November 5-11, 2006
We were finally able to drag ourselves away from Hacienda Bambusa by afternoon. It was such a beautiful and relaxing spot that we lingered past lunch time. Arriving back in the town of Armenia, we found a grocery store and stocked up. We then headed north towards Medellin, enjoying more beautiful scenery and stopping for the night at a restaurant/kiddie farm where the kids could look at farm animals and take rides on cows, sheep and ponies saddled up for that purpose.
The next morning we got going early as we needed to find an internet cafe somewhere along the road to work on our shipping arrangements. Surprisingly we found one outside a city that had a good connection. Finishing up that chore we once again hit the road finding by the end of the day that we had accrued about $15.00usd in highway tolls. But driving on nice roads is worth paying the tolls. We found a spot to camp in the courtyard of a hotel, right next to the pool. It started to rain shortly after we arrived, but we were able to set up our chairs under the hotel overhang and enjoy the warm weather and the birds.
The next morning there was only a short drive (so we thought) into the city of Medellin. It turned out that there was a lot of construction on the mountain road, so our short drive turned into one of several hours. Arriving early afternoon, we had wanted to find a parking lot on the south side of town to avoid driving in the city, but after several attempts to access some shopping centers, we gave up and headed for the north side of town. Right off the Panamericana directly across from the mass transit cable car system, we found the Feria de Ganado. This is a large "fairgrounds" where cattle and pigs are bought and sold. Fortunately they had a large, gated and guarded parking lot and the head of security agreed to let us park for the night.
After getting ourselves situated, we took the Metro (an above ground mass transit system) into the city. In the 1970's, Medellin was a thriving, successful city with mining, coffee and textiles fueling its growth. However the 1980's brought cocaine and Pablo Escobar and Medellin became the capital of the world's cocaine industry. Gun battles were common and the crime rate was among the world's highest. Pablo Escobar's death in 1993 started the city's turnaround and today the city is considered one of the safer ones in Latin America. Like other cities here, Medillin is as modern a city as you will find in most countries in the world. The odd part is to see horse drawn carts working around the city.
Medellin has a mandated "art law" so all new buildings are required to have art. One of Medellin's favorite sons is Fernando Botero. Botero has huge bronze sculptures scattered everywhere. One of his most famous is the Pajero de Paz (Bird of Peace) which ironically was damaged by a bomb planted by guerillas. As a reminder of the city's violent past, the damaged bird was left in place with a plaque to remember those who died in the blast. Alongside the damaged bird is a replacement donated by the artist.
We visited the Plazoleta de las Esculturas which is home to 20 more of Boteros huge bronze sculptures. Next on our agenda were the errands that we had to run. By the time we finished up, we were too late to take in the museums we had hoped to see. We decided to visit Medellin again the next morning.
Up at 5:45 the next morning when there was a cross in communication between the security guard and the owner of the parking lot (where we were supposed to be allowed to stay until 8:00am), we wound our way into the center of Medellin and found a parking lot which would accommodate us. We made breakfast and then struck out for the Casa Museo Pedro Nel Gomez and the Museo de Antioquia and enjoyed several hours viewing art done by local and international artists.
Discovering that our guide book doesn't cover the road between Medellin and Cartegena, (mistake or intentional, we don't know), we decided to drive through the area fairly quickly and get to the north of the country (where the beaches are!). "Quickly" though is a relative term as we discovered the road is very mountainous and in poor condition. In fact it is the poorest road we've seen so far in Colombia which has had really good roads up till now. After the first hour we had driven 25 miles. After the second hour we had driven 45 miles. Uh oh, this is going to take a while.
Along the way we passed one of countless military checkpoints, where mostly we are ignored and let pass without any question. A soldier at this checkpoint asked if we would transport his drained cellphone battery to the next checkpoint for him. We were a bit leery, but decided it was a simple request and there was no problem. Further on we saw, for the first time in Colombia, families living in shacks with plastic walls and roofs along side the road, many of whom were begging from the passing vehicles. This was so unusual that we felt these were people displaced from the very rural areas by their fear of the guerillas.
We finally came out into a river valley and the road straightened out so we were able to rack up some additional miles before stopping for the night at yet another gas station. This station was very large and empty so we were able to park our vehicle sideways for a change, gaining some privacy, and were able to set up our chairs and barbecue and watch the beautiful sunset. This was also our first day of warm, humid weather. Just an indication of more to come.
We moved the car off the road as far as we could and set about changing the tire with our last remaining spare. A local man on a motorcycle stopped to help and we were able to change the tire quite quickly even in the swelteringly hot and humid weather. But now that we'd blown both of our spares into non-repairable oblivion, we would need new spares or some other option. Fortunately we were only 80kms outside Barranquilla, Colombia's fourth largest city, so were figured we would have some good options there.
Arriving safely in Barranquilla, we set about finding tire stores. We were sent in the correct direction by a helpful llanteria (a tire changing expert, of which there are millions in Latin America) and discovered that our size tire would be difficult to find. Hmmm. We decided to get two used, slightly larger tires to put on the front and keep our two worst tires as the spares. Being used, we were able to get the tires for about $30.00usd each, much better than the $130.00usd the dealer wanted for new tires. Hopefully it won't be either of the two "new" tires on the front that blow.
Running around Barranquilla, finding the tires and getting them mounted took us till just before dark. We decided to head out of town with the hope that we would find a nice restaurant or gas station that we could park at. Driving in the dark is against our number one rule on expeditions. But sometimes you find yourself in a situation where it makes more sense than staying where you are. Unfortunately for us, after fighting our way through traffic, we found ourselves on a road with no turnoffs and no towns. We just had to keep going straight until we reached somewhere, anywhere, that we could park. After about two hours, we finally reached a town with a restaurant and a good sized parking lot.
We awoke in the morning to find we were parked right along the beach. What a surprise!