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Fri Apr 05 2013: Colombian haze, Cartagena nights

On the second day of travel, most of the passengers emerged from the hold of the ship feeling human again. We were landlubbers no more, and greedily shoveled down the hearty Stahlratte breakfast laid out on the top deck. For some of us, it was the first real meal we ate in over 24 hours!

Our newfound sealegs were not going to be put to use, as the skyline of Cartagena emerged on the horizon in the early afternoon. South America beckoned to us! For most of the passengers it was the first time on this continent. The Stahlratte anchored down a few hundred meters away from the shores of Manga Island, where the Aduana offices were located. Because it was expensive to rent a commercial pier to offload the bikes, we used a small public pier and dinghied the bikes to shore. It was a wild process to get the bikes on land and it's a testament to the crew's experience that we timed the offload to coincide with high tide as you can see in the video below:

Couldn't believe how they got our bikes onto shore!

My bike needed a few extra pair of hands to haul up

Since we had just unloaded the bikes illegally onto Colombian shores without customs or insurance, we were quickly hurried to the Aduana building a few short blocks away. Ludwig had arranged everything with a local fixer to get us legal, and within a few hours, all 10 bikes had all the papers required to ride in the country. We have been really impressed with how well-oiled and efficient the Stahlratte experience has been, coupling plenty of Darien crossing experience with German efficiency and Caribbean good-humour.

Riding through the old town of Cartagena

Arriving at our neighbourhood for the next few days

We're staying in a part of town called Getsamani, a seedier district of Cartagena that recently has undergone a transformation from a past checkered with drugs and prostitution to a vibrant, hip neighbourhood of cafes, restaurants and nightclubs. We've booked a room with air-conditioning (very important) and we're initially a bit disappointed to learn that there is no hot water in the showers. Until we realize that the average temperature in Cartagena is 31C all year round. No one needs a hot water shower!

Performers at the Convention Centre in Cartagena

Found out later this is the Caribbean Arts Festival

Mornings and evenings are the best time to be out in the city, and our neighbourhood as well as the nearby historic centre is bustling with activity, both tourist and local. We both loved the colonial architecture, pretty balconies with flowers looking over cobblestone streets, and the ever present churches looming above the narrow alleyways.

Sun setting behind San Pedro Claver Church

Balconies everywhere!

The Cafe Del Mar is the best place in the city to watch a sunset

We hung out mostly with the Stahlratte club, meeting in the evenings for drinks and walking around the city. A friend put us in touch with Nick and Clara, who live in Toronto, but spend their winters in Cartagena. We spent a couple of days with them, and they spoiled us silly, ferrying us from swimming at luxury hotels, drinks overlooking the Cartagena shore and delicious seafood dinners.

Mojitos by the poolside! Heaven!

Nick and Clara live across the Sofitel Hotel in the centro and this is how he spends every afternoon!

Follow the nose, it always knows!

The hotel was renovated in an old convent, and the bar is built over a crypt. Spooky!

The party (and mojitos) continue at Nick and Clara's balcony across the street

Horse-drawn nights in the historic centre

Neda celebrates her first birthday on the road

It's still a novelty celebrating anniversaries on the road, different than a trip or a vacation. First Christmas, first birthday, etc., not being tied to any place, knowing that the next anniversary the next year will be somewhere entirely different. We're loving the nomadic experience, I think mainly because there's so many new things to see and we're going at a pretty slow pace to appreciate everything.

Late night coffee in the plaza

Post-hangover lunch in Getsamani
After 3 days of non-stop drinking to celebrate Neda's birthday, we crawled out of our hostel to the heat haze of the Cartegena afternoon. We enjoyed pizza and spaghetti in a great Italian restaurant around the corner called I Balconi, watching the lazy weekend unfold below in the streets of our neighbourhood.

This outfit looks more Cuban than Colombian

Early morning bicycle ride

Cuban women selling fruits on the street

More balconies!

Walkng the streets of Cartagena

After a few days in Cartagena, the Stahlratte Motorcycle Club decided to split ways. One group was heading to the north to the beaches of Santa Marta, while another was headed south to Medellin. We rode with them out of the city, 8 adventure bikes zipping in and out of Colombian traffic, the Caribbean Sea blowing warm air on our already hot and humid group ride.

Typical group ride shots - gas stations and food stops

Charter member of the Stahlratte Motorcycle Club

Neda and I had different plans, so we accompanied them as far as Baranquilla, a couple of hours on the shore north of Cartagena. After a final breakfast together, we said goodbye and went our different ways. Apparently, the first item on our plan was to get rained on on the interior roads back to Cartagena. It was so hot that we didn't bother putting any rainsuits on, and our ride was made a bit more bearable as our mesh gear dried and evaporated our wet clothes underneath on the road back to the city.

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