

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They were so friendly and open, and once we settled in our hostel, we went to a restaurant and we had some great food, and a beer drinking competition between our group and the Kuna group.

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When the restaurant closed for the night, we went on the dock with the Kuna people and continued the party. That was one great night! We were all regreting to have wasted so much time in Panama City instead to have come here. But we didn’t know.

The next day they took us in a small boat to the ship, where we met the rest of the travelers and the crew. Here is our boat, our home for the next five days.

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The first day we sailed for about an hour and then we stopped by a small island for swimming and snorkeling. This little paradise was a very good start, but very misleading about what was about to come.

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The water was gorgeous for swimming. At night, they took us to the island and we had a beach party, with fire, music and drinks, after we had a great lobster dinner.

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The second day we sailed for about two hours and then again we stopped by another island for swimming and snorkeling. In the evening we went to Elefant Island where they made barbecue for us and we partied again untill late. And here we are leaving the island to go back to the boat. Our little boat didn’t have enough horse power so it needed a little help:)

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The third day, we sailed for four hours, and then again stopped for more swimming and snorkeling. So far so good, no? It looks too good to be true. But after this last stop, the real adventure is starting. We are supposed to sail for 30 hours straight to Cartagena, against current, against wind, against waves. And the seas here are famous for being very nervous. On top of that, the captain tells us that this is the worst time of the year for sailing on these seas.

So here is starting to get real: waves splashing everywhere, getting into the boat, that they had to lock all windows. The boat was rocking so bad that it was impossible to walk around. As I started to be seasick right away, despite the Dramamine taken every four hours, I was laying on a bench in the leaving room area. For 35 hours I had to lay there, and didn’t dare to seat up, since I was getting nausea right away. I would only seat up to eat quickly something, three times a day. It was almost impossible to use the toilets, since the boat was rocking so bad that things would splash everywhere. Also the generator that was helping flush the toilets were down each day for half a day. In the leaving room area stuff were falling off the shelves everywhere, and the crew were barely keeping up with it. Looking by the window I would see waves taller than the boat. Vasile went upstairs on the deck a few times and he said that many times, when the boat was tilting to a side, the waves were actually splashing all the way over the boat. We were very happy that we tarped the bikes so the salted water didn’t get to them, despite the promise of the captain that no water will get to them. This was pretty much a horror movie. An 85 ft boat was tossed around in the open ocean like a little nutshell. The good part was that I was so sick that I didn’t even have time to panic or to get scared. And as you can imagine we have no pictures of it, since the camera would’ve flown all over the place.

At some point the wind ripped off one of the wind generators that flew right by two of the guys that were laying down on the back of the boat at that time.This was not a big threat for the boat, since the boat had another generator, but it was just dangerous to continue with it like that, since as it was turning, broken, the blades were flying off everywhere, so the captain stopped to fix it.

I thought I was the only one that felt so bad, but when we finally got to calm see, and everyone came out of their cabins, I could see their green faces, so I realized that all passengers with very few exceptions have been very seasick, even though everyone onboard was taking pills. So I guess this time the sea has won:) I could hear everyone around me swearing that this was the last time they would put foot on a boat:)

The unloading of the bikes was another shit show. Complete chaos, disorganised, bikes on the little dingy and off to the shore. But thank god we got there safe and sound, and bikes in alright condition.

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Now the next challenge was to do the immigration and customs quickly, since it was the 31st of December and they were closing at noon. The good thing was that the captain’s girlfriend took care of our immigration, so we didn’t even have to go there, we only handed her the passports. Then she put us in contact with a German guy who, for $35 each, did the customs for us, so we managed to finish before noon. The only thing that we didn’t manage to do was the insurance, since insurance is compulsory in Colombia. The offices were closed already. So we had to stay in Cartagena until the 2nd, to get the insurance too. In the meantime we took our chances and rode the bikes through town to find a place to stay. Well, that wasn’t easy. We walked through all the hostels, all the hotels, and there was nothing left. We were even considering camping on Playa Blanca now, when we met this Jamaican guy, Donald, and he offered to rent us two rooms in the house he lived in, for $10 per person. This was great! We took the offer right away, and here we are unloading our stuff, and doing laundry (after all the boat ride, we so needed it!) and washing our bikes so the salt doesn’t damage them.

In the meantime Donald cooked dinner for us and we all eat and had some beers. Then we went out to town, since it was New Years after all. It was nice to watch all the fireworks and all the people dancing on the streets. This was a totally different New Years celebration! But as we were very tired we did not party until the morning as we would normally do, and around 1 am we were nice and cosy in our beds, sleeping tight:)

So far we love Colombia! More about it to come in the next post.

Categories: Colombia, Panama | 5 Comments

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