Stubborn wisdom teeth, loiterers and Cartagenan colonial splendour.

I’m back in Cartagena, having left my bike briefly to check out Tayrona National Park, further round the coast at Santa Marta.

After getting a wisdom tooth pulled (no 18) and undergoing some heavy, root canal drilling (I cracked on a chicken bone in Panama), the dentist has recommended I stay put for a few days, to reduce any chance of infection. Despite the bargain price, the whole ordeal proved relatively discomfort-free. Only the closing moments of digging out my stubborn, semi-rotten wisdom tooth induced a flurry of feet kicking and expressive toe wiggling, as I tried to fulfil my promise to keep my head as still as possible.

Anyway, Colombia… So much more than just cheap dentistry. Most visitors are drawn to my first port of call, Caribbean Cartagena, for the colonial splendours of its old town, stamped with the UNESCO heritage site stamp of approval. As such, it’s been spruced up for the huge gangs of tour groups, regularly disgorged into its tight cobbled back streets from their towering cruise ships. They, in turn, draw an almost equal cluster of street touts, collecting like bees around honey/money. Still, with their merchandise of Panama hats and Cuban cigars, they’re definitely a higher class of tout than the ones who loiter in the street where I’m saying, yelling ‘Rasta!’ when I pass, sidling over and sniffing provocatively, or whispering a hopeful ‘charlie’ or ‘cocaina’…

Yet impressive as the old centre is, with its grandiose gateways, churches and convents, its elegant balconies, shaded squares and its Francis Drake-proof city ramparts, I inevitably find myself steering away from the boutique hotels and cafes, in search of the peeling paintwork and the scruff of real life.

I’m itching to rolling again, but will wait until Easter has passed. In Getsemani, the backpacker part of town, the streets are fast emptying in readiness for Semana Santa, a momentous festive period for Latin Americans, stretched out into several days and nights of drunken revelry. If it’s anything like Mexico, it’s no bad idea being off the roads at times like this.

This enforced break has at least given me the chance to recover from another bout of phlegmy coughing, and more importantly, taste some of the street snacks and drinks Colombia has to offer, surely one of the most enjoyable perks to bike touring.

I just have to remember to chew on my left side…

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The Puerta del Reloj, gateway to the old town. Seen here with pirate-proof reinforcements. Cartagena was a valuable staging post for shipping plundered gold back to Spain, making it a popular spot for British pirates too.

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The 16th Century Iglesia de Santa Domingo, the oldest in the city. Below the crop is a throng of American tourists.

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Plenty of colonial splendour for history buffs, though much of it was rebuilt after Drake sacked the port in 1586. He was bought off for a princely sum of money.

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On every street corner, copies of the works of Colombian art hero Fernando Botero - who delighted in depicting unusually rotund characters.

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And one of his original sculptures, in Plaza de Santa Domingo.

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Beautiful old town backstreets in El Centro. Caught in a rare tour group lull.

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This was more my style - the more beatnik backstreets around Getsemani.

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A little run down, but rich in character.

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Each house, a slice of living history.

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I spent ages walking the streets, bemusing locals with my choice of photos.

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Enjoying the little details around every corner.

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More city artwork, in front of la Iglesia de Santisima.

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And to cool off... Chichas, natural fruit drinks, help temper the Caribbean heat. This one is made from mandarins.

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And this one is made from avena - oatmeal, water, syrup and canella. Nice bit of anti-corporate recycling.

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Healthy snacks available too.

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Great to see the bike culture here is going strong. On the recreational front, Colombian riders are famed for their hill climbing prowess, and I've heard there's an active road club scene too.

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Utility bikes everywhere.

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And handpushed carts.

More refreshing liquid mysteries on offer, served on three wheels.

Lorely and Russ, from Bath, UK, on their Argos and Surly LHT. They've also ridden down from Alaska. I'm now being overtaken by the riders who left in summer 2010...

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My 'local' grocery store. Colombians are quick to smile and have a laugh.

Cheesy classic. The Colombian stable, arepas, are fried corn flour dough generally stuffed with butter and cheese. Available through the day.

More cheese: the tasty, doughy pan de bono. An instant classic. Appears at breakfast time.

As far as I can see, when Colombians aren't eating some form of pastry made with cheese, they have a sweet tooth too...

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The best of both worlds. This snack involves wedging some cheese with a slice of sugared bocadillo - made from guayava. Strangely delicious.

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Fruit crazy. Each 'pila' - pile of mangos - costs a dollar. I had ten in mine.

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And my current favourite treat, bread intertwined with 'arequipe' - heated, sweetened caramelised milk. I really need to get back on that bike...

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And perhaps brush my teeth a little better... This is the sorry state of my stubborn wisdom tooth. Glad that one's out. After a scifi panoramic x-ray (15 dollars), the dentist promises me the rest are in much happier condition!

Need a good dentist?

Try Ivan E. Porto Cortes, Manga Cra.16 No 25-23 (tel 6606399 – 6604814).

13 thoughts on “Stubborn wisdom teeth, loiterers and Cartagenan colonial splendour.

  1. Susie Moberly

    Ooh! So quick after the last one and as always a delight to read as I sip my second cup pa Darjeeling in this hot early morning sun … LOVE your latest batch of images… the paintings and sculptures make me want to come and live there… such faded elegance but like you, I am drawn to the peeling paint and tack… street food and the friendly ambience… hope the cavity fills soon… hate cruise ships, loved the photo of your wisdom tooth. Beautifully set up! Just hope you don’t become less ‘wise’ travelling in these dangerous places… while I contemplate ‘implants’ where my teeth need replacing… much cheaper here and worth the operation I think. Take care and MORE soon please! Warm Hug S

    Reply
  2. Simon G

    Hey Cass…great to see you back online. It is a glorious Easter weekend back here in Bath…out on the bike (Noah is big enough to go out in the bike seat now – Rob is on the case). There must be something in the water here, he’s going to be a whopper! All good with Sarah and Rob…I’m out on the road a lot but loving being back home. Will send you a link to some photos.

    Look forward to catching up again soon.

    S

    Reply
  3. Talbot Pratt

    Hi Cass, Started following you through emails from your mom. First trying to arrange delivery of that, no two, GPS SPOT trackers. But then becoming interested in your adventure. And last getting hooked on your well written stories and beautiful pictures. Totally fun and I just wanted to say “Nice to meet you and keep doing it” Talbot from Digital Yacht.

    Reply
  4. Ron McCartan

    Hi Cass
    Sorry about your tooth but I’m sure you’ve not lost any of your WISDOM. It’s also great to see you back in print in a revamped C+. Annette and I are off to Hokkaido on 27th May with our new Rob Mather tourers – wonderful craftsmanship. I’ll try and send you a few pics of the bikes.
    Take care and safe cycling. Ron & Annette

    Reply
  5. Nancy Crowell

    You got some great bike pics. And if there was a “like” button…I would’ve “liked” Holly’s comment 😉

    Reply
  6. Zane Selvans

    Youch, hope the rest of the teeth hold it together. Do you have any kind of insurance, or are medical costs in the rest of the world so reasonable that it’s easier to just pay cash… that often seems to be the case. The US is so messed up in that respect.

    I think it’s great that you’re getting lapped by the next season’s cyclists. You must be doing something right!

    Reply
  7. Rick Pickett

    Great photos! Loved the tooth! 😛

    What camera gear are you using on your trip? We’re bringing our massively beefy D7000, but was curious if you’re pointing and shooting with anything.

    Safe travels and maybe we’ll cross paths! (Starting in Guayaquil June 6th)

    Cheers,
    Rick

    Reply
  8. gyatsola

    For the price of my last root canal i think I could have flown to Columbia and had a ride there too! I suppose the novocaine was cheap too….

    What direction are you going from Columbia? Venezuela or directly south?

    Reply
  9. Dave Hill

    Hi Cass,

    Just a short note to say thanks for the blog – it’s a fantastic read and as usual, the photos are stunning. You will remember your snaps of Manali – Leh encouraged me to join your tour there. Well, there’s no chance of S America! Just got back from Sikkim and soon to explore Albania of the Thorn though.

    Keep well.

    Dave
    Chester

    Reply
    1. otbiking Post author

      Thanks very much Dave, great to hear from you and glad to hear the trusty Thorn is still in service. I still think of that Manali-Leh ride, and everyone in the group, with a lot of fondness. You beat me to Sikkim – that’s still on my list. And I still want to make it to the Picos too…

      Reply

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