Tuesday, 29 May 2012


Day 1
I have been lucky so far – no health problems to speak of but following my trip to Cali I have caught my teacher's cold. Worse, I have a nagging cough and visits to successive chemists seemed to have yielded opposite ends of the spectrum – herbal remedies or self administered injections. I really need an decongestant because the flight to Capurgana turned me deaf and created real pain.

Otherwise it was an uneventful and fun flight. The girl climbing aboard ahead of me sported and inflated tyre-tube to cushion her recently enhance bum and she smiled at me slightly sheepishly. 
benefits of surgery
The landing was more abrupt than I expected and onto no more than a gravel embedded dirt runway.
Sea Otter 15 seater

 Two soldiers failed to greet us with any enthusiasm but scrutinised our documentation noting it slowly and meticulously in a book. I was left aside until last and asked where I was from and how long I would be staying, the former a bit oddly since he had my passport I his hand – maybe a trick question? There is actually quite a lot of army presence here and later I noticed a small bivouac encampment under the trees where automatic rifles had been left carelessly unattended – then I came across two soldiers sharing a joint. Generally the soldiers are young, quiet and amble around in small groups and look pretty unmenacing – but they do go out into the jungle on night patrol and can be seen returning purposefully with full kit in the morning.
ready for action?
I was met by Juan Andres and we walked to the hotel where I was greeted with a cold drink. Capurganar has no cars or trucks and is peaceful except for the occasional motorbike – other forms of transport are walk, bike and horse. I actually think I may be the only guest! - no there are two others but they only stayed one night – it is the 'low season' they explained – this is not entirely bad because I feel I need to be in clinical isolation. Tacacuna Lodge is located alongside what passes for the village green and was the first holiday hotel here established 35 years ago. This is both good and bad – it has now been superseded by some more upmarket competitors nearer the beach but it seems to be an accepted part of the fabric of the place. By contrast to Medallin where locals are inquisitive about foreigners here people treat me with polite indifference – which is fine.

Following a power nap in the hammock on my cabin terrace I dined on a too salty lunch of soup and fried fish and then headed off to explore. Turning right at the Caribbean sea I headed away from Panama and I enjoyed a scenic walk along the coast until I could go no further, saw leaf-cutting ants, lizards crabs and fish in pools and I took some snaps of the views.
leaf cutting ants
Returning to the village – it really needs a deep clean and make over. There are plenty of good parts but also piles of rubble, glass in the park and just untidiness. After a throat soothing ice cream I enjoyed a dip in blood warm sea and happily bobbed and floated to adjacent sounds of bachata and regaton from a nearby cafe.

Day 2

OK, so it is nearly 7pm in the evening and the electricity has knocked out for the third time. I have used plenty of repellent but I think I'm being bitten anyway. Last night was not the best - I slept fitfully and surfaced a 5.30am. Bouts of uncontrollable coughing are sapping at my motivation to do stuff but after breakfast I bought £10 worth of decent medicine and resolved to get on with the day.

Taking my face mask and video camera I headed to the beach and was pleasantly surprised at the number of small fish I could see even quite close to the shore. I played Jacques Cousteau for more than an hour and then tried filming the fish since I had recently realized that my cycling video camera is actually waterproof. This worked out quite well but I tired quickly and headed back for the sanctuary of my hammock.

In the afternoon I walked the coat in the other direction and after a couple of miles came across a wacky house mostly fabricated from driftwood where the owner offered reasonably priced coffee or lemonade, a quiet place to sit and access to a cool fresh water pool. It was worth the walk.

The combined effects of illness and medicine zapped me completely and the rest of the afternoon was spent suspended from 2 posts on my porch, swaying gently in the non existent breeze I resumed the prone state after dinner and that was that.

Days 3 and 4

In the morning I took the launch to Sapzurro, a smaller prettier town set in a bay and about 20 minutes away. From there you can head for La Miel which is in Panama. It is about a 2 mile walk climbing steps to cross the frontier at the top – It is guarded by the Panamanians and they simply take note of your passport details – crossing back isn't a problem. La Miel has a good number of soldiers, probably as many as the towns people which number about 150. There is a small primary school but older children of whom I saw 5 cross the border to school Colombia each day. I would love to see their admissions policy!

La Miel has very nice beaches with white sand I shared a quite large bay with only maybe 5 others eventually returning to Sapzurro where I had hoped for a pizza lunch but due to power cuts settled for el Menu which was surprisingly a nice curry.



La Miel
For my last day I resolved to take the line of least resistance and just hung out at the hotel and on the beach returning Friday morning on a plane somewhat delayed by a storm. Overall it would have been a great trip but I just wasn't in a good shape to enjoy it succumbing to illness, heat and humidity.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

A few days in Cali, city of salsa

It was super convenient leaving Medellin for Cali I by way of Juan Pablo II airport. It is close to my apartment - indeed planes fly over it with alarming proximity. My Dornier 328 left promptly and the flight of 45 minutes passed uneventfully.

Arriving at Cali I quickly found shuttle the bus to the bus terminal and then caught a taxi to Hostel Jovita in the bohemian district of San Antonio. The Hostel, themed for salsa and yoga offers free group classes in both, private dance lessons with about 4 different instructors and cycling tours. Perfect! My room, in close by and quiet annex offered me en suite simple accommodation at only £12 a night.

San Antonio looks as if it was the older part of town and seems to be undergoing some regeneration as a fashionably gentrified zone, mainly residential but increasingly focused on the chic restaurants, coffee bars and boutique hotels. There is a nearby park, a few galleries, the usual corner shops. The climate in Cali is such that you can take a few beers and empanadas on the street or eat al fresco on the veranda of small cafes in the balmy evening air.
San Antonio
I have tried group salsa and Yoga and have enjoyed my first Salsa Caleña lesson with Francy a lively and fun teacher who I also found on the Cali Couch-surfers forum. She is very detailed in her expectations pulling all sorts of faces at my native English lack of rhythm and style but a good partner and a fantastic dancer. So I've booked a block of 5 lessons.
Francy, dance teacher

By the second evening all was well with my classes and in the evening I knocked back a couple of beers, the flavourful dark Apóstol Blocs, in a super chilled and lovely bar called Toasky.

I began my third day in Cali with a city cycle tour with Carlos who runs a small tour business from Jovita's hostal. In truth I'm not sure there is a great deal to see in Cali. It is a little grimy, quit busy with traffic. Carlos pointed out various discos - there are loads but only a few dedicated to salsa. There are a few green parts and a nice park by the river with statues of cats themed on real women, the girlfriends of a grand Tom sitting imperiously above his harem.
City cycle tour
park of cats
The rest of my short break passed pretty well. Francy continued to insist on perfection which I was unable to muster and for the evening group session the male instructor schooled us in crossover styles with big movements and lots of arm and body waving. I probably need to work on suspending my inhibitions!

Later I had an overpriced salad and too sweet chocolate cake in a trendy cafe but the next day a nice crepes breakfast back in Toask cafe which I found out is also a B@B. Later I visited Ceramics el Palmomar a wonderful ceramics shop, cafe and garden that is really beautiful and definitely worth a visit. I bought some nice souvenirs and I hope they will survive my journey home.
garden of ceramics

I continued to consolidate my salsa culminating in a group outing to Tin Tin Deo a lively and fun salsa club with reasonable space in which to dance. Francy danced with me a couple of times making me look better than I really am and I performed adequately with other partners - following a few beers and a margarita all I felt well into it and the club atmosphere was really great and there were some talented and fast dancers. But then the club unexpectedly closed at 1am - most of the rest went on to another club but I folded and shared a taxi back to the Hostal with 3 others.

The next morning, nursing a slight headache I decided to walk up the local big hill. It sports 3 large crosses and an assortment of aerials. 

Even at 8.30 it was getting uncomfortably hot - I trusted to luck that I would be able to buy a drink en route but it was half way up before the first walker's rest where an enterprising man had set up shop with a cold box of gatorade other drinks and fresh fruit. The climb up isn't very pretty but the views are ok and there was a police presence to add to the feeling of security for the morning walkers. Although never dangerous the climb is somewhat arduous with some scrambling over rocks. At the top there is a small police station, more vendors and a group of mainly young and buff men working out on weights and benches provided for public use. 
View of Cali from hill of 3 crosses
The descent was quite straightforward and I arrived back for a late breakfast and a snooze before checking out in time for my flight back to Medellin

Monday, 14 May 2012

Riding up Santa Elena

About 15 of us turned up at 6.45 am on this sunny morning for the ride. Leaving my apartment I headed out on Carratera 33 crossing Rio Medellin before looping under the bridge towards the meeting point by the side of the 6 lane autopista, Regional. We went North then East past the centre of the city until we started climbing up through the barrio of Buenos Aires near where Pablo Escobar had built a small town on the proceeds of the drugs cartels and where even now it isn't recommended to cycle alone. 

puncture stop 1 Buenos Aires
We kept it super steady but as soon as the road headed steeply upwards past some new social housing apartments the group parted and as usual I was deselected by the stronger guys, forming a smaller group of 4 and eventually climbing to the 9.2 miles to Santa Elena a small but vibrant farming community high above the city. 

We soon had breakfast from an open air wood burning parilla and I enjoyed chicharon, arepa con queso and chocolate caliente. We then continued on through lanes not unlike Surrey's before joining the main road to Las Palmas where we descended for a further 9 miles at up to 40mph and back to the city. Unusually there were 5 punctures over the morning but even so we arrived back early by mid morning since it was Mother's day in Colombia and people had to make customary visits, buy cakes and flowers etc. The Strava feed is here

Here is a video giving a flavour of the ride

Friday, 11 May 2012

Transport in Medellin

By now I have had ample opportunity to think about my life getting around Medellin so here are a few observations.

Roads: Generally in the city they are in fair but not great condition. There are a few pot holes and lumps and bumps and not a great deal of evidence of repair. Further out of the city the main routes, for example towards Bogota and to the airport are quite smooth and can be safely descended by cycle at speeds of around 40mph. Sometimes lanes are divided by silly plastic posts, mainly on bends, presumably to stop drivers dodging back and forth in the lanes – these can appear without warning if you are overtaking a large vehicle – beware! Secondary roads around Medellin can occasionally give way to sections of compacted mud or sometimes the heavy rains dislodge a large pile of mud blocking the road, and in one case that I saw causing an accident. Marks 7/10

Traffic controls: There could easily be a saving in the cost of white paint by eliminating pedestrian crossings – traffic takes no notice of them and as a pedestrian you may as well ignore them! Traffic lights are generally but not always observed. The green to red ratio is substantially in favour of traffic rather than pedestrians and the somewhat random phasing can leave you stranded on narrow central reservations whilst traffic flies by within inches. Also, pedestrians are rarely protected from traffic turning into a road even though it is being crossed with the benefit of a green man light - so peripheral vision, twitchy eyes and the ability to dodge and sprint are a must for safe crossing. On some roads, for example Las Palmas towards the airport police stand watching at roughly 2 kilometre intervals and cars therefore exercise reasonable restraint. Marks 6/10

Quality of driving: Take nothing for granted, cars generally fail to indicate, they lane hop incessantly, motor bikes, of which there are many, dash in and out of cars. Cars forking right will cut across slower traffic, particularly cyclists and one needs to actively signal intentions to stay in a lane – this is probably the most dangerous aspect for cyclists. It isn't all bad – although there is some impatient tooting of horns some drivers do give way to cyclists; few if any are aggressive and in several weeks I have been here I have only seen a couple of occasions where words were exchanged. Marks 6.5/10

Public Transport: There has been a heavy investment in infrastructure and there is clear connection drawn between the quality of life and improvements in safe journeys. The Metro is the central plank of this. There is one main line running North/South and a shorter cross line with a coupe of cable cars that head up into the barrios. It is safe, clean and efficient – people don't eat, drink or litter in the trains and there are helpful announcements at stations even extolling passengers to give up seats to travellers who seem fatigued and advising of the social and health benefits of using a handkerchief. It is more or less fully wheel chair accessible and it is well used by most people but not noticeably by the better off. 

Metro Map
Metrocable to Santo Domingo

Metroplus is also good and being further developed – these are bendy buses travelling in mainly in dedicated lanes and stopping at special stations with music playing, CTV systems and sliding doors. 

MetroPlus Station
To be honest the rest of the bus system is a bit shaky – it comprises of several private lines and it is difficult to determine where buses are going – it isn't just me, locals are also confused but there is a web site which shows routes and can be helpful. Interactive Bus Map Most buses stop running around 9 pm but start pretty early. Fares are cheap, around £0.75 and there is a civic card that can be loaded at stations and used on the metro and metroplus. Also some fares are integrated between trains and buses, for example to outlying towns reached via hub stations. There are also large 2 bus terminals, North and South for longer journeys where you can find buses to most destinations near and far. Sometimes there are taxi colectivos, again at reasonable prices. I have been to the North terminal and it is very good and well organised and seemingly well policed and safe. Marks 8.5/10

Taxis: There is an over supply of yellow cabs and many wait a long time for a passenger. They have meters and are relatively cheap – a 10– 5 minute ride may cost around £3. I like them. Most of the drivers are nice and helpful – you are not expected to tip but I do and they are always very grateful – a couple of my drivers have seemed a bit coked up but I have fairly high confidence in most of them. Generally there are no seat belts in the rear and it is advisable to lock your door, keep valuables out of sight and wind your window most of the way up. You can also get your hotel or hostel/bar etc. to call a cab in which case you will each have a code number to exchange so as to enhance security. Marks 8/10

Cycling: People here cycle for sport and as an economical form of transport although there are far fewer bikes than motorbikes. There are some helpful cycle paths but they tend to be used by pedestrians and aren't always well signposted. Large drain covers, of which there are many have widely spaced bars and need to be avoided. 
Cycling Hazard
On Sundays and holidays the Ciclovea is opened and there are 2 lanes and about 15 miles of fairly uninterrupted cycling but beware of erratic children on BMXs and skaters who also share this space. Otherwise at weekends sports cyclist head out of town in their droves both for mountain and road cycling. Leaving the city mostly necessitates a steep and long climb but the route towards Barbosa is mostly downhill and towards Caldas the hill is gradual but then steep. 
Road towards Barbosa
There is a dedicated and free criterium circuit of 0.9 of a mile and a cool outdoor velodrome – both of which you are free to enter if there are no events. If like me you are a keen cyclist, Medellin's surrounds rather than the city itself are a major cycling attraction and you can easily hook up with local groups – I have been adopted by club Mariela and I love it. Marks 9/10
Not an exhaustive resume but hopefully helpful – feel free to get in touch if you need more cycling specific information.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Salsa in Medellin

I know it is a sweeping generalisation but I am coming to the view that although many young Colombians profess to be salsa dancers and to love dance they do it in a distinctive and somewhat pedestrian way. At the salsa school that I attend' Baila Latino there are some very good teachers who can dance and teach well but in the 2 clubs I have been to dancing seems to follow the form of a rhythmic battle with ample hip movements, short indistinct steps and few if any turn moves. Most women don't know how to be led and resist moves or worse confuse mistake one's intentions and attempt to lead and execute what they think you had in mind! I have seen a few well practised Salsa Caleña style but little cross-body or as the call it here, 'en linea'. But that said, I have yet to visit the more well known salsa venues and maybe there is more good stuff to come.

It has been a pretty active salsa week:
Monday, en linear lesson with Dahlia – we perfected some moves and added a few more – she is encouraging and positive and and I can integrate some of my own favourite moves. Her style tends towards more circular patterns but this suits the club environment and is potentially very helpful.

Tuesday – Free lesson with Ana at the Wandering Paisa Hostel. I feel for Ana because each week she has a mainly new batch of rhythmically challenged travellers and she also has to overcome the language barriers in a ground hog day repeat of the week before. This week she chose me as 'el modelo' to demonstrate the steps and the big plus for me is I get to dance with her and practise some of my newly acquired skills. She is a very able dancer and can boogaloo really well, a challenging step which I hope to master in Cali.
Wednesday – back with Dahlia for salsa Caleña. This week we spent a lot of time just trying to perfect a simple but elusive step pattern requires simultaneous foot step and lift on opposing feet – more work needed here!

Afterwards I started level 2 SalsaCasino with Yamile. An indication of her great teaching style almost everybody re booked for level 2 and we perfected the moves we had learnt in level 1 and added a few more. It is hard for me to remember all of them and at times my concentration ebbs but the rueda form throws a new partner at me around every 10 seconds so needs must! The moves I can recall include: guapeo, dile que no, dar me una, dar me una para abajo, tourniquet, prima, prima con hermana, sombrero, yoghurt, princepe bueno, princepe malo, vacunala etc…....................

Thursday – Sebastian, my new Congas teacher invited me to go to Sinko Bar where his group, Gauntanamo SonCubano y Salsa were playing live – I teamed up with Merille newly arrived from Miami and now adding the female dimension to our apartment. Bar Sinko is kind of a posh sports bar/restaurant with other stuff going on. When we arrived we couldn't get seated due I think to an ongoing game between Chile and National Athletico. Once seated we had some very agreeable mohitos and eventually band came on – they were pretty good but nobody seemed to want to dance and in any case there wasn't really any floor space, just tables. We had a couple of dances and had our photo taken by the club photographer.
With Merille
After the first set we headed off for the club Son Havana hoping for better dance prospects. Here too there was a live band and the contrasts between the clubs couldn’t have been greater – with much more character and a fun atmosphere we both liked it better. Flatteringly I was taken for Merille's boy friend but when this was explained away she began to receive quite a bit of attention for dances. We left after a couple of beers and walked home getting back around 2 – a fun evening in good company.

Friday - More clubbing – I had previously posted a message on CouchSurfers asking if anyone knew where I could hear live cumbia music. There wasn't much response but Elizabeth an optrometrist kindly invited me to a dancing event that include cumbia at libreria la anticuaria in El Centro. We met up and I was intrigued by this tea party style event. People danced mainly in a style called porro but also cumbia, waltz, pasa doble, bachata and a few more. I was able to join in for a little of the cumbia and bachata but it was clear that these dancers were in the main well rehearsed and expert. 
Elizabeth and friend

Elizabeth's friend
It was an entirely civilised get together with a pretty mixed bunch of friendly people of all ages. After a while it became clear that Elizabeth needed to leave to be with her young son and also that she had further arranged that I join up with another group of friends for an evening of salsa and a live band at a club in Poblado called Cuchitril. She left me with them sheltering from a tropical style downpour in Poblado and about 8 of us travelled the remainder in 2 taxis. We arrived quite early and there was rock and pop musica and people were bagging tables. We bought a bottle of rum and mixers between us and someone else had a bottle of tequila. They then proceeded to imbibe pretty quickly and me less so – by the time the band set up, an 10 piece called group son Guajiro they were all pretty fired up. We danced quite a bit of the rest of the evening and I stayed until the end of the second set, around 3am, returning by taxi to be somewhat hung over the next morning. By the end they all looked tired if not a little drunk!

So ended a week of salsa among other stuff – I still have around 3 weeks of lessons to come and I plan to pass 4 or 5 days in Cali where I will try and set up a programme of lessons in Caleña style salsa. All pretty good so far and very welcoming and enjoyable if somewhat frustrating social dancing.

Just as a postscript I am publishing below a photo of my sala casino group - nice guys and good fun to be with - many thanks one and all.
Salsa Casino - end of level 2 and my goodbye

Sunday, 15 April 2012

People watching in Sabaneta, Medellin

I am sitting outside a bar in Sabaneta, a small and developing community just beyond the city of Medellin but within its boundaries. It is Saturday afternoon, people are drinking, eating and passing by. I am on my second beer, one Club Colombia Roja and the second I haven't tried before called Costeña, each accompanied by bowl of salty free popcorn, called here crispetas. I have also eaten a plastic bag fully of slightly unripe mango laced with salt and vinigaret. People are drinking a wide variety of beverages including Coca Colas, tequila and beer. There is bottle service for rum and aguardiente, half a bottle in an ice bucket costing about £10. This is Colombia and it is the weekend, for some this can mean fairly hard drinking but generally people here just seem to chatting with families and friends and taking the edge off. 

There is much to take in. Pavement culture and people watching abide and even in the early evening, at an altitude of more than 5000 feet, it is nevertheless pleasant to be sitting out without a jacket. The music is predominantly male crooners, songs of romance with some Mark Anthony thrown in. Near me there is a man selling balloons and another passing through with several fists full of campecino hats. A young man just tried to sell me a lottery ticket and realising I was English proceeded to practise his english by asking me what I thought about our position on the Falkland islands - hmmmm.... Bachata music has just started up and all  is well here,  just another rather pleasant afternoon proving, if I didn't know it already, that quiet uncomplicated enjoyment is readily available here in Medellin Colombia. 

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Cycle ride to remember

Following 4 days of getting up at 5am and setting off for long rides between 6 and 7 I find I am still waking at the crack of dawn – in Spanish there are verbs to cover it, 'madrugar' or maybe more loosely 'amanecer' to break dawn and one is asked “como amenecido?” how did you break dawn? which I think sounds rather nice.

On the Wednesday before Semana Santa (Easter) I was collected from my apartment by 'Medico' – this is his nickname due to him being a doctor – dah!. He guided me to the rendezvous which was at the side of the road of one of the main arteries that run the length of the valley in which Medellin is situated. We quickly loaded rucksacks onto our support car and set off for the first leg of a 4 day ride of 372 miles and probably more importantly 2 major climbs, Las Letras and Alto de Minas.

We left Medellin heading roughly South east on the road towards Bogota aiming for Doradal, a distance of 109 miles. This is a 2 lane each way autopista and our first challenge was was the 10 mile climb out of Medellin via a tunnel and up onto a high plateau after which the ride was flat and then down for a long way until we had 2 further 5 mile climbs. After a while the road narrowed to just 2 lanes and one was occasionally faced with oncoming overtaking lorries and buses completely on the wrong side of the road forcing you into the margin and requiring more than a little nerve to stay in the saddle. I don't recall too much of the ride – there were some punctures and some of us carried on to get ahead of the main group and we maintained a slower but steady pace. In total we climbed 8,630 feet. Along the way the support car would pass offering water and encouragement – it was a tough ride and by its end I was depleted and questioning my sanity for undertaking this trip. 

Doradal isn't much more than a road stop but our hotel had a nice pool and at this lower hotter altitude people were enjoying the water accompanied by regaton beats up to midnight One guy offered me my first shot of aguardiente - tasting of aniseed but quite pleasant I thought it might be quite a reviving beverage. My cyclist friends cavorted in the pool and as you can see posed more than willingly for my camera.

We couldn't leave Doradal without paying our respects to Pablo Escobar, the notorious drug cartel chief at his Hacienda Napoles. Now owned by the government he built here an enormous complex including roads, a zoo, a bull ring and other amenities which now comprise a theme park!
Hacienda Napoles
The next days's ride was to Mariquita - this was a shorter flatter route heading South but very hot. After Juan Carlos punctured our small group carried on made good time rotating to the front every 500m in order to conserve energy. We crossed the Rio Magdelena, probably the width of 3 football fields and Colombia's greatest river. Eventually the faster group caught up and because it was flat we were able to hang in but my discomfort grew with the heat which was hitting 38C and my feet were red hot and very painful – but we arrived together and I cooled down with a couple of batidos.
Rio Magdelena
From Maraquita we headed back in a Westerly direction faced with the prospect of Las Letras an iconic 80km in length. The starting elevation is 490 meters and it finishes at 3,677 meters (12,063 ft)! This is the climb profile:

Clearly the most demanding climb of my life, I was hopeful but not certain to stay the course. Leaving Marquita the climb begins almost immediately and we were welcomed by views of snow capped mountains in the distance. A group of 5 of us set off half an hour before the rest. I felt OK – keeping a steady pace and the time went quickly as we headed up through the clouds curve after curve – you could never see your ultimate objective due to the vegetation but there were some great views.

I just settled back to suffer a little – well a lot and watched my heart rate which was only around 70% maximum. The rest of the team came through us small groups over the course of the morning and 3 of our 5 abandoned leaving Jose and quiet tall and reserved man of 69 years and and myself fighting for the lantern rouge – about two thirds of the way up I felt very strong and raised my game a little pulling away from Jose but I fast faded and he eventually passed me with a few miles to go. ! Not withstanding this at the top I was greeted with much cheer – cries of 'berraco', 'guapo' and 'tiene cojones' made me feel that I had earned the respect of my Paisa cyclist friends.
Letras 12,067 feet
Taking a couple of photos I left somewhat after the rest and it had started to rain. At this height the rain was very cold and I soon began to shiver. The descent was treacherous because in many places the road had been washed away or parts were under reconstruction and in order to reduce wind chill and not fall off on the bends I had to stay on the brakes at no more than 18mph. reassuringly the support car stayed with me but by this time it was full with abandoned riders so I had no option but to continue my solo descent. About half way down I had to stop to recover a little under the cover of a small army post where the sergeant told me rather unkindly that my feeling of cold was probably psychological! I retorted that it was most certainly very real and told him he had no idea and his young colleagues laughed at my rightful indignation. Eventually we reached Manizales and and the group reformed cold and wet but in high sprits, several like me having accomplished for the first time the most demanding climb of their cycling history.

You might have thought that the next day's ride would be an easy affair – some hopes. We needed to return the Medellin around 125 miles including a climb to Alto de Minas of 25 miles and coming near the end of the ride. 5 of us set off half an hour early and 2 were to abandon before the end – leaving myself, Jose and an amusing guy nicknamed Chavela who was riding a heavy mountain bike but with narrow smooth wheels. 

Much of the first part of the ride was descent and I was warned to take it easy and conserve energy for the end, but after around 25 miles, mainly descending the profile became longish undulations and we rode well following the Rio Cauca to La Pintada a busy town at the base of the climb. Here I had a fish soup with avocados and we stocked up on drinks. I think Alto de Minas  was my toughest climb, mainly due to my general fatigue but I was pleased that we arrived before all the followers had passed – I felt completely depleted and downed 3 coffees, a coca cola and 2 carton of liquid oatmeal and admired the view.
view from Alto de Minas
Revived we headed at speed down the hill and were met at the base by one of the non-participating club members kindly offering us cold drinks and cakes. After some hanging around waiting for our luggage we made it home as it was getting dark.

Friday, 30 March 2012

More from Medellin

I have been here 2 weeks now and am settling in - there are a few minor nuisances like traffic noise and random girls from downstairs wandering into our apartment to borrow stuff but I think I have to adapt to a more informal style of living. What is good is that I now have a fairly established routine based on cycling and dancing with an emerging range of other activities, mostly depending what presents itself. Somebody told me there is no easy translation of the word serendipity into Spanish - but allowing space for things to just happen and coming across stuff by virtue of walks and speculative internet searches can be good fun and has a  Colombian Latino feel of easy going acceptance.

By way of an example,yesterday, Natalia and enterprising Paisa on-line Spanish teacher whom I had contacted some time ago, posted to me meet-up of expats, a group called InterNations  - we met at the Beer Factory in Parque Lleras, a clubby zone in Poblado – there were 15 of us representing 9 nationalities; we chatted intermittently in Spanish and English- I mostly talked to a New York/Colombian architecture professor who was somewhat despairing of the Colombian free market approach and unequal trade agreements with the US. The bar sported about 50 different beers and played 80s rock a little too loudly but it wasn't too crowded and the waitress managed about 12 separate drinks bills with minimum fuss – I had 3 fancy beers and it came to around £6 with the tip. 

It is fantastic that in only one week, mainly by courtesy of Juan Carlos, I have had 3 separate and fun cycling events. At the weekend I met up with the team -  and we headed out in a North Easterly direction on 62. Everyone was friendly and, as in Peru they all have nick names – like Animal, Professor, and Sancocho which is what they call Juan Carlos.  It rained on the way out and the group fragmented somewhat, more than half of us taking shelter in a cafe in the tropical forest where I ate a welcome potato pie thing – worryingly my Garmin gave out and I only recorded half the ride, losing the climbing bit on the return – which was a pity since I now have an unrecorded 4,200 feet of ascent missing from my Strava Challenge. 

Meeting up with new cycling friends
Later in the week we went to the Velodrome – this is an excellent resource and anyone can use it to train, with or without a track bike. I tucked onto the back of some juniors being towed by a motorbike and did a few fast circuits – it was very hot and afterwards we had a great fruit breakfast near the Stadium.
Showing them how!
Fruity Breakfast

Yesterday Juan Carlos borrowed a mountain bike for me and we climbed above Envigado where he lives on a delightful and quiet lane, Camino Catederal, sometimes asphalt and other times trail we got well above the city following a fast stream and heading into the tropical forest.
Climbing along Camino Catedral

Proper Forest
So all in all I cannot complain about the cycling – this morning's effort has been cancelled or postponed due to the rain but it usually clears up so we may head out to do Las Palmas again which is probably going to become my benchmark ascent.

Apart from cycling I have visited Pueblito Paisa, a wooded knoll where there is a model colonial village and good museum depicting the planned developments for Medellin. This is based on a thorough analysis of the city's characteristics and underlying themes for the pan boil down to:

  • education
  • social urbanization and managing public space to improve life
  • Equitable conditions and inclusion
  • culture and art
  • security and cohabitation
  • competitiveness and entrepreneurship

You can also eat and relax whilst looking out over the city as it sprawls along the valley
Looking out to City Centre, Medellin
The art theme is quite prevalent in Medellin but I was somewhat disappointed by the city's museum of modern art which has very little to see except 2 visiting exhibitions one of which was OK – there is a nice shop and some up market restaurants and cafes nearby.

The Library at Santo Domingo, which you arrive at by way of a cable car, is truly impressive. A large dark obelisk attached to the side of the hill and situated in a relatively poor neighbourhood it is a good example of the city's pursuance of a cicvil society via urban planning and architecture.
Metro cable

Library at Santo Domingo
I am enjoying Medellin and as we move into Holy Week I am looking forward to a 4 day 600km cycling road trip and whatever else this interesting city throws at me.