Saturday, January 19, 2019

Valledupar to Riohacha

Garmin Info and Map

Riohacha is as far south as I will go on the coast. 
It very close to the border with Venezuela.

It was hard to pull myself away from Casa Roselia in Valledupar. This hotel was like an oasis or a little sanctuary.  Especially after spending the last 2 weeks in dusty noisy towns where the hotels didn't have hot water, toilet seats or shower heads. Taking a hot water shower felt like a luxury. Every morning the kitchen staff made whatever I wanted for breakfast. I typically ordered scrambled eggs with cheese and avocado with lots of coffee.  Perfect.

The owner, Josephina, was an absolute gem. She is very warm and engaging. I didn't really know where to go after Valledupar and she helped me plan a route. I explained that I would like to keep my daily riding to less than 50 miles (80 kms) and she plotted 2 stops on the way to Riohacha at the coast. It was exciting to see that I would be at the ocean in 3 more rides.

Casa Roselia owner,
Josephina, and los niños

While in Valledupar, I explored the city and learned about a new-to-me music called Vallenato. Valledupar is famous for this type of music and there is an international festival dedicated to it here every April. I went to a home showcasing the composer Diomedes Diaz and the Accordion museum. At the accordion museum I learned that the music is a fusion of Indigenous Colombian, African and European. The accordion comes from Europe, the percussion came with the slaves from Africa and it is fused with the local sound especially of the Arhuaco tribe.  The owner of the museum, Beto Murgas, is an accordion master and he gave a short class on the different styles of accordion playing. My Spanish wasn't really up to understanding everything he was talking about but it was still very interesting.

Downtown Valledupar

Los niños loved the trike

The hotel I stayed at only has 7 rooms and it seemed like everyone else staying was a friend of the owner. I suspect they have all been coming to the hotel for so many years they are all friends. I can see why as the hotel really is lovely and very affordable.  The last 2 days construction started on a new apartment and there was a lot of pounding going on. I took this as a sign it was time to push on. I have yet to stay in a hotel in Colombia that didn't have some extra noise. There are always lots of children playing, loud neighbors, music or construction. It never fails. Thanks God for earplugs.

There was a family from Bogotá staying and the kids loved the trike. There were 3 boys and 1 very young girl. They gave me a formal military style farewell complete with salutes as I departed.  This was very adorable and I loved it. 

Rio Guatapuri

I made my way to the Rio Guatapuri which is very popular for swimming. I flew my drone a bit and enjoyed watching all the action. There were people walking on paths, kids playing soccer and lots of people having fun in the water. Next to the river little cafes were set up. This is a nice place to hang out and stay cool. Everyday has been hot but there has also been a fresh breeze blowing keeping the temperatures more manageable. I have always heard that this area and the coast can get unbearably hot but the breeze made the heat ok.

Lots of signs to respect cyclists

Leaving Valledupar there were a few hills where the wind was blocked and I could really feel the heat. But they weren't very high and soon I was back in the breeze. In these conditions a light headwind is really appreciated and that's what I had today. The riding was very beautiful. I crossed streams and rivers and had a view of mountains in the distance. The road was also tree lined which kept the sun off me and more sheltered from bigger gusts of wind. 

Video of my ride from Valledupar to San Juan del Cesar in La Guajira

Crossing a river

Flying a bit on the Rio Guatepuri in Valledupar

As I went through a check-point, the policeman asked me if I wanted anything cold to drink. I pulled over and they were really exited to get pictures with me. These guys were so much fun. One policeman took his scarf with the police badge patch, wrote a nice inscription and had all the guys sign it for me. What a nice gift and probably the gift of the trip. This I will treasure!

Fun policemen gave me a wonderful gift

These guys were awesome!

San Juan del Cesar iglesia
The road was mostly up and the riding was slow. I rode from the Department of Cesar to La Guajira. A new 'state'! The afternoon was getting late especially since I got a later start and spent some time at the river in Valledupar. But luckily, I only had 34 miles for the day. I arrived in the small town of San Juan del Cesar and was pleasantly surprised to find a nice looking normal hotel when everything else looked quite poor. The staff was very attentive and they all loved the trike. The guys were eager to find a safe place and I could see they really wanted to ride it. There was a restaurant and I was able to order a delicious custom meal. I was thrilled. 

Beyond the church in the plaza in front of the hotel, there wasn't much to see in San Juan del Cesar. I noticed that some of the homes were very nice. They seemed newly constructed with small manicured gardens full of beautiful flowers. But, mostly, the town seemed very worn down. At the market, Olympica, there was a crush of moto-taxis fighting for position hoping the next shopper leaving the store would need a lift. It all seemed quite desperate.

Iglesia at night

This guy fixes shoes and sells live chickens on the street of San Juan

The Hotel Casa Murillo was very comfortable but, unfortunately, I arrived the day of a big fiesta in the plaza directly in front of the hotel. It was incredibly loud and went into the wee hours of the morning. Even with ear plugs I couldn't sleep. Again, every hotel in Colombia has been noisy without fail. Tonight was extreme.

Hotel staff bringing Myrtle to the street

Saying goodbye to Casa Murillo staff
In the morning, the hotel guys helped carry Myrtle out to the curb. I let them take the trike for a spin and then had a group photo with the staff. They all had a blast and then we said goodbye. 

I really got a late start today. First, I woke up late and by the time I ate, paid my bill, got packed-up and then let the guys ride Myrtle it was well after 9 am. Looking at Googlemaps, I saw there wasn't much climbing and I had about 44 miles. It seemed very reasonable until I started riding. As I came to the end of the town I was greeted with a big headwind. The wind was really blowing. The trees were swaying all over the place. It was also very hot but the wind provided some relief. 

Town of Distracion

The 1st town I went through was Distracción, which seemed like a strange name for a town. I met a very nice family when I stopped for coffee. While we were talking a very young kid rode passed on a strange 3 wheeled recumbent cycle. It didn't have a pedals or a chain. The wheels were like casters and he sat in a recumbent chair. The front wheel moved and he had his feet on a bar that he moved to the right and left to propel himself. I don't know what to call the thing but it looked to be new like maybe it was a Christmas present. It was painted a bright red. I yelled at the kid to come over to find out more. He rode over from a few houses away but I couldn't understand anything he said. 

Kid riding a crazy recumbent 3-wheeled something or other.

Fonseca is famous for Vallenato singers
From there I went through the small town of Fonseca which is very famous for producing Vallenato singers. There is also a famous singer named Fonseca but he is from Bogotá. The town was good sized with a lot of trash in the streets. I saw 2 cows standing on a street island going through trash. Very strange.  On the edge of town I stopped for soup and a salad. The waiters here were really fun and they helped me forget about the wind for a bit. They said that this time of year the trade winds kick up and it is always very windy in January. They also said when the winds die down the temperature and humidity will be stiflingly hot. 

I'm seeing a lot more trash today. It feels like La Guajira is much poorer that anywhere else I have traveled, so far, in Colombia. There is poor and then there is poor where people throw trash everywhere. This is a place where people live in their trash. There are places like this in Guatemala and Mexico too. It is a very sad sight.

Cute goat

The wind was crazy strong. Every time the road turned I was hoping for relief but the wind only got stronger. The road surface was also very rough. It didn't affect me so much but the car drivers were going all over the road to avoid potholes and it was sometimes scary watching them drive toward me.

I missed a turn and ended up riding through the very busy town of Hatonuevo. I really wanted to stop to eat but I had less than 10 miles to go for the day and kept riding. The road was also turning here and I hoped the last miles would be easier. Incredibly, this was my 3rd turn in the road for the day and I still had a very strong headwind. I couldn't believe it. Somedays you just can't shake the wind. The last ten miles were tortuous and I was exhausted. This was turning into a very long and painful ride. At my slow rate of speed I wouldn't get to the hotel until after 5 pm which is very late for me. 

Iguana resting in a tree

By the time I got the hotel I was completely spent and not feeling well. This hotel had been recommended by the hotel owner in Valledupar. I wish she had told me how expensive it is. Holy moly, I couldn't believe a hotel like this could exist is the middle of nothing. It was huge and had a lot of security. At first, I had to get passed the guard at the gate where lots of dogs were barking incessantly. I was in no mood for rude dogs and wanted to shoot them. Then I rode down to the reception building. At first, I was quoted $120.00 a night. This is a shocking amount to pay for a hotel room in Colombia. It would be like finding yourself at a $350 a night hotel in the US. I talked them down to $90.00 but they wouldn't go lower. In the US $90.00 isn't unusual but here it is still a huge amount. This is the type of resort place that caters to corporate clients and people celebrating important life events. If I had known I would have made other arrangements. But, there was nothing else around and I was completely exhausted. They had me. I was so exhausted I knew I would need 2 nights to recover. I wasn't even sure that would be enough. 

Beautiful songbird perched in the hotel restaurant

I got to my room and the luggage guy turned on the tv to an 80's music station. I lay on the bed unable to move for a long time even though the music was driving me nuts. I was feeling very nauseous like I could throw up but I didn't. Eventually, I got up and had a shower. A wonderful hot water shower. I went to the restaurant and had a bowl of soup which made me feel better. Wow was this a tough day.

Hotel pool

Hotel Waya is in the middle of nothing

The next day, I didn't do much of anything. I was feeling better but still wasn't feeling great. The nauseousness improved but didn't go away. I decided to stay another night because I am expecting the next ride to the coast to be equally as tough as the ride here to Albania. Riding when not feeling well didn't seem like a good idea. Once thing about this hotel that was very surprising is the walls in the room were paper thin. I could hear every conversation in the room next door. 

Boganvilla against the setting sun sky

The next day it occurred to me that I am probably low in electrolytes. I drank down 2 glasses of water with added salt and this helped immensely. By the time I went to bed the nauseousness had lifted and I had more energy. That was a huge relief.  In the morning I felt good enough to ride. I talked to the front desk people about the road ahead. They said I had 2 options. The better road to Riohacha was 75 miles and there were no hotels. In fact, there wasn't much of anything. The shorter route was 44 miles but the road is much busier and is in horrible condition. The way the front desk people talked about the road they had me concerned for my safety but 75 miles is too far for me to ride in a day especially not feeling 100%. I packed up and started out early expecting the wind to be a big problem again. 

Ready to leave the Hotel Waya

Parrot type bird
I don't know what the front desk people were so concerned about. The road surface for the 1st 15 miles was fine and the wind had shifted to almost a tailwind. Woohoo!! I was cruising. This road is lined with people selling gasoline from jugs. I also passed a few real gas stations but it seems everyone buys gas from the guys with the jugs. There were also groups of women selling honey, jam, cheese and other food stuffs from little huts. Maybe because I got such an early start the road was much quieter than I expected. The road from the hotel meets up with my old friend, highway 45, that I have ridden all the way from Bogotá. Here the number has changed to 49 but it is the same road. The last 5 miles before the junction had some rough patches but there really wasn't much traffic. I also started to see beautiful bright green birds. Some looked like parrot type birds and others looked like little song birds. The parrot type birds flew in flocks and there were a lot of them. 

CocaCola bottle tree

Mud construction
Before I knew it I was at the junction. I was hoping there would be a cafe for coffee but there was nothing. I turned onto the road and found a beautiful wide shoulder. My old friend didn't disappoint. Since this road went directly to the coast I was worried about a off-shore headwind but it didn't materialize. From here, there would be a gradual downhill all the way to the ocean. I was making really good time. What a difference from the last ride. This was fun.

Friendly faces
As I rode on, the amount of trash all over everything was simply astonishing. There were fields that were completely covered in trash. I wanted to fly my drone but there were also lots of kids everywhere riding bikes that made me nervous. The amount of trash strewn all over everything would have been something to see from the air. But bored kids make me nervous. Sometimes the kids would ride with me but they quickly got bored of that as well. Packs of kids can be trouble especially when they are bored and there are no adults around. Luckily, there was enough traffic that I felt safe. I can remember times in Morocco where groups of kids were really a problem.

The closer I got to the ocean, the stronger the wind the became. Soon the wind was too strong to consider flying my drone. But, luckily, it was still at my side. Coming into Riohacha I was expecting a tourist town but this was another very dirty, busy, poor town with a lot of trash in the streets. The motorcycles were driving everywhere. There didn't seem to be any rules to the traffic. Once I got through the market area the traffic quieted down and the town started to look better. A couple of blocks from the ocean the area became more touristic. I had a recommendation for the Hotel Taroa which is considered the best hotel in town. I found it quickly and couldn't believe how expensive it is. They were asking $140.00 a night and they were full. Wow. The front desk people recommended a lovely hotel just over a bridge outside the touristic area. It is called Hotel Gimaura and the rooms are $40 a night. It has a very nice pool, a huge grass area with lots of flowers and is directly across the road from the ocean. This is more like it. I had a showerhead and toilet seat but no hot water. I checked in for the 2 nights and may stay longer.

Entering Riohacha

This is a momentous occasion on my tour that I want to celebrate. I have ridden a tricycle from Bogotá to the Caribbean coast of Colombia. How about that?!?

Welcome to Riohacha and the Caribbean coast of Colombia
Hotel Gimaura

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Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Colombia Trike Tour - Curumani to Valledupar

Garmin Maps and Info

Current Location, Valledupar, yellow stars are recommended places saved to check out

Myrtle locked to a post outside my room in Curumani

Curumani really didn't have much to offer. This is a fairly big town and it didn't even have a public square or a park. Again, I tried to find a way to the water area but with no luck. One guy suggested I ride my trike on a unpaved road for 20 miles. When I got to the water there probably wouldn't be a town or village but I could see the water. It's possible I could ask a fisherman to take me out in his boat but that seems pretty sketchy. An unpaved road would take me 4 hours to ride and then I would have to ride back because there are no towns or hotels. And it has been very hot, like 95 degrees everyday. That seemed like an awful lot of effort just to stand on the water's edge.  I could see doing this if I had a car or even a scooter but on the trike? Maybe with someone else but not alone.

After 2 nights, I got packed up. The ride today was to a town I didn't even know the name of. With the heat I wanted to ride a reasonable distance. Every day since leaving the mountains has been at least 95 degrees. On the map there were 2 hotels listed about 30 miles down the road. 2 hotels but no town. Since I started intermittent fasting, I don't eat until 7:30 am which still meant I could get a early enough start to reach my destination before the heat of the day.  All the towns here cater to the truck traffic and finding a restaurant open early is surprisingly easy. Some restaurants even open at 4 am! 

Colorful dead butterfly

As usual, the riding was lovely. The landscape between the towns is lush green with lots of trees and animals. This is a sharp contrast to the towns which are all dusty, busy and not at all attractive. I saw some beautiful birds today. As I was riding I keep noticing a cloud formation that really looked like snow on a mountain. I must have seen this cloud formation for an hour before I realized it is snow on top of a mountain. Where I'm riding it's 95 degrees but those mountain tops much be very cold to have snow. What I was looking at is the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains which are 18,000 ft in elevation. Incredible.

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

All day, as usual, I got honks and thumbs up. One thing about Colombia is everyone honks, a lot. Busses honk at each other to say hi. Cars honk to let people know they are close. Motocycles and taxis are constantly honking at everyone they pass looking for business. The honks are quick and constant. I typically ride with music to drown out some of the noise. When I'm walking about towns, the honking is really annoying. It is something I haven't been able to get used to and I often yell at motos and taxis when they want my business.

Video of rides from Aguachica to La Loma

Coal mine sign

Empty coal train
I arrived to the spot on the map that had 2 hotels listed on Google maps. Actually, there were 4 hotels. The spot is called La Loma and it caters to some coal mines that are close as well as truck traffic. The hotels were much nicer than I expected. I checked in to one that had a big pool and was quite comfortable. There was also a huge restaurant next door. After getting settled and having a shower I went to have a late lunch. With the intermittent fasting, I try to eat lunch before 3:30 pm. They had a grill going and I asked for a salad with carne asada. Asking for a salad in Colombia takes some doing. I always assume a salad means lettuce as a base. I don't think of lettuce as something you need to ask for. For a long time, I would only ask for the toppings on a salad and that is all I would get because, in Colombia, you have to ask for the lettuce too. Today, I forgot to ask for the lettuce and got sliced cucumber and avocado. This is also delicious.

I had a good night's rest and went to the same restaurant for breakfast. Another thing I've learned is when ordering coffee it's important to be very clear if you don't want sugar. Often the coffee is pre-made with sugar and poured from a thermos. Sometimes I forget and have to ask for a new cup. I have never liked sugar or anything else in my coffee but now that I'm eating Keto, sugar is prohibited. Before Keto, I probably would have drunk it anyway but not any more.

Puma or panther warning?

Soldier asked to get a photo

The ride to Bosconia was beautiful, long and hot. There were some significant climbs and I had a stronger head wind than the past few days. When it's hot I don't mind a headwind because it will keep me cooler but it also slows me down. There was a military base on the route and lots of soldier all along the road. A few of them asked me to stop to get a photo.  On the map, Bosconia looks like a good size town with options. There are a number of hotels listed on Google maps.  In reality, Bosconia is really ugly. It is junction town where traffic either goes to the coast or to the capital of Cesar department, Valledupar. The semi truck traffic was incredible.  The intersection of the actual junction of the 2 highways was practically gridlocked. What a mess! Even with police directing traffic it was completely congested and very loud with the trucks, people yelling and, of course, the honking.

Emanuel helped me find a good hotel

With many hotels listed on Google maps I was confident of finding a nice place for the night. As I rode into town each hotel I passed was really awful. They all looked poor, dirty and not safe. I didn't know what to do so I asked a random young man on the street to help me. He was more than happy to help. He wanted to know my price range and I said it didn't matter. I was only looking to be safe for the night. The first couple of hotels we looked at were horrible and they didn't have a safe place for Myrtle. He took me down many streets and we finally found the Pacific Hotel which, at first, didn't look promising. The hotel was actually on the 2nd floor which would be impossible to bring Myrtle up. But the hotel lady showed me a huge supply closet that had 2 locks at the bottom on the stairs. This closet was a perfect fit for Myrtle and I was sold. The room was actually much nicer than I was expecting and it was at the back of the hotel which was also much quieter. The people were super nice as well. I gave the young man, Emanuel, a tip for helping me and I'm sure the hotel gave him a finder's fee too. This is a common practice especially in Mexico. I've had young men follow me to hotels to ask for finder's fee even though they didn't help me find the place at all.

Myrtle parked in the hotel supply closet for the night

Bosconia has lots of colorful trici taxis

I was hoping Bosconia would have more to offer but it was so noisy and ugly I got packed up in the morning. This would be 3 days in a row of riding because there simply wasn't a reason to stay in any of the towns. I was eager to get to a town with something touristic. The next town was Valledupar, the capital of Cesar department. Today's ride would be my longest but I was motivated to be in a more beautiful place. 60 miles is a big day for me and I got started at 6 am after breakfast. The ride started with a couple of good hills. I was happy to get them out of the way earlier in the day. Today I turned off highway 45. I have been on highway 45 almost the entire trip from Bogotá. I was now on highway 80 and this was much quieter than highway 45. Sometimes it was in great condition and sometimes it wasn't. Not long after starting, I noticed there half the highway was under construction and closed to traffic. The road looked to be finished but just not open. This is probably because a bridge hasn't been finished. As I was contemplating taking it a couple of cyclists appeared. I stopped them to ask about the road and they said I could take it for 4 kms. They said something I couldn't understand about why and would need to get back on the traffic road but that I would be able to get back on the unfinished road very quickly. Wonderful. I would just need to figure out when to get off and then look for the obstacle to get back on. They said I would be able to stay on the unfinished road for another 14 kms once I got back on. Wow, was this nice! I had the whole road to myself. Just before the obstacle which I never figured out what it was, I was passed by 2 motorcycles and saw them get off. Just like the cyclists said I got back on very quickly and enjoyed a wonderful down hill on a perfectly smooth road. 

Cyclists who explained the road ahead

Even when I had to leave my unfinished road, there wasn't nearly as much traffic as I had been experiencing on highway 45. This really was a wonderful ride. It was just long. I stopped in Aguas Blancas for a delicious lunch and when I started riding again it felt like someone had turned a heater on to full blast. Holy moly, it was hot. For sure, 100 degrees. I went through a toll booth and asked if there was any water from some of the venders. A young guy selling cold drinks from a cooler came over. I explained that I just wanted cold water for my head. He opened the cooler poured ice cold water into my hat and then let me soak my neck scarf. That was fantastic. I did that one more time in the next town of Valencia de Jésus, the last town of the day. By the end of the ride I was feeling like a tuna seared on the grill. The sun is so strong here. I reapplied sun screen many times but I really think I need to find a long sleeve shirt to wear especially for the longer rides. 

Welcome to Valledupar

Finally, I arrived in Valledupar. As usual, I looked for the best place in town. I saw there was a hotel that had a 5 star rating, the Hotel Boutique Casa Rosalia. What a sweet place. There are only 7 rooms. It was a family home that had been converted to a hotel. This hotel is like a little sanctuary in the middle of the big city with lots of places to sit or swing peacefully in a hammock. I was shown a big lovely room with 20 foot ceilings that had lots of windows and done completely in white. With breakfast, it was $50 a night. I checked in for 4 nights.  This is what I was looking for and exactly what I needed. I'm looking forward to relaxing this beautiful hotel and exploring this capital city.

Myrtle has a parking pad outside my room

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