An early start to cure the girls’ altitude sickness (moved the alarm box from where it was blocking the air intake) and we were on (what we thought was) the road to Medellin, home of the most beautiful women in Colombia or so we’d been told. An hour later and we were still in Bogota – we blame the GPS – one deluge of bad Spanish later and we finally left the city limits – 25 miles to get out of Bogota!
Initally rubbish roads and weather metamorphosed into bright blue skies and some of the best roads we’ve seen so far. We climbed up into the Cordillera Central on smooth, winding tarmac, dodging snarling lorries and the occasional (!) pothole as we gained height. The weather was scorching…t-shirts, suncream and Oakleys being the order of the day – which in retrospect wasn’t the cleverest move as the superb road quality nudged the speeds up and up. A sedate ride across to Medellin degenerated (evolved??) into a competition to wrestle the heavily-laden XT’s through the twisting S-bends on the hot, dusty descent into Rio Honda for lunch – Will earning a gold star for achievement, aluminium showers cascading from the right-hand luggage as the Pirellis permitted a glorious pannier grounding on a particularly fast bend – b*****d!
One local lunch later, curious kids inspecting our bikes whilst we ate, we headed off north along the valley floor before cutting west towards Medellin. The stunning weather continued, although time was becoming a mild issue thanks our morning Bogota Unplanned tour – 180km in three hours before it got dark and the Bad People came out to play…hmmm… Bravely eschewing GPS and map in favour of local directions – neither of which showed our ‘new’ road on them – we angled northwest into the hills, mildly concerned about the drop into Medellin, as a fair few people had given us the standard teeth-sucking warnings of guerrilla activity earlier in the day. The roads proved to be superb – a complete contrast to the dusty, open climb of the morning. The superb tarmac, thankfully almost devoid of traffic, wound endlessly through dense dark jungle hills with an occasional break from the humid tunnels as we shot out onto bridges crossing tumbling cascades and gloomy ravines to a view of damp rainforest climbing away from the river below us in all directions. Most interesting were the prominent signs of the guerrilla conflict as we sped along – all the yellow-painted bridges (thankfully they’ve stopped naming them!) had sandbagged outposts at each end, orange cones down the centre and a heavy-armed military guard to prevent the FARC separatists from severing main routes, whilst columns of camouflaged troops clutching assault rifles and heavy machine guns, festooned with grenades climbed silently out of the jungle on remote patches of road, looking massively intimidating until they responded to our waves with a grin and a wave back.
Dusk approached as the sun fell off the edge of the horizon, whilst we wound higher and higher, clearing the jungle and now into open farmland. Here, the military presence was even more prominent…the heavily-armed troops bolstered by armoured vehicles with BIG guns – EE-9s with 90mm cannon if you’re interested – guarding buildings pockmarked and burnt from guerrilla skirmishes. Thankfully, waves were still cheerfully reciprocated and we began the descent into Medellin. A brief period of lost-ness in the dark – the Colombian road numbering system was invented by a complete sadist – preceded our arrival at Casa Kiwi, a hostel (with garage parking – hooray!) run by a great guy called Paul who furnished us with two cold beers and a nice room for the night…recommended.
The following day consisted of boring stuff (a long-overdue haircut for ‘Mop’ Matt, more slime in the bike tyres, chatting to Paul) and a trip up to the Cristo Rey monument that stands high above Cali on a mountain top, guarded by ten soldiers looking very forbidding as they cart round the obligatory assault rifles. Turns out they’ve really friendly and quite young – that’s national service for you – fascinated by our trip and fluent grasp of the Spanish language, we “chatted” for a while, examined their weaponry (not like that) and finally got the taxi back to the hostel. That evening we felt obliged to research and deliver a professional opinion on Medellin’s reputation (for beautiful women, not drugs). Result – everything you hear about Medellin is true – the streets are indeed paved, or rather lined, with fantastically gorgeous girls in colossal quantities – a number of which are doubtless surgically enhanced thanks to the ridiculously low cost of plastic surgery in Colombia. Dinner at a disgustingly good restaurant in the Medellin “Zona Rosa” was followed by a random trip to a karaoke bar – what a superb way to learn spanish – no we can’t/didn’t sing – and some marginally unhealthy fast food on the way home.
We set off for Cali the next day, riding straight into mist, rain, wet roads crammed nose-to-tail with howling lorries and slick with lethal diesel rainbows – oh joy. Stopping at a cafe whilst the rain cleared and the sun came out, we ate everything the owner brought us (which turned out to be most of the menu – ah well, only $7 for both of us) and set off down into the valley between the Cordillera Central mountain ranges towards the second major ex-drugs cartel city in Colombia. Once again the weather turned sweet (sounds wrong!) and we blasted along smooth open tarmac, green fields flooding out towards the feet of the blue mountain ranges on both sides. Sporadic columns of smoke rose from burning vegetation on the fields and mountain flanks – either suger cane being cleared or more evidence of the government burning cocaine crops – as the roads unreeled before us towards Cali. Another labyrinthian road system unceremoniously dumped us at Hostel Iguana after a tour of Cali’s back roads, the hostel dead bar the mandatory Israelis but home for the next two nights. Yet again all preconceptions were dashed as Cali proved to be a vibrant, humming town, ‘banging’ nightlife and incredibly friendly people – an excellent meal with Kyle (the guy we met in Bogota) and his friend Kim at an excellent Brazilian restaurant, the evening fuelled with rocket-fuel-proof Capirinhias, ably mixed by Julio, topped off a blinding three days.