10 March - San Rafael del Mojan, Venezuela -
Macao, Colombia - 90 km
It was a surprisingly nice ride to the
border. We cycled along a salt lake and, although it was quite
windy, it was a scenic ride. Interestingly enough, we also
passed the spot where, on 26 February 1998, people came from far
and wide to watch a total eclipse of the sun.
It was Saturday and market day, so there was
plenty of fresh fruit and veggies along the road.
We soon reached the border and it was an easy
crossing into Colombia. We were hardly across the border when we
were offered watermelon at one of the stalls along the road. We
cycled into the chaotic town of Maicao. We weaved through the
hectic traffic until we found a room for the night. Pavement
restaurants were aplenty and there was therefore no need to cook
11-12 March - Maicao - Riohacha - 82 km
Powered by the wind, we flew across the
windswept Peninsula de Guajira. With its thorn trees and goats,
it is a unique part of Colombia - few travellers ever come to
this part of Colombia. Along the way we had the opportunity to
eat grilled goat meat with the local Wayuu tribe - what an
In Riohacha we found a room and also stayed
the following day. I sorted out my new internet connection and
we did some much-needed shopping at the local Carrefour. It was
quite a novelty just walking around such a fancy store.
13-14 March - Riohacha – Palomino - 96 km
It was one of those stunning, happy days on
the road. The weather was good (mid 30’s), there was a slight
tailwind and beautiful scenery. The thorn trees abruptly
disappeared and we were back in the tropical, coastal area of
Colombia. Around 4.30 we arrived at a tiny village along the
road and I was quite surprised to find a hostel and other
travellers; the reason being the nearby Serra Nevada National
Park and the idyllic beaches of the Caribbean coast. The park is
interesting in that it has the highest coastal mountains in the
world. They rise to a height of 5775 metres above sea level, at
a distance of only 42 km from the Caribbean coast.
Both the hostel and the other travellers were
rather interesting. Most of the travellers seemed to be of the
hippie type, dreadlocks and all. It was fascinating speaking to
them and listening to all their beliefs and ideas.
A short walk through the forest brought me
to an indigenous village where people still wear traditional
clothes and go about their daily life in their own traditional
way. They were quite camera-shy and quickly disappeared when
they saw me. But then again, they have resisted contact with
outsiders for centuries! I later learned that there are some 30
000 indigenous peoples, particularly the Arhuaco, Kogui and Wiwa
living in the area.
15 March - Palomino – Casa Grande - 40 km
The local store sold the most interesting
colourful sheaths. They appeared to be quite popular as just
about every man I saw had one. I must mention that the store
also sold plastic chairs and Coca-Cola! Even the wall art was
rather interesting - in fact, I found just about everything in
this area strangely interesting.
After packing up we cycled along a beautiful
stretch of coastal road. The yearly average rainfall in the park
is 4000mm at elevations of 500m to 1500m above sea level. It is
therefore very much a tropical rainforest with interesting trees
growing 30m to 40m high. Once we spotted a nice beach where we
could camp we pulled in and pitched our tents. It was still
early so we took a walk along the beach to a nearby store for
provisions for breakfast. Back at our tents we swung in hammocks
watching the surf while drinking a beer.
16-17 March - Casa Grande – Taronga - 47 km
It was a rather hilly road to Santa Marta and
up and over a steep hill to the tiny fishing village of Taronga.
Maybe I should say “used to be a tiny fishing village” as by now
backpackers have discovered this tiny village and we found more
hostels than local houses. Down on the beach, however, fishermen
were still bringing in the catch of the day at sunset. Although
it is now a popular traveller’s destination, it still has a
village feel to it where goats wander down the main road and
pavement stalls sell cheap snacks.
18-20 March -
Taganga – Santa Marta - 19 km
We cycled up and over the hill again to Santa
Marta where Ernest found a bike shop to do some maintenance.
After that was done it was too late in the day to set off again
so we found a hostel close to the beach for the night. We even
met a South African girl looking for a teaching job in town. It
is very seldom that we bump into fellow South Africans so we
chatted away the afternoon.
Santa Marta was more interesting than we had
expected. A walk into town revealed a large statue of Simón
Bolivar. Simón Bolívar was a Venezuelan military leader who was
instrumental, along with José de San Martín, in freeing Latin
America from the Spanish Empire. Today he is revered as South
America's greatest hero, and is known as The Liberator. He is
still considered one of the most influential politicians in
Latin American history, and no self-respecting town is without a
Simón Bolivar plaza.
Santa Marta is the oldest (remaining) city in
South America and therefore has a great architectural heritage
with beautifully renovated colonial buildings, lively squares
and a very pleasant waterfront.
The region was also home to the Tairona
people until the Spanish arrived. The Spanish attempted to take
the women and children as slaves and the Tairona population fled
into the forest and moved higher up the Sierra Nevada de Santa
Marta. This allowed them to escape the worst of the Spanish
colonial system during that time. There are therefore quite a
few monuments in town depicting the Taironas.
That all said and done, we stayed another day
and Ernest went into the market to have his tent zip fixed. I
wandered around town exploring the narrow lanes and alleys in
the old part. Sometimes you just stumble across a really
comfortable hostel, like the one we were in, and can just laze
I had decided to do the six day trek to
Ciudad Perdida, so I spent most of the day getting my stuff
ready for the following morning.
Ciudad Perdida is an ancient city in the
Sierra Nevada, Colombia. It is believed to have been founded
about 800 AD, some 650 years earlier than Machu Picchu. Ciudad
Perdida housed app. 2 000 to 8 000 people and was apparently
abandoned during the Spanish conquest.
21 March - Day 1
We were picked up from the hostel and, after
a 2-3 hour drive, we reached the start of the trek. We had a
light lunch and then headed up the misty mountains, together
with members of the local tribe and their mules carting their
shopping, including a flat-screen TV and a satellite dish! No
sooner had we started and we reached our first swim spot. The
water was crystal clear and no time was wasted diving in. Then
it was up, up, up, on a muddy and slippery path, past indigenous
villages and to the top of the first climb. On the other side we
slipped and slided along the muddy path until we reached our
first camp for the night.
Accommodation was in comfortable
mosquito-netted hammocks, and after settling in, it was time for
a beer while our guides cooked up a rather tasty meal on an open
22 March - Day 2
We woke early due to the noises from the
forest and after breakfast we set off again. A muddy path led us
through a dense and picturesque forest. The river crossings were
easy as it’s not the rainy season (although it still rained
every evening) and these made good swimming spots which were
welcomed in the heat and humidity of the forest.
After a 4-hour trek, we reached our second
camp which consisted of mosquito-netted beds this time – a
luxury! We reached the camp early and sat playing cards while
our guides cooked supper. After sunset the mosquitoes were out
in full force and I was happy that I had brought two bottles of
mosquito repellent. It was not only the bugs that were out, but
also the fire-flies which seemed larger and brighter than any
fire-fly I have ever seen.
23 March - Day 3
We woke early in anticipation of a long day’s
trek. Indigenous villages just seem to pop out of the dense
forest. This area is home to the the Kogi (a Native American
ethnic group) that lives in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in
Colombia. Their civilization, I understand, extends from the
Again we had plenty of swimming spots along
the way where we were given fresh fruit to nibble on. We reached
our camp at around midday, had lunch and then set off to the
ruins of Ciudad Perdida. Ciudad Perdida consists of a series of
169 terraces carved into the mountainside. The entrance can only
be accessed by a climb up some 1 200 stone steps through dense
jungle. I was quite impressed with the ruins as they were larger
and more impressive than I had expected.
24 March - Day 4
It was time to start heading down hill.
Although it was hot and humid, there were several river
crossings and numerous places to go for a refreshing swim.
25 March - Day 5
The final day arrived and after breakfast we
first visited a waterfall before heading down the final stretch
and then back to Santa Marta. The trail was often muddy, uphill
and slick - busloads of fun!
26-27 March - Santa Marta
I seriously had to do some laundry and
reorganise my panniers. It was time to get on the road again. It
was also exactly five years since I left Cape Town so I invested
in a bottle of wine and a bag of crisps.
28 March - Santa Marta – Barranquilla - 110
The day went much as expected, except for a
steep 5 km uphill out of Santa Marta – didn’t see that one
coming! The road between Santa Marta and Barranquilla runs
along a narrow strip of land wedged between the Caribbean Ocean
and Lake Santa Marta. Needless to say, it is a very ‘fishy’
area: the lake was chock-a-block with small wooden boats, all
casting their nets looking for something for the pot. The road
was lined with stalls selling cooked shrimps and fresh fish
(uncooked). Wooden shacks lined the shores of both the lake and
the ocean; it was a completely different world to the mountains
I’d just returned from.
On reaching Barranquilla, we found another
hectic city with crazy traffic, and what appeared to be
dilapidated buildings. We found a room for 18 000 pesos. You
can’t expect much for that price, so we ignored the broken
windows and settled in for the night.
29 March - Barranquilla – Porte Veronica
- 46 km
We left at around 10 and already it was
boiling hot. The sky was cloudless and the sun beat down
relentlessly. The road was fairly up and down so when we spotted
a tiny coastal village, we pulled in. We found accommodation
right on the beach and had lunch and a beer on the beach in the
shade of a gazebo. Just the thing for a boiling hot day!
30 March - Porte Veronica – Cartagena - 87 km
About 50 km from Cartagena we spotted the
Volcán del Totumo, a 15m high mud volcano. We turned off and
what a good thing: it was quite an experience! El Totumo is an
active mud volcano, but instead of spewing out lava, it spits
out mud. You first have to climb up a wooden staircase to the
rim of the crater and then lower yourself into the bottomless
pit of smooth lukewarm mud! I wallowed in (what I believed to
be) mineral-rich mud, like a contented hippo. The nearby lake
then served as a natural bath for washing off the mud. Then it
was back on the bike and onto Cartagena.
31 March - Cartagena
Cartagena is a pretty and interesting city
with a long history. Various cultures and indigenous people have
occupied the area around Cartagena since as far back as 4000
B.C. Spanish Cartagena was founded on June 1, 1533 and named
after Cartagena, Spain. The increasing wealth of this prosperous
city turned it into an attractive plunder site for pirates. The
city set about strengthening its defenses and surrounded itself
with walled compounds and castles. Cartagena's colonial walled
city is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Inside the elaborate town walls lies the old
city with cobblestoned streets, leafy plazas and old buildings
with beautiful bougainvillea-covered balconies.
1 April - Cartagena
We pondered which route to take: whether to
take a boat or fly to Panama. Most people take the boat or fly
from here, so we took to the streets looking for a boat. We did
not find any leaving within the next day or two, and could not
make up our minds about what to do. So instead we wondered the
streets of the old city, had a few beers and ate some snacks
from roadside stalls.
It was another stinking hot day and I
couldn’t wait for sunset, which brings some relief from the
2 April - Cartagena – Cruz de Viso - 51 km
We packed up and cycled out of the busy
Cartagena. The traffic was bumper to bumper and it was after 11
a.m by the time we cleared the city limits. It was incredibly
hot and sweat ran out of my body like a tap left open.
Even after we left the city limits, the
traffic was backed up for kilometres on end. An overturned truck
was blocking the entire oncoming lane. The outgoing lane was
blocked due to an oversized vehicle that could not get past the
backed-up traffic, which instead of waiting in line, tried to
jump the queue – what a mess! We, fortunately, had a free run.
After about 50 km the heavens opened up.
Heavy rain, thunder and lightning forced us to take shelter at a
service station. We waited the storm out which was great, but by
that time the traffic jam had freed up and the blocked-up
traffic came thundering past. We decided to take a room in the
next village and continue on in the morning when the road was
free again. It was a great room and it came with cable TV and
air-con! I sooo needed the air-con as I was starting to come out
in a heat rash again.
3 April - Cruz de Viso – Toluviejo - 81 km
It was a slow day on the road. It was hot and
the road was in really bad condition, so the going was rather
slow. It was however a scenic ride as we cycled past cattle
ranches. On reaching Toluviejo, it was already too late to
continue on to Tolu, so we found a room.
4 April - Toluviejo - Tolu - 20 km
We cycled a mere 20 km before arriving in
Tolu – another idyllic coastal village. Little did we know that
it was the beginning of the Easter weekend. Easter weekend here
runs from Thursday to Sunday. The tiny fishing village of Tolu
was chock-a-block with holiday makers. The beachfront was a
hectic and festive place, jam-packed with traders, food stalls
and music. We decided to stay put and enjoy the festive mood.
5 April - Tolu – Cerete - 94 km
From Tolu we headed along the coast for about
20 km. The coastal road was lined with beachfront accommodation
which looked like an idyllic place to stay. We continued past
and soon headed inland along the river. The road was again in
poor condition and the going slow. Along the way we met other
cyclists on their way south. We chatted for a while and then set
On reaching Cerete, we found a roadside hotel
and it suited us just fine for the night. Pavement stalls
provided cheap and tasty food for supper.
6 April - Cerete – Arboletes - 86 km
The road was much hillier than we had
expected. Not only was it hot, but we were cycling into a
headwind - up and down, up and down we went! I was more than
happy to reach the end of the day. Once again Arboletes came as
a pleasant surprise. It is a tiny seaside village with a lovey
beach, tiny offshore islands, plenty of food and fruit stalls
and a generally pleasant atmosphere. Arboletes means "land of
trees", though this is purely historical. Almost all the forests
in the area were cleared to make way for the thriving cattle
In fact, it was so nice that we even stayed
the following day. Early morning I was out on the beach and just
about the only person there. This section of the coast appears
to be way off the beaten track, and is seldom visited by
8 April - Arboletes – Mellito - 61 km
On Ernest’s birthday we set off down the road
again. The nice paved road we were on gradually disappeared,
becoming a dusty potholed road. As the day wore on, the road
deteriorated even more and became a muddy, stony and bumpy road.
At a snail’s pace, we moved along, creeping up the hills, past
tiny villages where people stared at us in amazement. Busses and
trucks moved no faster than us as they tried to avoid the worst
of the potholes.
On reaching a small settlement, we called it
a day and decided to tackle the rest of the road the following
morning. So Ernest did not have much of a birthday. We did
however buy a few beers to wash down the bread and cheese we
found in the small shop.
9 April - Mellito – Turbo - 69 km
There was nothing to do but get back on the
muddy and potholed road. Fortunately, the bad road only lasted
for about another 20 km. From Necocli onwards, it was a good
paved road, except for the 5 km that was not paved. At Necocli
we asked around for a boat to Panama but had no luck.
50 km down the road we reached the hectic,
dusty and crazy town of Turbo. We found a room across the road
from the port and sat on the balcony watching life go by. The
horse and cart is still put to good use and seems to be the
preferred means of transport to and from the harbour.
10 April - Turbo
We enquired about a cargo boat to Panama but
it appears that it is not legal for cargo boats to take
passengers. Apparently there is a check point close by so no one
was prepared to give us a ride. There were, however, boats
running to and from Capurgana (still in Colombia) but across the
Gulf of Uraba on a daily basis.
11 April - Turbo
We were up early, packed the bikes and moved
across the road to the port. The ticket office is a busy place
as many boats leave from Turbo for various destinations.
Fortunately we met Simon (an Austrian guy now living in
Colombia) who spoke to the ticket lady on our behalf. The
problem appeared to be the bikes. They were too big and the boat
was already full. Various people came to look at the bikes
shaking their heads and talking away in Spanish. They were
apparently worried that the port authorities would deem the
bikes as cargo, and would not allow the boat to continue. We
stood around for a while and to make a long story short – we
bought tickets for the following day. We received a piece of
paper as proof, but just how official that was going to be, we
did not know. It appeared that almost everything is possible -
all you need is plenty of time and patience.
12-13 April - Turbo – Capurgana (by boat)
We loaded our bikes again and moseyed down to
the port. The boat was full, both with people and luggage, to
such an extent that Ernest had to sit right in front on top of
all the luggage. Now that wouldn’t have been such a bad thing if
it had been a smooth ride! It was, however, an extremely bumpy
ride (to put it mildly). We pounded the waves at high speed,
hanging on for dear life.
After two hours of being jerked around, we
arrived at Capurgana with stiff necks and sore backsides. The
ride was soon forgotten as we arrived at this tiny remote
village. The sea was a true Caribbean blue, and with no road to
Capurgana, it is as remote as it gets. We settled (like rich
people) for a room right on the water! We swam and snorkelled
in the clear lukewarm water and sat on our little balcony,
enjoying the evening breeze. I found a bottle of papaya wine and
we sat sipping wine as the sun set.
We got our exit stamp from the small
immigration office and were all set to go to Panama. We kind of
overslept the following morning (must have been due to the
papaya wine) and decided to take the boat to Puerto Obaldia,
Panama the following day.
14 April - Capurgana, Columbia to Puerto
Obaldia, Panama - and back!
We were up early so that we didn’t miss the
boat to Puerto Obaldia. The boat was quite small, barely able to
take four of us with luggage and the two bikes. It was pouring
with rain as we loaded up and set off over the swells along the
rugged coastline towards Panama. Due to the rain, sea spray and
wind, I felt absolutely frozen for most of the half-hour on the
water. It was a little disconcerting that we had to pull in at
the tiny Sapzurro, about halfway, to top up on fuel, and the
single outboard seemed to be spluttering a bit at times. Our
first sighting of Panama through the driving rain, the miserable
little military outpost of Puerto Obaldia, wasn’t particularly
exciting. We offloaded, packed the bikes, were checked by the
army at the end of the pier, and headed in the direction of the
We felt justifiably uneasy when the
immigration officer kept paging through our passports and
looking at us suspiciously. So, we weren’t all that surprised
when he said that we needed a visa applied for in our home
country to enter Panama (contrary to the info we’d gathered from
the internet), and he refused us an entry stamp.
While we were trying to figure out what to do
next, we set up camp out of the rain in a derelict house where
some of the other waiting travelers (including two other
cyclists) were also sheltering. However, the immigration officer
soon re-appeared and ordered us onto the next boat back to
Columbia. We sat waiting for about two hours at the dock, and by
this time the rain had stopped, so we were being scorched by the
sun (from one extreme to the other). But that is not the end of
the story. Upon arrival back in Capurgana, Colombian officials
informed us that two days had passed since we were stamped out
of their country, so they could not reverse our exit stamps. Now
we had to go to a major Colombian city (about a week away by
bicycle from where the boat would drop us), and await our fate.
So, for the time being, we floated around, neither in Panama nor
15 April - Capurgana
Seeing that there is a small consulate for
Panama in Capurgana we decided to wait out the weekend and see
if they could maybe help us. We doubted whether that would help,
but it was worth a try.
We found a really cheap room and found more
people with problems getting into Panama. One, an Argentinian,
was refused entry to Panama because he had musical instruments
with him, and was thus deemed to be a working musician and could
not enter as a tourist.
In the meantime, we sent an email to the
South African embassy asking for our visa status in Panama.
The place we stayed at was very interesting,
bare and basic wooden rooms with a communal kitchen where
everyone gathered. The kitchen was an outside gazebo in the
garden and, due to the lack of gas and electricity, one had to
make a fire for cooking. I’m sure it was the fire-making
exercise that made everyone gather around, so it was the most
popular spot. The rooms were sweltering hot, and although we had
a fan, it only worked for the few hours that the electricity was
on. Needless to say, the kitchen area was also the most breezy
so that was the place where everyone hung out.
16 April - Capurgana
It was our lucky day as the embassy replied
promptly informing us that we did NOT need a visa for Panama and
attached a letter from the Panamanian embassy stating the
necessary. Although it was in English, we printed it out and set
off for the small Panamanian consulate. The two rather unhelpful
ladies continued playing their computer games (they could have
at least put the sound off!) while we sat patiently waiting.
They were not going to get rid of us that easily. Eventually one
picked up a cell phone, left the room, came back and told us
that she had confirmed with the immigration office in Panama
City that we did not need a visa. She advised us to continue on
to Puerto Obaldia and present our letter from the embassy there.
Whether she really phoned or not, we couldn’t be sure – she
might have just wanted to get rid of us. When we asked her for
the name and phone number of the person she spoke to, she
replied that it was general enquiries at the immigration office
and could not give us any name or number!
So back to the Colombian immigration we went,
and this time they could miraculously cancel our previous
exit stamps and give us new exit stamps.
17 April - Capurgana – Puerto Obaldia
It rained really hard during the night and we
woke to a fresh and damp morning. The regular boat was quite
expensive (my money was running low) so we waited at the dock
for a better offer. Finally we got a good offer. However, the
“regular boat” had a problem with the “good offer”, and after
fighting it out amongst themselves, the “regular boat”
eventually took us to Puerto Obaldia at no extra cost.
This time the sea was even rougher, but we
arrived safely and proceeded to the immigration office once
more. We went to great lengths to explain ourselves in broken
Spanish (proudly presenting our official letter and all), and
were still told to come back the next day, when the boss was in.
At least this time we were not sent back to Columbia! The
annual rainfall in the area is more than 10m p.a., so we found a
nice, covered campsite on the verandah of the derelict community
hall. I now had the total sum $85 to get both of us to Colon
city, the first place we would be able to get more money. We
spent $10 on food and a few beers and settled in while it was
pouring down with rain. We were happy that we had found a roof
to camp under; at least we could sit outside the tent, cooking