I headed out of Cartagena today. I packed up last night, so I just took a quick shower, put on my gear and headed around the block to get my bike out of the parking garage. Not surprisingly, although I had asked they wash the bike, not a shocker, the bike had not been touched. That would need to be handled immediately as salt water would keep eating away at the bike.
Rode the bike back, loaded the gear and said my goodbyes to the crew from the Independence who were up at that early hour. Got on the bike, set Waze for Monteria and off I went. Today Waze took me through some of the more colorful neighborhoods of Cartagena out towards the highway. Went through a large fish and vegetable market that although only shortly past 7am, it was already*bustling with people. Then as I approached the highway I stopped to top off the tank with gas and asked if there was anyone who could wash the bike. The attendent said there was and walked off for a minute. Shortly then, a barefoot guy with a couple of old t-shirts as rags walked up to me and asked that I move the bike and set her on the center stand.
I pulled all my gear off while he filled an old paint bucket with water. Then a second lad showed up and they started going at it, swinging the bucket to spray the bike, rubbing, scrubbing and getting it all shined up. Paid the boys 4,000 pesos, about US$2 for their troubles and was on my way.
Waze has been a great tool to have while on the trip. I had done a great deal of research before heading out, and everyone talks about Garmin, but at over $700, I decided not to get it. I'm glad I didn't. Waze with the multiple search engine options is rarely not able to find where you need to go, and as you drive into big cities, it really is amazing. I particularly like Waze on my iphone linked up with the SENA bluetooth headset. I even downloaded a charming British lady as Waze's voice - not needing to look down to the GPS, but rather being told when on in what direction to turn. But I digress.
One thing that I love of Colombia is that it is the only country I know where motorcycles do not pay on toll roads - and in Colombia, nearly all highways that interconnect the major cities are paid. Today I traveled through the department of Cordoba. This is primarily flat land near sea level that is extremely fertile and primarily known as cattle and livestock country. It is incredibly green with some very cool rolling hills. I had not been on the bike in nearly a week, so today I really enjoyed the ride.
Today I also hit another importantly milestone of the trip, hitting 3,000kms taveled in little over two weeks of roadtime.
The temperatures continued to climb, nearing 38C, so I stopped for a cool tall glass of maracuya - if you haven't had it, I strongly recommend it.
Monteria, where I was headed, is the capital city of the department of Cordoba, where I really had no idea of what to expect. I simply chose it as a mid-point to stop at on my way to Medellin. I would be staying the night and then head out early tomorrow to Medellin. As I rolled into the city, I really didn't have any plans on where to stay, but as I did in David, I pulled a taxi driver over, asked if he knew of a inexpensive and clean hotel and in no time I was following him through roundabouts and stop lights into the center of town. We pulled up at Hotel Media Naranja right in the middle of the commercial sector.
If there is one thing that cities and towns in Latin America have is that the tend to have near the city center commercial areas that are dingy, dirty, smelly, and filled to the brim with all sorts of rundown shops, stands, and all sorts of sketchy elements hanging out. These are places that do not inspire confidence, although it unlikely that anything will happen to you. Knock on wood.
After dropping my gear off in the lobby, I went back out in search of a place to park my bike. I drove around several blocks, asking for a parking lot (parqueadero in Colombia), but nothing. I finally went up about five blocks and found a place , walked back to the hotel in some scorching heat and headed strait for a shower. This would need to be followed by food in short order.
The night before I had done a quick search of Monteria and Wikipedia had some of the highlights of the place. Beside having a difficult time in the mid 16th Century in receiving a charter to found the town from the regional capital of Cartagena de Indias, Monteria doesn't have too many attractions, though the one that was repeatedly mentioned is the riverside park knows as "La Ronda." This pedestrian and bicycle park is outstanding and completely out of context. I walked out of my hotel, then turned left towards the river down a narrow street of pestilence only to come out on the other end to a large avenue with a large band of green on the opposite side.
Today was a Monday, and like many Monday's in Colombia, this was a holiday - the move many of the national and local holidays to Mondays to allow for three day weekends. This has promoted internal national turism, bringing much needed economic development to many depressed regions of the country. So, on this particular holiday, the park was filled with families walking around with the kids, couples riding bicycles down the bicycle trails, boat rides down the river and some folks just passing time sitting at a cafe huddled under some trees.
As I started walking and enjoying all the greenery, I lifted my sights up towards the canopy and I could not believe what I saw - a monkey.
Yes, there I was a block away from the market and all its*putrid*smells and I'm looking at monkeys playing up in the trees in this park. I continued to walk down the*promenade people watching, sitting at some benches for a few minutes along the way as the late afternoon turned to dusk. I really never expected to find this little charming pocket of greenery in what initially was looking as just one more dingy city center. This was truly unexpected.