Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Aracataca & 100 years of … Cycling the steaming plains of Northern Colombia – Happy New Year 2017

We had a lovely Christmas in Santa Marta with our AirBnB hosts Mark and Ana, and with Ana’s extended family. Thank you all for making us feel like part of the family.  In Colombia they celebrate in the evening of the 24th December rather than on Christmas day.p1010477Our fat bikes were of great interest and some test rides were required. Unfortunately Ana’s sister fell off just after this photo as she couldn’t reach the ground. All OK though.p1020261We finally left all the comforts of home on Boxing day and set off across the steaming hot plains towards the distant mountains.p1010494We found it best to start out just before dawn, around 5:40 most days when was a nice cool 23°C. Generally by about 11:00 it was heading up to 40°C. This area is full of wetlands and lakes and many of the place name’s started with Cienaga, meaning swamp.p1020278-1There were lots of roadside cafes along our route which gave much needed shade as well as a place to mend to odd puncture.

We visited the pueblo of Aracataca, which is the birth place of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It was a very pretty town, but it had been turned into a tourist shrine which made it lot less appealing. Unfortunately, although we passed a sign to Mompox, a beautiful town that is mentioned in many of his novels (Macondo in 100 years of Solitude), it was just too far and way too hot for us to get there.p1020305This whole area is flat as a pancake and after the rains, which finished a few weeks ago, it is lush green and beautiful. p1020311However we could see what was to come in a few days!

p1020402From the pictures this probably looks like a rural idyll but the reality is a little different. The driving in Colombia is horrendous and the road we were cycling along for the first couple of days was narrow and very busy with massive American style trucks, coaches driven by maniacs and Christmas holiday traffic. We had a shoulder of road that is about 2 foot wide, sometimes.p1020313This truck, lying on its side, narrowly missed wiping out half the village. It was probably trying to avoid a coach who would have been overtaking a column of trucks on a sharp bend.

p1020386 But this did not last for too long.  It soon turned into perfect cycling conditions.p1020373-1Thankfully, a bit further along they were in the process of building a dual carriageway. They hadn’t opened this bit yet, but no one seemed to mind us riding along it. It is how all roads should be, 2 carriageways for bikes and the cars can share the other side. Although we did see crews of road workers, at whatever time we passed them it was always breakfast, or tea break, or lunch or siesta. We never saw anyone actually working. This is some video of the variety of riding conditions since leaving Santa Marta.

Most of the villages we passed though were very poor, with very basic infrastructure. But the building of the new road and the reduction of the violence has brought the hope that tourists will come to the area, so in amongst these houses will suddenly be an incongruous metal and glass fronted hotel.p1020415One or two of the towns seem to be thriving, such as this one at Aguachica. Although most of the affluence here seems to be on the outside. After Aquachica all the farming land looked much more organised, with well fed cattle,p1020462-1 lush pastureland and expensive looking farm buildings.p1020454We spent New Year’s Eve in a small town called San Alberto, which must be the most crowded and loudest town I have ever been in. The whole town is vibrating with the sound of 300 or 400 amplifiers, turned up full volume and playing competing salsa music. Added to this most of the local populace with their whole family, including babies and dogs (and the occasional trussed live sheep!), p1020475-1riding around the town on motorbikes,p1020472-1 and the odd youth letting off large firework rockets in the middle of the crowded streets while holding the centre of the rocket casing in his hand,p1020478-1He had just let go of the rocket when I took this,  just leaving the smoke trail. We caught our arrival to the town on video.

This town marks the end of 750 kms of totally flat cycling. Tomorrow is the start of 2017 and the start of our major mountain climbing which is going to be a bit of a shock to the system. I just hope that it gets cooler as we go up.

Happy New Year to all our readers.

While we are cycling we are also raising money for the humanitarian charity ShelterBox. If you would like to make a donation to them click on the donate button at the bottom of this blog if you are reading this from within our website. To find out more of what they do  visit our links tab on the website and click on ShelterBox.