We had only cycled for a few minutes out of the main tourist area before noticing that Colombian life looked much different here. Everything and everyone looked a bit dirtier and life looked a bit more real, compared to the tourist area that we had been staying in. There were big markets where people sold mainly fish, people were sleeping on the side of the road and children were running around with nothing on below their waists. As we cycled along people would mainly do a double take, but we would also receive occasional waves, smiles or a friendly "Hola". It felt good to be noticed again, we had spent two weeks of being “just another Gringo” and now we were doing something that was unusual and just a bit “loco”!
As we left the city we stopped to ask a couple of people to confirm our directions, as our map is not that detailed for the big city outskirts. We soon realised though that they were all trying to direct us to Playa Blanca, which is a beach that lots of tourists go to. Maybe it was our terrible Spanish or maybe they were just trying to send us on a nice beach holiday but we suddenly arrived at the ferry to Playa Blanca, which was also a dead end. Thankfully we only had to back track for 3km before getting back on to the correct road.
The roads on the first day were really good; they were paved, with very little traffic, some had a substantial hard shoulder that we could use as a bike lane and best of all, it was flat!!
! We stopped lots of times for water and three times for juice drinks. Most little villages have a shop that sells cold drinks and has a covered area, with plastic seats outside for you to enjoy them in the shade. That was all we needed, a bit of shade and a break from the bike seat. Although we cycled 92km on the first day, neither of us felt like we could stomach any food during the day, it was just too hot. As the afternoon wore on, Kory stopped for a pee by the side of the rode, and even though he had drunk 4 litres of water and 1.5 litres of juice drinks, we realised we were both getting de-hydrated still; I could’ve wrung more liquid out of my t-shirt than Kory managed to pee out!!
As we cycled through a small town dark clouds began to build and we heard thunder in the distance. It sounded like there was rain coming, but sometimes there seems to be lots of thunder and lightning and hardly any rain. We decided to stay the night in the town anyway, as it was 3pm and we had cycled almost 100km. We asked a local guy if there was a hostel we could stay at and were informed that this was indeed Maria La Baja, which was the town we were hoping to make it to today, but we thought was another 20km off. The road signs to show the direction tends to be alright, but they don’t seem to include the distances for anywhere other than the major cities, or have a place name sign when you enter a town/city
. So it was a pleasant surprise to hear that we had actually made it to our destination. He then continued for a few minutes in very fast Spanish, which we had no idea where to even start to try to interpret, so we just thanked him and carried on. We looked around for a couple of minutes and then asked a teenage girl for help. She laughed her head off at our Spanish, but was very pleasant and knew what we were trying to get at. At least she spoke very slowly in response, and although we understood most of what she was saying she decided it would be easier to just walk us to the nearest hotel and find the manager for us and help to check us in. She was lovely, and came with me to check out the room and did all the speaking on the manager’s behalf. She even helped us carry our bags and everything up the two floors to our room.
About 30 seconds after we arrived into our room the heavens opened and there was a huge downpour. It was stormy for the rest of the afternoon and evening. We weren’t too concerned though; all we wanted to do was flop onto the bed and relax. It didn’t stop the locals though, we watched about ten children play football in the rain for hours until it got dark. There appeared to be a huge celebration going on all day, with lots of really loud music, people dancing, and slightly more bizarrely, people had white powder all over their heads and faces
. We had no idea what it was about, maybe this is what they do every Sunday, but regardless of the reason, they all seemed to be having fun and I enjoyed watching them, whilst lying on my bed. It was a pretty basic hotel, which was clearly intended for local people rather than for foreigners. Our favourite feature was that only some of the window slats actually had glass panes in them, but as Kory pointed out we should just make the most of it as it would be the only air-conditioning that we would be getting. We also lost all power for a couple of hours and the hotel people gave us a candle for light instead, somehow the party outside still continued though, as they had a generator for their music. We ate our packed lunch that we had carried all day and crawled into bed for an early night. It was a good first day in the seat and thankfully we were too exhausted to be worried about the cleanliness of the sheets.
We planned to get up early and hit the road before it got too hot, so we were all packed up and ready to start peddling by 7am. We were both quite nervous and Kory spent most of the prep time in the bathroom, hopefully he would be fine once we got on the road. The hostel staff gave us numerous curious looks as we walked about in our cycle gear, and pushed our heavily laden bikes out on to the street. My heart felt heavy with nerves as we took some photos of our departure. However, as we cycled off my spirits rose and my nerves were replaced by excitement. It didn't make my bike feel any less of a tank though and I immediately realised that the main thing I had to get used to would be cycling on the wrong side of the road! As we left Cartagena we cycled up onto a small road bridge over a river…it felt like we were summiting the Andes already, although I still clearly remember our last cycle trip my muscles must’ve forgotten.