Colombia 12: Tolú then back to Medellín

After having reached our northern most point in Cartagena, we were now heading south along the coast towards the popular beach resorts around Tolú. Es wurde Zeit, langsam gen Süden aufzubrechen. Wir beschlossen entlang der Küste zu fahren, um noch ein wenig vom Pazifik zu geniessen. Our route took us from Cartagena to Turbaco, then on to San Onofre, Toluviego  to the resort Tolú. We found a nice spot at Camping Casa del Mar, right across the southern beach where it is quieter than in town. Across the camping site we could observe a school class receiving environmental education, it seemed the Colombians enjoy the nature they are endowed with. The area teemed with Colibris, Pelicans, Cormorants and Frigate birds. Pelicans fish here by diving similar to gannets and boobies. Every day a number of fishermen plied their trade catching fish and prawns. The town had a special vibe -"tranquilo" as one would have expected. The day is laid-back -in the evening life starts. For supper we strolled into town, selected a seafood restaurant and took a bicycle taxi, equipped with lively music, back. Finally the day arrived of us continuing south, our travel companions Bernd & Marion going back north to Cartagena, from where they shipped their vehicle back to Hamburg. Karin and I first continued along the coast to Coveñas, then on to Monteria, Planeta Rica, Caucasio to Taraza, where we stayed next to a Texaco truckstop in a hostal with aircon and proper showers -a welcome luxury at temperatures of 38 deg C. Conveniently an open air restaurant served a good meal next door. On the following day we proceeded via Yarumal on a very scenic mountain road and where the road runs parallel to the Rio Cauca river. There were many truck lavanderos, so we decided to have the vehicle washed. It was an extremely thorough cleanup-never before was our cruiser hand washed from the underside by 4 people! The day ended when we reached Medellin again where we drove through Santa Rosa to stay at Albosque camping, run by the brothers David and Daniel. They arranged for the competent refrigeration technician Rafael to finally diagnose the problem that we had with our fridge. We could confirm that the problem was the compressor on our National Luna fridge-but these spares were not available in South America -so we ordered one to be flown to Ecuador and hopefully it would arrive there without too much delay. It was rainy and cold and Dieter spent some time with Barna Tanko photographing clouds. Barna is a professional travel photographer (www.barnatanko.com) who spent an extensive time at Albosque taking pictures of the area around Medellin. Our route from here was via Penalisa to Ruta60, then to Hispania and Andes until we reached the town Jardin, which Barna had mentioned to be worth visiting. Again the trees and landscapes in Colombia fascinated us. We find a nice little camping spot at Hostal Selva y Café run by Alexandra, ably assisted at the time by Anja from Germany who had arrived here by bicycle a moth earlier and with whom we explored the town over the next few days.
  This post covers 21st-28th October 2016.    

Colombia 11: Cartagena and Boca Grande

We didn't quite know what to expect from the northern harbour city, Cartagena. It did not disappoint us -it remained the city with the best vibe on our journey. Cartagena war mit die schönste Stadt in Norden Südamerikas. Nicht nur ist vieles in der Altstadt gut erhalten, inklusive der Stadtmauern und des Forts, sondern die Atmosphäre in dieser Stadt ist toll und lädt ein, länger zu verweilen. Auch konnten Bernd und Marion hier die Formalitäten gut erledigen, ihren Wagen von hier aus nach Hamburg zu verschiffen. As we arrived in Cartagena we found our way to the suburb Getsemani, got to hostal San Roque that we had selected, only to find extraordinary unfriendly reception staff and rooms that were not fit staying in (some small, no ventilation, no window etc). It prompted us to drive around and we came across the Stil Hotel - an average 3 Star hotel (South American stars, that is...) on Plazoleta Telecom. Parking we found in a parquadero just a block away, where we had the feeling that the vehicles would be safe and looked after. Stil Hotel was a good choice -about a 15 minute walk into the old part of Cartagena, past the chic food stall of the world record holder for the largest ever Camarones cocktail (shrimps). This became the obvious choice of starter in the evenings. You select the cup size you want to have and pay accordingly. Round the corner the very friendly Lilian runs the lavanderia Beer & Laundry where you can lots of advice of what to see and where to eat -all while you get your washing done expertly. The old section of Cartagena lies within the old city walls built around 1615, well preserved and filled with church plazas, hotels, boutiques, restaurants, bars with live entertainment and a tiny Italian ice cream parlour worth mentioning - best ice cream in the country. The old city wall is still intact and largely built with coral rocks. In the evening a special atmosphere prevails and we took a tour by horse cart  -we can recommend it! We visited the old fort Castillo San Felipe and from our hotel it was also possible on foot although there are many affordable taxis. The door knockers on the high doors in the old city signalled what profession the inhabitant belonged to. Cartagena has a very trendy and modern high rise section with safe beaches for swimming: Boca Grande. Here many apartments can be rented also on a day by day basis for a holiday. Our inquiries showed that out of season the rates are reasonable and some of the apartments were brand new. Before we proceeded it was time for the Landcruiser to get a service and we tracked down Freddy's Toyota -a small, privately owned workshop offering good service (not only for Toyotas). This post cover 16th-20th October 2016
       

Colombia 10: Santa Marta & Los Angeles on the Caribbean

Finally we got to the Caribbean sea and enjoyed the warm weather and ocean. Endlich erreichten wir die Karibische Küste im Norden Kolumbiens. Der Sturm Matthew war vorüber gezogen und wir hatten immer noch sporadische Regenfälle. Vielleicht war dies der Grund, warum wir etwas enttäuscht waren, als wir zum ersten mal die Karibik sahen - nicht ganz so idyllisch wie wir es uns gewünscht hätten. Our route from Mopox took us past the towns of Santa Ana, La Gloria,El Deficil, via Bosconia to Rodadero,  then passed the northern City of Santa Marta (where we had a look at a possible camping site-it was awful between some high rise buildings)  and decided to carry on eastwards, past Parque Nacional Tairona to our selected destination, the camping site Los Angeles. The camping site had a lovely beach and set in a lush tropical garden with lots of birds and smaller animals. Swimming here was pleasant and safe, a few sandflies bothered us. As per most of the days, we had some rain -this time as a thunderstorm. After 3 days holiday at this beach we decided it is time to move closer to Cartagena. The route passed through Ciénaga, then we crossed the Rio Magdalena at Barranquilla and continued to Santa Veronica , where Bernd & Marion had found a wild camp site on the beach in front of a police holiday house, and arranged with the owners of hotel Juan Mar (N10° 53.187' W75° 04.801') to use their baño facilities and pool. Although the beach was quite nice, we happened to be there at the wrong time of the year - strong rains had brought down a lot of trees and debris and the water was brown, however warm enough to swim. This blog covers 11th -16th October 2016.
 

Colombia 9: Santa Cruz de Mompox (Mompos)

We had heard about a town in the central swamps of Colombia that has a historic centre and an annual jazz festival -and known for its rocking chairs. Sounds kind of relaxed. This prompted us to detour despite the expected bad road conditions due to rain. Santa Cruz de Mompox hat einen Namen, welcher zu einem Besuch einlädt. Und wenn es dort auch noch Jazz Konzerte gibt, kann dies einen Besuch Wert sein -und so nahmen wir diesen Schlenker in Kauf. We continued on Ruta 45 until we turned off to the west at El Burro. The closer we got to our destination, the swampier the surrounding area became. First we witnessed cows grazing in water, however they started making way for water buffalo. It was a pleasure seeing the huge trees and the many birds and butterflies in the region. We crossed the Rio Magdalena, passed Margarita and San Fernando before finally reaching Santa Cruz de Mompox, which is also called Mompos. Here we found accommodation inside the courtyard of the Hotel Santa Cruz de Mompox, it fitted a maximum of 3 vehicles. Across the hotel locals offered us parking and we could camp - however the area was not fenced in and we were a little concerned about the security during the day, when our vehicles would be left unattended. At the hotel we had access to a bathroom in one of the rooms.The hotel was a good choice indeed as we had nightly downpours of rain. In Mompos everything was accessible on foot from the hotel. It had various plazas, each with its own old church, some dating back to 1540 AD. The town stretched along the Rio Magdalena where boat trips were offered. It was also a good place to spot the iguanas that mainly live on the trees along the river. The town itself had a few restaurants, quaint craft shops, especially the Joyerias (jewellery shops) that sell intricate silver jewellery handcrafted on site. This is a speciality craft in Mompox. Note the way the streets are constructed -all shops are high above the regular flood line. The small cemetery was a special sight. At time of our visit preparations were under way for the annual jazz festival - unfortunately we could not stay. When visiting this area be prepared for mozzies, high humidity and uncomfortable temperatures - it is a marshy area. Colombia is re-developing its tourist industry and the tourist police interviewed visitors to ensure they feel comfortable and feel welcomed in Mompos.
This post covers 9th-11th October 2016  

Colombia 8: Cañon del Chicamocha,Barichara and Aguachica

We drove further north, aiming to make a detour into the swampy central part of Colombia. Getting there was a long drive and this post gives some highlights of what we saw along the way.. Von Villa de Leyva bis zur nördlichen Hafenstadt Cartagena ist ein langer Weg. Dennoch wird es nicht langweilig, denn es gibt immer wieder Neues und Überraschendes. Along the way traditional sausages were smoked and offered. We travelled via Arabuco to Barbosa, then to Confines where we turned off to Charalá, a quaint village with a beautiful plaza, dominated by an enormous Saman tree (Raintree or Mimosa Saman)- one of the most impressive ones we had seen to date (Colombia has many spectacular trees). By nightfall we reached Cascadas Juan Curi Camping, basic but adequate and we took a stroll to see the falls the next morning before we continued. The butterflies and moths kept us fascinated, not only while walking to the falls but also along the road we drove. The road took us via Paramo to San Gil with slow progress due to many road works and the rain. We continued through San Gil on to Barichara, another beautiful little village which is also a popular holiday destination. It is high up and afforded us splendid views. The town plaza sports a sandstone church with intricate masonry work. We returned past San Gil to the camping site Rio Fonce where we were camping under trees covered with long old man's beards, giving it a mystical atmosphere, especially when a whistling bird-like sound started after dark. To our amazement we discovered that it was a pond full of frogs. On the road to Bucamaranga along the Ruta 45A we had a marvellous view into the Cañon del Chicamocha, overlooked by a super modern water amusement park. The road was fantastic with scenic mountain passes. We continued to Floridablanca, shopped at Exito (local supermarkets with good selection), enjoyed coconut and coffee ice cream (excellent throughout Colombia), finally camped between Rio Negro and El Playón at Balneario del Bambu -not very good but it was all we could find. We were not so happy about the passing trucks but did not realise how relatively good the night was until our next stop in the parking lot of Hotel Calle Real in Aguachica. When we arrived we were directed to park next to the pool of the hotel and use the facilities there. As the afternoon progressed more cars arrived until the parking lot could not fit another vehicle. Fine, we thought, and went for supper in town. When we returned, the disco adjacent to the hotel started in a loudness, that we could not hear ourselves any longer. This continued until 4:00am. This sleepless night would probably remain our worst of the trip.
This post covers 6th-8th Oct 2016.          

Colombia 7: Villa de Leyva and Terracotta Clay House

Many overlanders had advised that Villa de Leyva is a picturesque village worth visiting -so this became our next destination. Villa de Leyva, so berichteten uns andere Reisende, sollte besucht werden. Es ist ein Städtchen, welches Dank seiner Umgebung and Läden auch beliebtes Ziel der einheimischen Touristen sei. Da es fast am Weg lag, machten wir einen kurzen Abstecher dorthin. The route to Villa de Leyva took us through Tunja -a bigger town offering refuelling on an Esso service station and shopping of essentials. It took us some time to find suitable parking, month-end traffic made driving particularly interesting with one way streets not clearly marked. Near Villa de Leyva we found camping at the finca Renacer which offered hot showers, a kitchen as well as Wifi. Again it was a pleasant stopover,as we could sit inside while it rained in the evenings. Our stroll next day took us to the old plaza and to a french bakery. The Chocolate museum & shop caught our eye and it was too inviting not to indulge. Many high quality art and craft shops helped us to lighten our wallets. It was here that we heard about the Clay House -a wacky house built by a local artist who is still in the process of manufacturing steel ornaments for decoration of the house. During our stay we saw an incredibly well camouflaged moth as well as some other flying beauties. While we visited Villa de Leyva, hurricane Matthew had visited the north of Colombia - we were wondering, whether roads would be passable as we made our way to the north. In addition, the referendum whether the Farq peace agreement should be accepted, was conducted and not accepted by the population by a narrow margin -we hoped that our continued journey would not be affected.
This post covers 30th-4th October 2016