Venturing Deeper into the Infamous Colombian Interior

Bags of Water?After almost two weeks of smoldering in the blazing Caribbean sunlight, Justin and I had grown restless to leave the coast behind and venture deeper into the unknown of Colombia. Normally, this would have been the part where we would say goodbye and go our separate ways – I on bicycle and he by bus – however as circumstance would have it, we instead found ourselves traveling high into the Andes together.

The main reason that we had lingered in Cartagena for quite so long was to investigate and ideally remedy the situation with my injured foot. The massive, swollen and incredibly painful lump had immediately bulged out on my foot after crashing against the hull of the Stahlratte during a rope swing accident in the San Blas Islands. Three days after the damage had been done we were finally pulling into port in Cartagena and my first order of business had been to find the local hospital.

Colombian PuebloAlthough I had sat waiting in the emergency room on several occasions, been thoroughly x-rayed, and prescribed topical ointment for the hideous aberration, even after two weeks the pain was unchanging and the welt as malignant as the day it was inflicted. However the doctor had assured me that there was in fact no reason to worry (although I nevertheless always did) and that the damage was simply muscular.

Well, I wasn’t going to wait around forever. So the day after my final visit to the hospital in Boca Grande Justin and I made our way to the bus terminal of Cartagena. Sadly, the bus terminal was nowhere near the old city and none of the small collective buses that made the journey appeared to be able to hold my bicycle. Instead I found myself meandering through the back slums of the city, completely lost and with the searing pain of my foot rotating atop the pedals, for the hour-long ride out to the edge of town (while Justin rode along in the bus…).

Sincelejo PlazaWe both agreed that our next major destination would be Medellin, the city formerly known as home to the infamous drug cartel of Pablo Escobar, yet always referred to as a modern Eden by everyone whom we encountered. Yet it seemed a shame to simply jump directly from the Northern coast to a point almost halfway down the country without getting to know some of the places along the way (plus I hate long bus rides). So, after referring to our maps and guidebooks, we eventually agreed that the next stop on the journey would be the small provincial city of Sincelejo in the Northwest of the nation.

Three warm but breezy hours later our bus was pulling into the station in Sincelejo and we were hopping out. We quickly situated ourselves in what was probably the smallest hotel room known to man, but hey, it was a steal. Although we hadn’t had a particularly strenuous day, sometimes even a lengthy bus ride can wear you out and so, as the room had television (which I hadn’t watched in many months) we melted into the mattress and vegged out for a few hours.

Sidewalk NotariesEventually we decided that we owed it to ourselves to go out and get to know the city. I remember how several months later while spending time in Colombia many Colombians would frequently refer to Sincelejo as a backwards and characterless city. But for some reason as Justin and I made our way through the quaint streets bustling with villagers, we couldn’t help but swoon with contentedness.

A delicious wind whipped through the town ruffling the leaves in the trees of the central square and refreshing us after our many months along lowland Caribbean and Pacific coasts after the past few months. Low rolling hills surrounded the town in every direction and exposed the burning amber sunset to us. Everything seemed close-by, the hand of corporate chains was almost nowhere to be seen, and the town could have served as a model of delightful efficiency and aesthetics in comparison with the towns and cinderblock cities of Central America of which we were accustomed.

Moto-CultureWe agreed to spend two nights there to give ourselves ample time to unwind and not spend all of our time packing and unpacking. Plus, the room was economic enough between the two of us that it offered a guilt-free opportunity to exist without paying rent. Seeking to further our familiarization with the region, we sought out locals with whom to spend our time and that was how Viviana came to us.

I found Viviana through CouchSurfing and by the evening of our second day we were hustling down the stairs of our hotel to hop into the SUV which had pulled up out front to pick us up. Three sweet and jovial young Sincelejan ladies awaited us and soon spirited us away towards one of their favorite restaurants. We chatted and joked well into the night and only decided that it was time to head back when I noticed that Justin’s eyes were quite nearly closed from the exhaustion of trying to understand the conversation (since at that time he wasn’t the Spanish whiz that he probably is by now).

Are You Serious?After being dropped off back at the hotel by the girls, we bid our farewells, got a full and restorative night of sleep and the following morning were jumping onto the next outbound bus to the North. We had questioned Viviana as to whether there was another point of interest worth visiting en route to Medellin and she had recommended the village of Santa Rosa de Osas, about six hours South of Sincelejo. Sadly, Justin and I had decided to go super cheap on our bus budget (since bus prices had taken a huge jump since Central America) and instantly found ourselves cursing the day that the bus driver was born after being tricked into boarding the most cramped, crowded, and superheated bus in the existence of motor vehicles.

As I sat there with my knees almost up against my chest I was felt livid towards the chauffeur and his assistant and spent almost the entire ride plotting of rampaging up to the front of the bus, giving him a piece of my mind and storming out – but then I remembered that my bicycle was jammed into the boot of the bus. So Justin and I just gritted our teeth and continued on.

Santa Rosa de OsasFortunately for us, about two hours into the bus-ride we reached a transfer bus station, jumped off and demanded the remainder of our bus fare back – we were over it! We would find another company to ride with. And so we did, a massive and comfortable bus, and once again we were back on board and bound for Santa Rosa de Osas.

Justin and I had left Sincelejo a little later than planned and the journey had taken quite a lot longer than we had been informed, however as we arrived in Santa Rosa we were in for the true rude awakening. It was already dark by the time our bus pulled alongside the highway by the town, and as we stepped down onto the pavement in shorts and t-shirts it was as if we were shot through the hearts with an icy arrow. It was truly bone chillingly frigid! Neither of us had experienced cold like this in months and the surprise took us completely without warning.

Little Town StreetsWe needed to find a place to stay (and change) and quick! Well, after one glance at the village up high on a hill, we decided that that would be too far and looked around us desperately for another option. Thar she was, a little truck-stop style hotel clustered in amongst the highway-side restaurants, and so we scrambled over with our overburdened loads of equipment.

Once we had checked in and gotten ourselves up to the room we were in for another little surprise. Apparently, places like this in the Andes, despite the bitter cold, often didn’t have heating or fireplaces! And of course this was the situation that awaited us in our icy bedroom (with an open and un-closable window). However the frosty shock had also jolted us into a jittery and high spirited delirium, and so, after finally discovering our cold weather gear (way down at the bottom of our packs), we layered up and headed out to explore.

Another Church?It was a steep and curving lane that headed up from the highway and into the town and as we ascended I found myself doing little cold jigs and hurriedly spitting out random jibes in a ridiculous attempt to keep my body temperature up. But finally we made it to the top, and although that first corner of the town appeared to be almost deserted, aside from a few meandering old campesiño men in cowboy hats and ponchos, as we approached the other side of the square things drastically changed.
Apparently we had stumbled upon the main street of the town and as we turned onto it and made our way forward it was as if we had stumbled into a chilly highland village somewhere in Spain. The quaint villagers hardly resembled any race which we had encountered previously within our travels in Latin America, but instead looked like a town which had been purely founded by colonists and completely forgotten by the world around it. Even the costume of the villagers was more like that of old world provincial Europe.

And somehow, despite perhaps its apparent relative insignificance, Justin and I found it absolutely wonderful and fascinating. We strolled the streets as though we were villagers past young girls in pleated schoolgirl skirts, old men in black felt hats, and mothers with their shoulders and heads wrapped in silken scarves. It was a delightfully pleasant stroll and after an hour and a half of meandering the winding town and feasting on street-side kabobs Justin and I headed back down towards our hotel both, both completely struck by the feeling that we had indeed entered a new and wondrous chapter in our voyage.

Soon thereafter we were back in our room, wrapped with our blankets up to our chins and nestling ourselves to sleep somewhat cold, but completely satisfied. The next day we were up early for a daytime stroll of the village and to find a light brunch before hitting the road again and heading for the fabled metropolis of Medellin only two short hours away. However, as we once again found ourselves back on the side of the highway loading our bags and bicycle up into a colectivo, little did I know that my arrival in Medellin would be no ordinary tourist visit, but that soon this misunderstood but magical city would quickly draw me in with its charms and I would find myself calling it home for the next chapter of my voyage.


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